Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday's Tip - How to donate your genealogy work

My family history paper files...semi-organized.
I'm often pretty anal about backing up my computer. I have two hard drives that I rotate for back-ups and store in a fire-proof safe when not in use. This week I have been wondering what would happen to my research if something were to happen to me. I'm not morbid, but the truth is that nothing lasts forever. Planning ahead for the disposition of your genealogy work is the best way to ensure your work lives on to help others.

The places to which you can donate genealogical materials are numerous. Here are just a few of the options for donating your genealogical papers and files.

  • The Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The Family History Library accepts donations of genealogical data. They ask for well-organized information that adds new content to the FHL library (no duplicates histories accepted). They prefer digital copies of information, but will accept paper copies. Genealogical collections, or all of your paper and digital documents, are accepted, but they prefer them to be created by professional genealogists. This makes sense, as they don't have the time to cull through paperwork to ensure accuracy. For more information on donating to the FHL see here. FHL no longer accepts paper versions of family trees or pedigrees. However, you can add your family tree to FamilySearch.org for other researchers to see, similar to Ancestry.com, but there is no cost involved to view or to post. To learn more, click here. It requires a free account. You can also upload your GEDCOM file by clicking here and scrolling down to Donate Tree. You can also donate information through the FamilySearch Research wiki.
  • Large Genealogy-specific libraries. This group includes large genealogy libraries like the Midwest Genealogy Center (MGC) in Kansas City and the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, among others. According to the ACPL website, they welcome all kinds of donations to include research articles, photographs, books or even copies of the family pages of your bible. They accept paper and digital copies. Nicole, the achivist at the Midwest Genealogy Center told me that they accept a wide range of materials as well. Patrons can drop off donations or mail them and there is no preference of format. However, if you submit digital information be sure that documents are in a format for easy viewing, such as a PDF file. Her tip to genealogists: be sure to use archival storage options when possible so your work will last. The benefit of donating to a large library is that your donation has the potential to reach a wider audience. The scope of large genealogy libraries is also usually regional, making donations of research that covers numerous states a perfect fit. Of course, it is also possible that your research could get buried among all of the many resources these libraries have to offer.
  • University libraries and archives. I have found countless genealogy records in University archives, most often the fantastic type of historical records that put the "meat on the bones," so to speak. Usually these items include letters or typed family notes directly from your ancestors' mouths. I even recently came across a photo of an ancestor in a university archive. The issue with donating your information to a university library or archive is reach. While the university catalogs are becoming more accessible thanks to tools like worldcat.org, it's still a shot in the dark for researchers to locate archive records. I recently found an archive for a family that lived in Indiana located in a university in Massachusetts. Each university is different, but most prefer donations that are specific to their region or pertain in some way to the university.
  • Local Genealogy or Historical Societies. Smaller societies are often a boon of information, however, their scope is limited and therefore what they accept for documentation is limited. I spoke with the Ray County Genealogical Society, located in Richmond, Missouri, and they stated that they prefer to take documents related to their own county and the surrounding counties. They don't have the shelf space to take everything. Also, format of a donation becomes an issue with smaller societies as well. For instance, some groups do not have computers so donating your work digitally has little benefit and it often places undue costs on the staff to print our your documents on their own time. Local genealogy society libraries are often co-located with the local museum, which opens up the option to donate family heirlooms as well. The bonus of donating items to a local society is that your work goes right into the place where your ancestors lived, and more importantly, where other researchers will look for it.
  • Online repositories. Consider donating some of your digital work to free research options like the FamilySearch.org wiki, the The US GenWeb Project, or genealogy association online archives. These options ensure your work is viewed for free and you are volunteering!
Here are some things to consider when you are determining where to donate your hard work:
  • What is the quality of your work? Have you thrown all your research together and left organization to the wind? Or have you documented everything and crossed and dotted all your t's and i's? The quality of your work may determine where it will be accepted. Large libraries and universities do not want a hodge podge of information. And while smaller local societies don't want junk either, they may be more accepting of less organized information. Ensure your work is worthy now as you go and it will be easier to donate down the line.
  • Where can your work benefit the most people? If the bulk of your collection is focused in a certain state or a group of counties, consider donating it to that location. It will ensure that other researchers with the same connections will have access to your work. However, local historical societies may not have the same reach as a larger genealogy library.
  • What format is your work in? By nature of the type of research we do, most genealogists have both paper and electronic documentation. Large libraries may prefer digital submissions, while smaller societies may not be able to accept digital items. Contemplate digitizing all of your paper documents as you obtain them to make submission easier down the road.
  • What is your disposition plan? If something happens to you, does your family know what to do with your research? I have thought about this, but I've never shared my plan with my family. It would be a shame for all of your work to go to waste, so make a plan now...and share it.
  • CALL AHEAD. The most important tip I can give is to ensure you call the organization or library to find out their donation acceptance policy. Ask to speak to the archivist or head librarian. Every organization has different policies, but they all require coordination prior to accepting items. 
For me, I don't want to donate until my tree is "done." But is it ever really going to be? It seems much better to maintain a healthy tree and a workable donation plan that I can enact now. Why wait?

