Posted by Ancestry Team on February 20, 2014 in Website

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.

1. Talk to the Library or Archive Before You Write Your Will

colored-foldersNot 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.

2. Get Your Materials Into Good Shape

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.

3. Make a Monetary Gift Along With Your Genealogy

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.

4. Let Your Family Know of Your Wishes

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.



  1. Kirk Sellman

    Scan and upload pictures and documents to as many genealogy websites as possible so that they will be preserved for generations to come.

  2. Amy Frances Vetrone

    I have been doing research since I was a teenager. I never thought about what would happen with the info I had collected…until my mother died 2 years ago and I took the family photos etc. I started scanning them…contacting relatives to help identify them….and joined Ancestry! I got my sister hooked and now she helps with the research! We have a lot of photos scanned and use many of them in our public family tree! I am digitalizing the info I have! I believe the next generation will not want the volume of paper….I trust that one day…my children and grandchildren will appreciate the effort! I must add that my sister and I only picked up from where others before of us left off! Our tree and the research associated with our tree is multi-generational…with many family genealogists before us researching, collecting and compiling data! I often wonder where their volume of research ended up?!

  3. All very excellent points! I would like to emphasize the part about not taking it personally if the institution cannot take them. Again, they can’t take everything and that just means it isn’t the right home for your collection…keep looking!

    Also, before you donate, and in the stage of talking to the library/archive, be sure to ask them about processing time. Every collection that comes into an archive needs to be processed by staff on some level before it is made accessible to other users. Ask them about their current processing time and staff levels. Will your collection be accessible soon or will it be 5 years or more? If they have a backlog, look elsewhere, OR, negotiate that point in the donation agreement. You can ask that your items get processed within a certain amount of time according to the stipulations of your donation “contract”.

  4. FHC Librarian

    A very useful heads-up article. We spend years lovingly working on our family history and usually don’t think of what will happen to it after we are no longer able to maintain it. I personally don’t have a lot of material things to leave behind, but I have put my heart and soul into my research.

  5. About donating your hard work on your genealogy. I have a fellow amateur genealogist who when she asked her mother for help was told that their family was already done. When she asked her mother where could get a copy she told her it was donated to the Tulane University Archives. When she asked Tulane for use of the files the answer was that was too much info the archive for them to bother looking for it.

  6. About donating your hard work on your genealogy. I have a fellow amateur genealogist who when she asked her mother for help was told that their family was already done. When she asked her mother where could get a copy she told her it was donated to the Tulane University Archives. When she asked Tulane for use of the files the answer was that was too much info the archive for them to bother looking for it. What a waste!

  7. Amy Johnson Crow

    John — While I don’t know the specifics of the collection your colleague was trying access, I can offer the following advice. Many archives cannot provide in-depth research services; there simply isn’t the staff available to do that. I would suggest contacting the archive to see if there is a finding aid for the collection. Finding aids are kind of like a “table of contents” for a collection. Use that to see what types of materials are in there and work from there. So, instead of requesting the entire collection, your colleague could say that he/she is interested in a certain ledger or a specific box.

  8. Mike Daigle

    One thing my direct paternal and maternal family lines did was to have at least 1 person in the family to be the family historian. This person always had at hand a “Skeleton” of the main family lines, so others could easily look for it and then tie in to what everyone on all the families had done. I am VERY fortunate and grateful for them doing this, as it has saved years of needless research. In our lines the historians always have passed on a paper trail and even photos too. You really then appreciate all the sacrifices and persistence our forbearers had. But opposite to the example above, when I have been asked about the family genealogy I simply invited the relative to the tree at and they could look for themselves. Family members have even connected back up with relatives not seen in years.

  9. Great article. Someone just shared with me that boxes of pedigrees, documents etc. are often donated at a local thrift store and that they generally just put them in the trash compactor because they don’t have the manpower to sift through them and remove sensitive data that might contain information on living. It made me ill and is a good reminder than unless we organize our materials in a manner that helps them have value for the generations that follow, all of our hard work may get tossed in the end.

  10. Amy Johnson Crow

    Michelle — Anything you can do to organize your materials will help when you do to donate them. The question you should ask is, “Would this make sense to a complete stranger who has never seen my research before?”

Comments are closed.