You’re Dead. Now What? What to Do With a Genealogy Legacy


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A Question about Your Research and Your Genealogy Legacy

Newsletter reader Shirley R. posed a question that I’d like to send out into the genealogy blogosphere; she writes

I worry sometimes that the hours and hours I have spent on my tree in Ancestry will be something that will just fade away when I pass. No one in my family will think of accessing it.

I’ve been thinking about her question since the day her email came in and while I don’t have a definitive answer, I can share what feels right for me.

Here are my thoughts:

First, I don’t own a lot of family “things”. I do have my mom’s teacup collection and my aunt’s huge box of letters. I have some family photos but not as many as a lot of genealogists. As far as the papers – census, images, wills, Civil War records . . . I’m banking on most of that being online at some time in the near future. That means I’m not going to worry too much about it.

I did end up with my mom’s wedding dress as well as my grandmothers, but I gave both of those to my sister. I know her daughter, Jen, loves old things so I’m pretty sure that Jen will hold onto them when we’re all gone. A genealogy legacy passed along to one who cares – now that’s something special.

So I don’t worry that much about the things or the papers, but what does concern me are the stories. That’s one of the reasons I was so happy to teach the Storytelling course for Family Tree University. I don’t think there’s anything more important than saving family stories – and the only way to do that is to get them out of our memory and into a form that others can access.

(Tell Your Ancestor’s Story Bootcamp ran in February and hopefully will be back later in the year)

Little Stories Can Keep Your Genealogy Legacy Alive

If you peruse through this site you’ll find several instances of “little” stories. They may be a memory of an Easter dinner in the 1950s, being at my aunt and uncle’s farm, traveling with my mom to Arizona, etc. None of the stories are earth-shaking but each is one that lives only in my head.

Because my brother and sister are older than me, they hold stories that I can’t remember or never knew. They can remember my grandfather, I cannot. They remember family reunions in Lone Jack, Missouri. I do not. Vicki remembers the hollyhocks that lined Grandma’s walk. I do not.  But as I hear stories, I try to save them as best I can.

Sometimes I save stories via a blog post, sometimes a note in my genealogy software, sometimes on Pinterest, and other times in audio recordings. The point is, I’m trying to save what’s really important – my memories.

What Are Your Plans for Saving Your Genealogy Research?

For me, the most important thing I can save are the stories. I don’t want them scattered to the winds when Im’ gone.

But beyond that, I’d really like to know: What’s important to you to save? Have you made plans to hand-off materials? Or are you hoping that someone younger will come along and inherit your passion for family history?

I encourage you to leave a comment on this post. Please share what’s important to you to save and how you plan on doing that.  Thank you!

I receive several requests a day for assistance with genealogy research. If you would like to receive research pricing information please contact me using the Contact link at the top of the page. I look forward to working with you.

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  1. I have willed all of my genealogy records to my nephew who is willing to take it on. I have also made a list attached to my will (with pictures and directions of where to find in my house) of what I consider family heirlooms and things that I want to pass on. Your post made me realize that I have not made much of an inroad in telling my stories. I have started writing my family history (am now writing about my nuclear family) and realize that I need to get those stories recorded while I still have time. My parents and only brother passed away so I’m the only one to tell them.

    1. Hi Shirley, You’ve really thought this out! You far surpass me in planning for the disposition of your heirlooms and research.

      And, I’m so happy to hear that you’ll be recording stories. With my mom and my aunt’s death, I realized how many stories were just floating around in my head – and those are so important to me to save. So, like you, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me 🙂

  2. I don’t really have anyone in my family who shows interest so far in taking over. So my books are going to the respective local genealogical association. I don’t have that many original documents, I received most from other family members in scanned versions.
    I spent a lot of time worrying about what happens to my research, but in the end I cannot help it. If non of the family is interested doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing it. Yes, a lot of it will be wasted, that’s the way it is.

    1. Hi Barbara,
      You are incredibly well-organized with this. And, as long as the work makes you happy and gives you satisfaction, the that’s really the important stuff, isn’t it.


  3. My niece and two nephews know I have been digging into our family history. With some planning and preparation, I will send an e-mail titled “on this day” with the ancestor’s name and the signifcant date, to introduce, or give more info on an ancestor. The story includes whatever nuggets of information my two older sisters and I have, or what I have located in my research. It’s fun to see the comments/replies. Eventually, these little bits of information may be more useful and enjoyable (definitely – available) when the three of us/siblings are gone.

    The small amount of tangible items my sisters and I recently found from our ancestors is already in safe-mode with my (adult) niece. I hope the nuggets sent “on this day” will help preserve the tangible items for another generation.

    1. Janice – what a great idea. I was just talking to a friend yesterday about the importance of saving “little” stories or tidbit about present family or past family. You’ve got a great idea there! Nancy

  4. While my immediate family enjoys an occasional (very) brief story regarding what I have found, no one seems interested in taking over and continuing my work. This circumstance may change in the future. My own work is based on information my Great Grandmother, her sister, and my mother gathered, so this does run in the family, even if it skips most members! Should no one in my immediate family chose to take over, there are several places my work can go, including more distant cousins. There are state and local historical and genealogical societies, state archives, and local libraries with history rooms in places my families originated, as well as more national societies which might be interested in portions of my work. My hopeful failsafe is the Latter Day Saints (Morman) church who may also be interested. You can look around and approach these organizations to determine their requirements for accepting such donations, and whether or not they might be interested in preserving your hard work.

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