For more information on donating your genealogical work, check out these links:

Archival materials can be found here, here and here
Family archiving tips
Family Search and Family History Library donations
The Society of American Archivists, Guide to Donating Family Papers
Donating published genealogies to the Library of Congress
Midwest Genealogy Center donations
Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center donations
New England Historic Genealogical Society library donations

Have you donated your work? What tips do you have?


Jacqi Stevens said...

Heather, what a thorough review of a topic that needs to be addressed! Thanks for including local genealogical societies in your list. While what you noted about their size may be true, each organization's circumstances are different, so it is worth it to check.

In my own research, I like to think of myself as a trailblazer--researching lines that no one else has published yet. Many of us find ourselves in that position, and though our "finished" product may seem small in our own eyes, it does add to the collective body of knowledge--and none of us knows for sure how it might help a future researcher around what would otherwise be his or her brick wall!

Wendy said...

So much to think about! Good advice about doing a good job as you go because it would be sad for no one to be able to decipher your work.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Jacqi, you make a good point about "trailblazing." I have several lines like that too. I think there is great value in splitting up your research and sending it to several places. It's makes for more work, but it would also have wider reach. Great point!

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Thanks, Wendy! Sadly, I've noticed that most of my work wouldn't be worth much to people because it only makes sense to me! Now I'm trying to clean it up a bit.

Kathryn said...

Great tips Heather! This is something I've thought about, but haven't acted on. It sounds like most of my work is in the same state as yours!

I was using a website last week where the owner had passed away a few years ago and had asked her family to continue hosting the site. It was no longer being updated, but her work was on the site and available for anyone to search. That's not a permanent solution since they could take the site down, but it is great that her work is still helping researchers for now.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Thank you, Kathryn. You also bring up a good point...what happens to our blogs? My husband doesn't even know my password. I'll have to rectify that, too!

Kathryn said...

Heather, I did a little searching yesterday to see what happens if a blog goes inactive. As far as I can tell, Blogger doesn't delete inactive blogs. I don't have anyone that knows my password either, so great point on letting someone know.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Now that you mention it, Kathryn, I have seen many blogs that haven't been updated in years. So we are probably safe there...at least for a little while.

Amanda (the librarian) said...

We're probably safe on our blogs until they are no longer hosted for free (which I DO think is going to happen). Good advice to have a plan on that; make sure an interested heir or other party has access to your user name and password (and maybe a bequest for those hosting fees?).

As a librarian, thank you for posting your other tips. The most important tip is probably the last one - CALL AHEAD. Most public and university libraries have a clause in our donor forms that allows us to do what we wish with your donations - add to our collections, sell, give to another organization, or throw them away. It's mostly an issue of space. If you want to make sure your donations get used, you need to find the best home for them.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Thank you, Amanda. It is so great to have a professional concur! I also agree that the days of free blog hosting are numbered. Leaving money for the site hosting is also a great tip.

Shelley Bishop said...

These are great points, Heather. I admit I haven't given much consideration to what happens to my collection, partly because it's so overwhelming to think about. You've made the job a bit easier by describing the process and providing the links. Thanks for raising this topic.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Thank you, Shelley. It is definitely overwhelming! My collection has so many components and covers so many states that it may be a lot of work determining where it should go...but at least we are thinking about it now!