When We Die, Who Gets Our "Family History Stuff"?

Where do all our photographs, histories, pedigrees, and other family history collections go when we die? As my parents got into their 80s, my mom began to get anxious about passing on all the boxes of family history collections to someone in the family. There were about 6 good sized boxes filled with photo albums, certificates, and other treasures. She wanted to make room in the overstuffed closet where they were kept. Being the oldest in the family, I was the first one asked. Of course I took them and hauled them from Texas to my home in Idaho. It was like having an extra Christmas that year.

Contrast this to situations where “Aunt Mary”, the family genealogist, dies and leaves behind her many boxes of research, photo albums, certificates, histories, yearbooks, and so forth. The family comes in to clean out her house, but no one in the immediate family is interested in “all that junk”. It gets piled out on the sidewalk curb to be picked up by the garbage company. (Yes…that just makes me incredibly sick). Another fairly common scenario is that those boxes would magically end up at the front door of our local family history center some time during the previous night. At least we could go through the materials, and try to find some living relatives on FamilySearch to give those materials to. Old Man

That brings me to the primary discussion point …

What is going to happen to YOUR collections of invaluable items when you pass away? Will they end up curbside for the garbage truck to haul away? Have you thought about who you might give your collections to? There’s actually quite a bit to think about, and preparations to make, before you die.

Who’s Going to Take Over Your Work?

Have you “groomed” a family member to take over and continue your work? So many family members may be “grateful” that you are doing THEIR family history so they do not have to do so. Don’t you think it is largely because they don’t really understand the joy that comes from collecting photos and stories about their ancestors? We know that they are missing out in not participating in family history work. So…who are we going to pass on our family history collection to? Maybe we should begin thinking about a family member or members that we can begin to teach what we know, so they will have an interest in taking on that responsibility for our collections.

Does Our Family Know Where Our Family History Collections Are Located?

So much of family history now a days will also have a large “digital” footprint to it as well. We have our pedigrees and other information stored in applications like RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, and so forth. More people have begun to scan those old photographs and histories into digital documents. If we are savvy enough, AND utilize good digital document preservation standards, we have probably uploaded a lot of information to a “cloud drive” that we likely pay a hosting charge for. Do they know how to access those online storage accounts? Are they going to be willing to continue to pay for that continued storage? Online “cloud drives” are a great way to SHARE these files with all the family members. Does our family know the emails and passwords of all our online family history accounts? Sometimes we may have set up recurring automatic payments for certain sites (in our case, Newspapers.com for example). Will our family members be able to go into our accounts and cancel or modify these type of payments?

Who Will Take Over Storing All Those Boxes of Research Papers, Photos, etc?

We have become a more mobile society and perhaps the thought of hauling a lot of family history boxes around with them brings on a feeling of trepidation. It’s probably time that we consider digitizing those records so they can be shared. Certainly research materials are easy enough to digitize and organize, so that others can one day pick up to review. Once digitized, the paper copies can then be eliminated. Don't forget good safe backup strategies . Those ancestral paper histories can also be passed around to interested family members to keep or eliminated as well, once they are in a digital format. Photographs of old family movies can be digitized as well, HOWEVER the originals should be properly stored once a digital copy is made. Check out how to organize and digitize photos. What about your family movies that have been stored on VHS tapes? Click here for information on digitizing video collections. Perhaps there are different immediate or more distant family members that would like to have the original film or photos. What we may pass on to family after our death, as to boxes or file cabinets of information can be greatly reduced if we begin to think about digitizing now.

Summarizing points to consider

* We need to think about where our collections will go for our eventual (or sudden) death

* We need to pass on to our posterity the same love for family history that we have. Time to begin some teaching

* If you have not yet gotten into the digital age, it's time to do so. Digitizing your collections will take some time, but everything you will do, will be easier to pass on to the next generation of family members.

* Make sure to pass on a record of all your online accounts. These will be your email address, passwords, and in some cases, the answers to the challenge questions.

"Preserve Your Heritage!"