4

My late mother had an amateur interest in genealogy of our family. She gathered boxes of clippings and writings and photos, etc. She flew to Europe to visit sites and meet with descendents, etc.

No one in the extended family has any interest in the materials. What can be done with them?

In case it is relevant ... born in 1929, she is buried in a National Cemetery, my living father served in the Marines.


Since initially writing this Q, it occurred to me that one possibility is to deposit them with US Library of Congress, see this more narrow question:

Submitting genealogy materials to US Library of Congress?

  • 1
    @AndyW I think that's worth a brief answer in its own right. – PolyGeo Nov 15 '17 at 8:55
  • 2
    If nothing else, many larger libraries have a genealogy room. I recommend donating the materials to them so that the volunteers there can catalog and find a good home for the information. It would be a shame for all that work to be lost. – Christia Nov 15 '17 at 11:34
  • 2
    KEEP THE DOCUMENTS! It would be like throwing away treasure to throw those documents away. You don't want them now, but can you say that you will not want them in a few years down the road? – user6136 Nov 17 '17 at 2:38
  • I believe the Library of Congress only takes Published Genealogies. I doubt they'll take unorganized boxes of clippings and writings and photos, unless it is some famous person's belongings. – lkessler Nov 21 '17 at 0:37
5

It seems that you, her son, has acquired your mother's materials and has already invested at least some time thinking about this as you are now asking this question of what to do with it.

Since you say no one else in the family has interest, the obligation is on you. So it will depend how much time you wish to invest.

If nothing else, you should at least take a day of your time and go through her items.

First remove anything of sentimental value to you that you want to keep.

Then go through all the material, and ensure that they are all relevant with regards to her family research and remove anything that isn't. If the materials are organized into boxes with a purpose, keep them organized that way. If the items are all mixed up, then put like items together and organize them to save space and make all the material as compact as possible. If boxes are partially filled, use smaller boxes or folders to save space. Try to be left with a single large box with all the material that is clean and organized. That is a must. Nobody will want anything that is not clean or not organized.

It is possible that in a generation or two, someone in your own family will become interested in family history. Consider if there might be such a person. In that case, don't give the materials away. Just keep it in your basement or some other place you store your seldom used things. If you are storing it long term, put it in airtight plastic inside the box. Label it so you and others will know that is your mother's box of family history when they encounter it.

If you have children or grandchildren, siblings or nephews or nieces, then don't give the box away. Keep it and let them decide what to do with it when you're gone. Information about your mother and her (i.e. their) family will be much more important to them than anyone else.

What hopefully will happen through the years is that one day, one of your mother's descendants, or if she doesn't have any (other than you), then some close cousin becomes very interested in family history and you tell them about your mother's box and they'll be supremely excited and will take it from you. Ensure they are serious about it, because if they are, then they will use whatever they can from your mother's research and will document it in their genealogies and give credit to your mother for the pictures and information. They will likely also create online family trees at a service that other people can access and use as well.

Should you decide you don't want to keep it for what you might consider to be an unlikely case of a family genealogist sprouting, then your best bet might be a local genealogical society or a local library. Again, the material has to be clean and organized for anyone to take it.

If you still can't find anyone to take it, and you do want it preserved, then you'll have to pay a bit to do so. Find a professional genealogist who lives in your area who will be willing to be paid to do the work to find a proper home for your mother's materials. I would recommend looking through the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) directory to find someone who can help you.

4

I would hate to see all that work lost, and I would expect that the materials might be of much interest to at least one amongst your more distant cousins. I suspect that your mother would have been born within the last 100 years which means that our Privacy Policy will come into effect with any mention of her name.

On the other hand if your grandparents, or great grandparents were born more than 100 years ago you can freely use their names in your question that might lead to some suggestions about how to make contact with distant cousins through them.

If not even distant cousins with an interest in genealogy can be uncovered then I am sure others might have suggestions about what local family history groups may be interested, if you can give us some idea of the areas in which your recent and distant ancestors lived.

  • I'm Australian and not familiar with LoC. – PolyGeo Nov 15 '17 at 8:56
  • 2
    LoC likely only takes finished and compiled genealogical research. However, it wouldn't hurt to just call and ask them: loc.gov/rr/genealogy. I really like PolyGeo's suggestion of including some of the family names and locations to garner some better answers. – Christia Nov 15 '17 at 11:38
3
+100

Ultimately I think any decision on this depends on

  1. What you've got
  2. How interested you are
  3. How much work you want to do

If the records are just a box of clippings, pictures, certificates etc then they are likely to be of interest only to another researcher, which will probably be a relative. It sounds like you've covered that line of enquiry, though as @PolyGeo said, you might find someone on a more distant branch who would want them. If your mother flew around meeting relatives, are none of those people interested in her research?

You could also perhaps look for online trees (on Ancestry etc) that involve some of the same people. A robust tree may lead to a researcher who would be keen to see your record collection. (And by "robust" I mean one with plenty of linked records, and which doesn't have people being born on a different continent from the one they died on two years earlier.)

If there is a written genealogy describing a set of ancestors with full references and citations, that will be more appealing to the LoC or another library or family history society. But they probably won't want the "Big Box o'Stuff".

If there is a collection of research/documents relating to a particular surname, it might be worth checking the Guild of One Name Studies and the Surname Society to see if anyone there is interested in that name.

A collection relating to a particular location might similarly appeal to someone researching that place. Many local history or family history societies exist, and there are researchers focused on single locations. The worldwide One Place Study website might be a good place to start, but there are also country-specific indices to look for.

Those latter two suggestions would probably involve sifting and sorting the materials, so could be quite a lot of extra work, depending on the quantity of records.

Otherwise, have a good ponder about your own interest in this. If you think there's any chance you'll become more interested in family history as time goes by (and that certainly can happen), then maybe it's worth hanging on to the collection, even if it just gets stored out of the way for now. It's not the sort of thing you can easily recover if lost. Trees can be rebuilt and certificates reordered, but handwritten records and photographs may be unique and irreplaceable.

2

I was left in a similar situation when my mother died in 2013. She had done much more genealogy research than the little she occasionally mentioned. I have a large box of information she dug up, and another large box of pictures. She also created a extensive chart of ancestors, both on her side and my father's.

One of the first things I'm doing is digitizing and archiving the information that she left largely in paper-only form. That saves it from degrading into the future, but doesn't give others access.

To make the information available to others, I'm uploading pieces to WikiTree. It's different from other genealogy sites in that it's free, and is trying to build the Big Tree of Everyone.

You upload the little corner of the tree you know about. When you get far enough, you bump into data already uploaded by others. When I got a few generations back on my father's side, with a single click I was suddenly connected to ancestors that lived in England in the 1300s. I've had distant cousins find me when they added information about their part of the tree, not previously knowing I existed.

WikiTree is first and foremost about building the tree of ancestral relationships. However, each person has a separate page, and you can add photographs, histories, anecdotes, etc, to each page.

The more information you put up on WikiTree, the more it will collect additional information from others you don't even know exist. I really encourage you to take a look.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.