|My family history paper files...semi-organized.|
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 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?