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Preserving the Work

We genealogists spend a lifetime compiling family histories. How can we preserve this information for posterity?

Our descendants often are not as interested in our family trees as we are. Notebooks and folders of information can end up in the trash when children do not want to house them. Digital files disappear when a computer becomes outdated or subscriptions lapse.

Some options exist for preventing the loss of genealogical work:

  1. Write a book. When I began working as a genealogist, many of the people I met had this ambition. A book offers a place to gather family trees, family photos, and family stories. The writer can distribute copies to relatives and hope some of the books survive. The odds get better if one donates a book to a genealogical library near where the family lived. Although I still see some people working on ancestry books today, the time and expense required for this option deter many people from choosing to write them.
  2. Contribute to online family trees. I have posted my father’s family, so far as I know it, to the online tree at Family Search (www.FamilySearch.org). A cousin in Finland has put much of my mom’s family on the collaborative site, WikiTree (www.wikitree.com). The LDS church runs Family Search, and they vow to preserve information in perpetuity. I do not know the long-term plans for WikiTree. Downsides to this option include the time necessary to input or clean up data and the danger that someone else will edit in bad information.
  3. Apply for membership in heritage societies. Only recently did I become aware of this as an option for preserving one’s family history, but it makes sense. These societies require detailed, sourced applications tracing family trees back multiple generations. They preserve the submissions. You can use this method to place your family tree with groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, or the Mayflower Society. Many such organizations exist, and often people can qualify for one or more. One woman I know belongs to nine heritage societies, and she joined in part to preserve her own family tree work. Some of the societies offer assistance in preparing an application.

I have already used a couple of these options. I documented my grandmother Grace Riddle Reed’s heritage back to her colonial ancestors and distributed the book to family members about twenty years ago. After that, I began annually writing ancestor character sketches and sending them around as Christmas gifts. I have completed these as far back as my second great-grandparents, except for the one line I do not know yet, Grandma Grace’s father.

We all need to find ways to preserve the family history we collect. Doing the research may offer the biggest satisfaction in genealogy, but we owe ourselves the knowledge that someone, somewhere will save what we collect.

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