FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Will My Genealogy Records Survive Me?

I followed the earthquake of 22 February 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand closely because a fairly large contingent of extended cousins live there or nearby.  As far as I’ve been able to determine, all survived but many experienced damage to their homes and businesses.

One story caught my eye on the evening of the first day, when it mentioned two teenagers who were trying to find their mother, Donna Manning, a producer and presenter for Canterbury TV.  She and fifteen of her colleagues along with forty or more foreign students and teachers were in the collapsed CTV building.

The six-story building was literally flattened.  Only a couple of survivors were eventually rescued from the wreckage.

The earthquake struck at 12:45 p.m., during the lunch hour.  Earlier in the morning, Donna hosted one of her weekly shows and it was posted on YouTube during the hour of the earthquake.  I watched the video not knowing if Donna had survived or not.  I then switched to a live video stream from Christchurch that showed the CTV building  and seriously doubted that she had survived. 

Little did Donna know that in less than 120 minutes after completing her morning show, she would be dead.  The video captured some of her last minutes in mortality.  Rescue teams later confirmed that none of the trapped folks in the CTV building survived.

The story ends on a many sad notes.  Donna didn’t survive.  Her children not only lost their mother but their home was structurally destroyed too.  Thieves looted their home while they waited at the pile of debris that was the CTV building hoping to hear of Donna’s recovery.  Their records and possessions had been stolen.

Hopefully, their photos and records survived.

Stories with similar losses of lives, records, hopes and dreams are a constant in the history of our ancestors and of the world due to wars, acts of men and of nature.  We know that devastating events will happen in the lives of those now living and in those coming behind us.   From a genealogical perspective, what can we do to mitigate the effects of disaster or the eventual loss of of our own mortal life?

Several activities should be part of our regular genealogical activities:

1. Digitize our paper documents and records.

2. Regular backups of our data and digital images. What is Regular? Simply determine your threshold of pain when considering the loss of your records.  That should firmly establish a frequent backup cycle in your mind.

3. Keep a copy of our backups in two or more locations off-site, one of which should be online with a digital company like Mozy, Carbonite, etc.  The second should be housed with a relative or close friend who lives in a different part of the country. You may want to trade with them and keep a copy of their data to reciprocate.

4. Add a codicil or section to our wills and trusts that specifically instructs the transfer and hoped for survivability of your genealogical records and data.  See an example of the verbiage here in one of my earlier posts.

5. Talk to your family now so they know your wishes from you personally, to both reinforce your wishes and to make arrangement for their transfer.  You may want to enhance or encourage their involvement in your genealogical research and activities right away.  Which one(s) of them wants to take up your ancestral quest? Resolve questions and associated issues about your genealogy data and work with them now, while you can still talk to them.

6. If you have websites, blogs, etc., be sure to include their URL’s and associated user names and passwords in your package.  Detail exactly how you want to announce your passing and include an example statement that details how or if the site or your contributions to a site will continue in the future.  I was surprised to find that I own or am a significant contributor to a large number of blogs and websites.  Will my family take over in my place?  We’ll have to talk about it and decide. 

7. Keep your codicil and lists of pertinent ownership, subscription, password and other data current along with your detailed instructions up to date.  Will your spouse and children be able to understand and find all of the domain registrations, hosting agreements, settings, programming and data storage sites that you have and use?  Do they realize that you have over thirty email accounts and what online personas they represent?  Do they realize that you are an editor, moderator, or have other key roles on many sites that are owned by other persons or entities that have depended on you doing my job? 

8. Think of the ways you interact with your data and others online.  Does your family know all of your social media personas?  Does they or an eventual guardian of your data know how to claim all of your submissions to FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc?  FamilySearch and Ancestry are designed to allow others to contact you to both question your data and to ask for assistance or copies of your research.  They can’t do that if you are gone and your succession plan hasn’t transferred your account to their management.

