4 ways to preserve your research when your family don’t want it
I listen to podcast after podcast on decluttering and living a minimalist life, but it will never happen. Why? Because I am a packrat. And I think that most family history enthusiasts are because we appreciate the power of the story. We understand the magic that comes from touching items used by our ancestors. And we know that we are the impermanent link between the history and the future.
I confess I’ve always been a packrat. Long before I knew that I wanted to discover and tell my family stories, I was hoarding my precious treasures. It didn’t matter whether it was a
- card from my Dad,
- letter from my brother, or
- tea set my Nana earned in her career as an Avon Lady.
I knew that everything had a story to tell.
So now, as I approach my third decade of discovering my ancestor’s stories, there is one question that I keep coming back too. “What will happen to my genealogy research because my family have no interest!”
Maybe you’ve asked yourself that question a time or two. If not, I’m sure you’ve heard it or seen it asked online. After all, how to preserve your research is a common question. It pops up often in family history groups as it is a tricky dilemma for the aging genealogist.
One reason can be lack of interest, while another that we did our job as family historian too well! The idea of stepping into our shoes might be a little too intimidating for the potential family history enthusiast. So maybe the only way to get someone to step up is for us to step out entirely.
Preserve Your Research
A standard answer to this question is to donate it to a library or historical society. But is this a feasible solution to preserve your research? The reality is, probably not. These institutions have more bequests than they have storage space.
What that means for you is that unless there is a famous ancestor, they may decline your donation. But you can turn the research into stories and donate the book instead. Be sure to include details of all the ways that your ancestor contributed to the community. This information will help to create a broader audience and more interest in your book.
Heirloom items will be easier to rehome, while all the filing cabinets of certificates may not be as attractive. It’s heartwarming to know that Nana’s dinner set has a home, but it doesn’t help preserve your research.
I’ve already allocated the family treasures I’ve spent a lifetime collecting. But when it comes to the actual research, I’m not waiting for someone to put their hand up. If it happens, there will be happy dancing for days but if it doesn’t then I have plans.
The internet isn’t going anywhere. Who knows what it will become in the future? But for now, one thing I think we all know is that once it’s online, then it’s there forever. So how do we use that to our advantage?
Plan 1: Tell all the stories
Nana D held an encyclopedia of family knowledge in her head, but she never wrote anything down. She passed on those stories the same way she received them, via the ancient tradition of oral storytelling. Which is my primary inspiration for telling all the stories in written form on a public family history blog? I plan to use a free blogging platform like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. It will be open for indexing, so it shows up on web searches.
If you like this idea, then check out my article on Think Outside The Book: Consider a Family History Blog as an Alternative to Tell Your Ancestors’ Story.
Plan 2: Publish a public tree on a popular genealogy site
If you are already creating a tree using genealogy software, then this idea is another step in that process. Set yourself a habit of updating your public tree on a site like FamilySearch.org. Schedule a time on your calendar to upload the tree at the same time every week or month. Be sure not to include any living relatives in this one but do add plenty of notes. You’ll want to share as much as you can about where you found all those amazing facts and stories.
Plan 3: Publish storytelling videos to YouTube
As I mentioned earlier, there is the ancient art of oral storytelling. While you won’t be able to do this in the traditional method, technology provides several solutions. And what better legacy to leave your descendants than seeing and hearing you, the family storyteller. This idea will still work even if you don’t want to be on video.
Create presentations of your research and family stories using PowerPoint, Google Slides or similar. Several apps will allow you to record your screen while adding an audio track as well.
Plan 4: Digitise everything and create a time capsule in the cloud
Scan and photograph everything you have to create a digital time capsule. Make use of free cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive to preserve your research and pass the parcel. Pass on all the necessary information and ask them to do the same. Voila! A new family tradition is born.
I would recommend that you do this step regardless of your plans for your research. This step is a fantastic way to create a back-up of all your hard work.
If you like the idea of creating a family mystery, then leave a clue on the back of some photos. For a more practical solution, grab a copy of the ‘Preserve Your Research Log‘ printable PDF. Then use the worksheet to create a map of exactly where to look.
Creating new traditions to preserve your research
So while a clutter-free coffee table might not be in my foreseeable future, handing over the storyteller baton is. We may never know when someone will get the genealogy bug; we can trust that it will happen. And that is why we can’t abandon all that wonderful research yet!
The next step is to prepare it for the next generation, and the one after that, etc. After all, we want to save our descendants a little bit of work, right?
LET ME ASK YOU A QUESTION:
How are you planning to preserve your research, mementoes and family stories? Share your thoughts in the comments in the comments below.