It’s probably something that we don’t really want to think about, our own death, but sadly as we get older there is an inevitability about it, it’s that moment when you realise, “hang on a minute, I have lived more years than I have actually got left”, that’s when you begin to think about the next step, or as I like to put it; the moment when you become a Death Certificate yourself! Parking those thoughts for a moment, you then start to think about all those years of hard work, researching your family tree and collecting all those wonderful documents and heirlooms, the reality is, one day they could all end up in the skip!
You might be lucky and have a willing partner, an enthusiastic child or relative, who is willing to take up the mantel and carry your family history baton forwards! However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a family member who is interested in continuing with your research, many researchers have family, like me, that aren’t interested in their heritage. In my case, my two children are fighting about who doesn’t inherit all the folders! I am hopeful that I still have a few more years left before I actually become a ‘Death Certificate’ myself and eventually one of them might come round to the fact that all this ‘stuff’ is actually cool and interesting, I live in hope!
So, what can you do to protect your legacy? You need to start making plans now, but how can you be sure that all your hard work and family heirlooms will survive the generations and still be available for anyone who follows in your footsteps. There are a number of ways that you can protect your work and take precautions to future proof what you leave behind.
Thanks to modern technology, we have one more method of preserving our genealogy for future generations, than the previous generations did, and that of course is the Internet. You can make sure your genealogy work is preserved forever by uploading it online. You can upload and share your trees and data on websites such as Family Search, WikiTrees and Ancestry, which are just a few examples, or you could do what I have done, create a website and blog, but creating a blog site or website also comes with it’s own problems, once you are no longer around. The problem is that any website could eventually cease to exist, yes even Family Search or Ancestry could go in the future and with it, all your research. If you are using a website or blog that you pay for, that too, will also go eventually, if the bills aren’t paid.
So, what other choices do you have?
You could choose to donate and leave your work with a Family History Society or local record office. Have you made any provisions for this? Have you enquired what material a record office or Library would be willing to take?
Libraries, museums, historical societies, and local archives are all excellent places to store your work and you can be sure they will take good care of it, but space at all these places is a premium, so they might not have the space or capability of taking it. The key thing with this of course is that you need to speak to these offices and organisations upfront, to check to see what they are willing to accept and how to present it. Each record office or society will have its own rules and requirements for any donated work, so like with all things genealogical, you need to do your research!
But there is a serious side to this and I have watched many wonderful talks on this very subject and a very good Genie friend of mine, Marian Burk Wood, has even written a book on the subject!
Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past: Second Edition
To quote Marian;
“Before I become a Death Certificate, I want to finish captioning all my photos so those names and faces and relationships won’t be forgotten by the next generation and beyond, I also want to retell the old family stories and explain what’s true, what’s not and how I found out!”
What more inspiration do you need, than Marian’s wise words!
So, my question to you is “have you made any provisions yourself?”
Have you even considered what will happen to all your work after you have gone? Have you already made a succession plan? In a similar way that people sometimes feel awkward discussing a person’s Will, especially if they are still firmly alive and well, there is an element of feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about thinking about a loved one’s end. So what things can we do to overcome the problems? We can openly discuss the situation with our loved ones, ask children and grandchildren about the family history collection that you have, there might be a natural successor to your crown already waiting in the wings. Depending on what you have in your collection, photos, documents, heirlooms etc it might mean that your collection is shared amongst a number of family members. If that’s the case, then be clear and concise with your wishes, otherwise this can lead to possible upset amongst your loved ones after you have gone. Discuss the options clearly and write a list of who will inherit what items, that way it avoids both confusion and disputes afterwards.
I would really love to hear from you about what decisions, if any, you have taken to make provisions for your family history work after you have gone.
Old photos, genealogical documents, and heirlooms reflect your family’s past and they should be cared for tomorrow in the same way that they are cared for today by you. Start planning now, don’t leave the decision about what happens to your research up to your family, otherwise it might just end up in the skip!
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