9. Do Something.  Now.  You can put this work off, but delay will inevitably bite you and the survivability of your data.  This isn’t a question or supposition but rather is a statement of fact.  The preparation will take a few hours work and ongoing tweaks and updates, but the investment in time and effort will pay remarkable dividends.  Don’t let your extremely valuable genealogical work be lost.

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14 March 2011 Posted by | Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

What Will Happen To My Records?

We all know that it is going to happen. At some point in time, we will exit mortality. We hope that our precious records, documents, photos and keepsakes will be passed on to someone who will treasure them like we do.

If you are like me, you have invested a significant number of hours, cash and part of yourself collecting your family history. Was the effort all just a great hobby to be discarded when I die? I certainly hope not, but unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen repeatedly in my life experience.

Someone will die and their children, extended family or friends have no interest in all that ‘old’ stuff and it goes into the trash, into a fire, to goodwill or is broken up an sold to antique stores for a little cash.

Those who destroy these priceless collections have little knowledge of how dear and priceless the items are to other folks in their immediate family, to their descendants or to extended family members. How I wish I had my great grandfathers diary. I held it for a few minutes but was not allowed to make copies and was only allowed to take one photo. The owner died and the diary disappeared.

I watched my uncles burn old photos of my ancestors when I was a youngster. Fortunately for my family, my mother had interest in family history and when she found out what was happening, she sent me scurrying up into he attic of my grandparents home to retrieve many large old photos of my ancestors that had been stored there over the years.

The photos now hang on the walls of the hall leading to my office. Every morning while walking to my office, I usually nod to a different grandparents photo and say hello. The photos help me keep my bearings when other demands threaten to entice my attention to activities that have no lasting value.

The photos of my wife’s ancestors reside on other walls in our home. As our children and grandchildren grow, I like to study these ancestral photos in an attempt to see whose genes are dominant in the current generations of the family. Some features are very prominently displayed while others are seen as an amalgam of angles, colors and bumps with less pronounced distinction.

Have you made plans to protect your precious records after you pass away? We have added a codicil to our wills that specifically directs the way we want our records to be handled after our deaths.

Some years ago, someone sent me a sample codicil that I found useful. I don’t know who originally authored it, but doubt that they will care if it is shared with you. The wording is simple and straight forward. With a little thought on your part, you can create a similar codicil or feature in your own wills and trusts that will detail your long term wishes and planning concerning the survival of your family history records.

Genealogical Codicil to My Last Will and Testament

To my spouse, children, guardian, administrator and/or executor:

Upon my demise it is requested that you DO NOT dispose of any or all of my genealogical records, both those prepared personally by me and those records prepared by others which may be in my possession, including but not limited to books, files, notebooks or computer programs for a period of two years. During this time period, please attempt to identify one or more persons who would be willing to take custody of the said materials and the responsibility of maintaining and continuing the family histories. [If you know whom within your family or friends are likely candidates to accept these materials, please add the following at this point: “I suggest that the persons contacted regarding the assumption of the custody of these items include but not be limited to” and then list the names of those individuals at this point, with their addresses and telephone numbers if known]

In the event you do no find anyone to accept these materials, please contact the various genealogical organizations that I have been a member of and determine if they will accept some parts or all of my genealogical materials. [List of organizations, addresses and phone numbers at bottom; include local chapters, with their addresses, phone numbers and contact persons if available as well as state/national contact information and addresses] Such as: The Walker County Genealogical Society and the Jasper Public Library)

Walker County Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 3408
Jasper, AL 35502-3408

Jasper Public Library
20 E. 18 St.
Jasper, Alabama 35502

Please remember that my genealogical endeavors consumed a great deal of time, travel, and money. Therefore it is my desire that the products of these endeavors be allowed to continue in a manner that will make them available to others in the future.

Signature __________________________ Date ___________

Witness ____________________________ Date ___________

Witness ____________________________ Date ___________

11 January 2008 Posted by | Will | , | 1 Comment