Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dear Randy: What Can I Do With My Husband's Step-Father's Genealogy Files?

At the Chula Vista Genealogical Society Research Group meeting on 12 July, one of our guests (Linda) asked this question.  She has all of the genealogy files - file cabinets full of paper - of her husband's step-father.  When he died, no one wanted the files, but Linda understood the importance of the files, so they were shipped from Tennessee to San Diego.  There are extensive family group sheets, pedigree charts, correspondence, book and periodical extracts, photographs, etc., all done in the 1970 to 2000 time period.  Nothing was done in a software program or online database.  She didn't think that any of the ancestors in the work were famous or notable.

This is a common problem for many of us - including myself.  I have over 40 linear feet of paper in my genealogy cave, mostly in binders in bookcases, but some in piles (especially periodicals!).  I still have some papers in boxes and file cabinets.  I have used the paper files to create the person profiles in my RootsMagic database, but I haven't thrown out any of it.  I did create several family surname notebooks years ago with the photographs and certificates in plastic sleeves, family group sheets and biographies for each family, and backup material from correspondence, published books and periodicals, but I haven't done the other 500 surnames.

That's about one fourth of my "collection."

The task seemed daunting for Linda, as it does for me.  What options are there?

1)  For me, the answer seems easy because it's become my life's work:  

*  Do what I said in Dear Randy: How Best to Save Your Genealogy Work? last week:  Assure my RootsMagic family tree database lives on in online family trees and in eBooks in the family, on the Internet, and in genealogy libraries.  

*  Donate books and periodicals to my local genealogical societies.  

*  Separate the vital record certificates, family photographs, and interesting ephemera and artifacts, and hand them down to someone who might keep them.

*  My ancestors won't need all of the paper because most of the rest is photocopies from books, periodicals and personal correspondence.

2)  For someone like Linda, who hasn't even reviewed the material at hand, and the work is not for her family or her husband's family, it may be a long hard slog.  How does she separate the wheat from the chaff?  Where does she place it?  Is it doomed to the trash man after she's gone?

In our research group, we have the group members respond with suggestions.  Some of the suggestions (and some are my own) are:

*  Enter the genealogy - names, relationships, events, dates, places, photos, etc. into a software program database (like RootsMagic) and use that program to enter information into FamilySearch Family Tree and an Ancestry Member Tree.  Upload a GEDCOM file to other online family trees.

*  In the software program, create eBooks and post them in online services like  The eBooks might be ancestry reports or descendants reports.  Offer those reports to genealogical societies, historical societies, and local libraries where the families were from.

*  Contact the local genealogical and historical societies in the areas the families resided and determine if they can take some of the material for those families.  Determine if they have similar information from other submitters in "vertical files" in their repository.  

*  Hire a researcher to review the files, organize the materials, recommend actions, and perform the actions (like entering data, scanning photos, creating online trees, writing eBooks, etc.).  This would be costly, but would probably be the most efficient timewise for someone with a conscience but not their genealogy work.

*  There are excellent suggestions and references in Thomas MacEntee's syllabus for his "After You're Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research" presentation (a Family Tree Webinars Bonus webinar).   

4)  Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question, and our guest has some work ahead of her to get started on this task while pursuing her own genealogy, and figuring out what to do with it.  

What other options do my readers suggest?  


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Geolover said...

Linda deserves applause.

Her first move should be at least a rough inventory of what is there. This will help her decide whether offers of material to one or more organizations might be worthwhile. It will also help her determine how to describe the material if she decides to seek hired assistance.

Peggy said...

Another option would be to find a genealogist who is already working on these families who might be interested in receiving and going through the materials. The advantage is that it is much easier to determine the importance of the items to advancing research for those families when you are already familiar with the existing research. Another option, rather than starting a family tree from scratch in local software, is to compare to a public online tree (for example: familysearch, wikitree) and add information not already there. Much of the information so laboriously found and compiled in pre-internet days, is easily done today and already has been documented on these sites. Some of the nuggets to look for would be correspondence or interviews with people whose knowledge, insights, and words are not recorded elsewhere, as well as, of course, photographs, Bible records, letters and other things that may be unique items.

Discover Genealogy said...

This seems like a daunting project for someone who is not even related to the step-father. Linda may well run out of enthusiasm before she get into the material very far. I would suggest two things:
1. Scan everything and throw out any paper that is not an original document worth keeping. Inputting information can be done using the scanned pages. Sorting of it by family or individual may also be easier on the computer than in piles or drawers.
2. See if there is a local genealogical society or group of genealogists who might want to take on the digitizing and inputting of the family information, as a community service and perhaps as a training exercise for want-to-be family historians. The finished project might be something an archives would be interested in having.

Carol K said...

About three years ago Oklahoma State Genealogical Society in Oklahoma City, OK announced in their quarterly that they would take any genealogical research whether it had anything to do with Oklahoma or not.

It's always worth checking with them.