8 Tips to Ensure Your Genealogy Lasts
Most of us have heard horror stories of people inheriting and tossing out valuable family history items. Amy Johnson Crow and Curt Witcher gave a presentation at RootsTech 2018 that focused on ways to prevent such tragedies. Crow shared a recent discussion she had on Twitter with a woman whose aunt threw out her grandfather’s old suitcase from Russia containing photos and a family tree. The tree had over 300 names on it! The aunt didn’t care about it, so out it went.
If you love family history and have spent time researching and collecting information, it’s important to consider what might happen to your work after you’re gone. Is anyone from the rising generation in your family interested in genealogy? If not, is there anything you can do to create interest in your genealogy work and increase the odds that it will be preserved? According to Witcher and Crow, the answer to this last question is yes!
The following are some tips you can follow to help ensure the preservation of your family history work.
Organize and Label
“Be wise and organize,” said Witcher and Crow. If a nongenealogist can’t look at the labeling of your files (physical or digital) and clearly understand what they’re looking at, it’s time to come up with better ways of organizing your information. Keep it clear and simple.
Find a Legacy Contact
Have you ever thought about how your loved ones will access your work when you’re gone? What they’ll need are your passwords—your computer password, your smartphone password, your social media account passwords, and your genealogy website passwords. Choose a trusted friend or family member as your legacy contact, or someone who can monitor and manage your digital accounts after you’ve passed away. Give them the passwords and a few details about your work to make sure they can access it and help preserve it should something happen to you.
Some sites such as Facebook and FamilyTreeDNA have built the option to include a legacy contact right into their system. Keep an eye out for other sites that will include this feature in the future, and take advantage of it.
Update Formatting and Methods
The way photos and data are stored is constantly changing and improving. In the last few decades we’ve gone from 3½-inch floppy disks to CDs and DVDs to computers that no longer have built-in drives to accommodate storage. Failing to keep up with change can easily result in significant family history losses. Floppy discs can become demagnetized, and CDs and DVDs can be damaged by sunlight and scratches. Do your best to keep your formatting and methods as up-to-date as possible.
Learn about Metadata
Are you familiar with metadata? It might be time to learn about what it is and how to use it. Witcher and Crow suggested thinking about metadata as a spice rack, a container, or a wrapper. Put quite simply, metadata is data about data. It’s information about what’s in a file or image. It helps organize information and makes it easier to find later. For more information about metadata, check out this blog post.
Can you take the family history you find and turn it into a story? According to Crow, writing is “not a trivial endeavor.” She jokingly called it a “four-letter word,” otherwise known as work. But she is a big proponent of writing and shared with attendees that “there are a lot of discoveries that we make in the writing process.”
However, don’t feel like you have to write a complete book-length family history. Crow expressed that “we are doing ourselves a disservice when we think so big.” Practice writing by taking one document you find interesting and writing about it in a way that anyone could understand. Don’t get discouraged if your immediate family, children, and grandchildren don’t seem to be interested in the story. Somewhere down the line you will have a descendant who will care about your work. “It is of consequence to save it for them,” said Crow.
Share Lots of Copies
One of the best ways to ensure that your genealogy work survives is to make copies and spread them around to family members and friends. Don’t wait to share! Write vignettes (short stories) you think they might be interested in, and pass them around at your next family reunion. Make an effort to include family history as part of your interactions with family members both near and far.
Talk to Libraries and Institutions
Some libraries and institutions welcome family history information if it’s connected to local history. It’s wise to find out. You may be able to donate copies of your collection or digital files to help preserve your genealogy.
Use the Three P’s: Pursue, Preserve, and Present
In the end, if you want all of your hard work to live on for generations, be deliberate and purposeful as you go. Try some of the above tips to ensure that your genealogy work is around for generations to come. Continue to pursue all the knowledge you can about your family, carefully preserve it throughout the process, and present it to family members, friends, and libraries or institutions.