You’ve worked hard on your family tree and your research contains countless clues for other researchers. You don’t want to let those materials go to waste. Maybe you have a family member who is as passionate about genealogy as you are and has agreed to take all of your books, notebooks and research papers. But what if you don’t have someone like that who will care for your materials the way you have? If you’ve thought about giving your genealogy to a library or archive, here are some things to consider before you write your will.
Not every library and archive can take every type of donation. The Boondocks County Public Library might be your all-time favorite place to research, but it may not be able to handle boxes and boxes of your research notes and binders. It may not have the space and it may not have a means of making the collection available to researchers later.
Susan Kaufman, Manager of the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, points out that many libraries cannot accept original photographs, due to the conditions they need to be stored in and the care they require.
Talk to the librarians and archivists where you are considering donating your materials. Describe the time period and the location that the collection covers. An archive in New Mexico might not be interested in research notes that cover families that never left Maine. Don’t take it personally if they decline your gift; they can’t take all of them.
The better organized your materials are, the more likely that a library or archive will want to accept them and the faster that they will be available for researchers to use. Kaufman said that libraries and archives don’t have the staff to go through box after box trying to bring order to a collection. Putting together the materials by surname, location, etc. will help tremendously.
It takes time, staff and resources to process items into a library or archive. You don’t want your donation turned down because it will cost too much to process. A monetary gift along with your materials will help offset this cost.
Sadly, many donations never make it where they were intended to go. In the process of breaking up the house when a loved one goes into a nursing home, family members have been known to toss items they didn’t think were “important.” As Tom Neel, Library Director at the Ohio Genealogical Society, points out, the executor and the obligations of a will have no power until a person dies. Neel said, “Attorneys have sent us a will copy with the bequest along with the apology that the personal belongings were sold several years before the death.”
You’ve been climbing your family tree for a long time and have made great discoveries. Don’t let your work end up in a landfill. Take these steps to help ensure that your research will be available to others for years to come.
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