Genealogy Wise

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How to Make Sure Your Research Won't Be Lost or Forgotten

I know a genealogist that passed away on January 1st, 2007. His name was Bob. I know Bob put a lot of effort into his research and that he took trips to do more research and walk in his ancestor’s footsteps. I wondered what happened to his research, so I asked.

It turns out Bob’s PC and three-ring-binders have yet to be picked up by his son!

I don’t mean this as a slight or to suggest that it should be any other way than it is. It’s just an observation, but one I think Bob would have thought important: his son is apparently not motivated to carry on his genealogy research nor even preserve it for the future. Might this be the fate of your research too?

It very likely would have been the fate of mine. Luckily, I asked members of the community to share with me their one big genealogy problem and fear of one's research being lost and forgotten was a common one. When I saw this fear among the responses the solution was immediately apparent to me and I knew it was a nearly universal problem so I was compelled to develop a method to solve it and make it freely available to all genealogists. I have put together a draft of a method I call Establishing a Genealogical Materials Steward. With the six simple steps in this method you can virtually guarantee that your genealogical research will be available to and remembered by succeeding generations. Here are the steps:

1. Prepare For Stewardship
2. Create a Prioritized List of Stewardship Candidates
3. Ask Each Stewardship Candidate (in Priority Order) Until One Accepts
4. Provide the Stewardship Materials
5. Review the Stewardship Materials with Them
6. Schedule Ongoing Stewardship Material Refreshes

Simple, right? Simple, but not easy. Judging by the state of the genealogy “research” published on the Internet, these simple steps are also secrets until now. Naturally there are techniques that make up each step, but these sub-steps are simple too. Anyone can do this!

As I said, I'm going to make this method available to anyone who wants it at no cost. First I need to polish any rough edges and make sure it is complete. To do this I need some people to volunteer to go through the process and give me feedback. This first pass through the method will be limited to a small number of people so that I can keep it manageable. The instructions will be emailed to you each week, one step at a time. This will give you time to review the material, ask any questions, take action, and give feedback. If you're interested, sign up for the mailing list here.

Even if you aren't interested in helping on this shake-down cruise, I would still like your input. Have you arranged for someone to manage your research after you pass? If so, how did you go about selecting the person or institution and arranging it? If not, what's preventing you?

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Till now, the way I made sure no one forgot my research was to foist it on as many people as possible. My daughter seems interested in some of the stories I tell, but she's only 17. My 14-year-old son isn't interested, of course. I have two nieces in their 20's who appreciate the photos I've uncovered, and actually help me find more. I have cousins who may not share my passion, but at least they abide my foolishness. It's probably not a method to ensure the work survives past me, so I'll be reading your mailing list very intently.
I blogged about this topic a while ago. Here's the post:
I was sitting here thinking about my research and passing it on. I haven't worried about passing it on, I share as I research with others that are interested, but I can't make someone be interested. You can't talk someone into wanting to be a researcher or to like genealogy. Remember if you found the information, generations from now will also be able to find the same information. Genealogy and research is my passion. If I collected dolls, I couldn't expect one of my children to carry on and collect dolls, if I collect stamps, does that mean that my children should carry on my collection for generations to come. If you have a famous person in your line, I am sure someone wants your research, but they probably already have it, you had to find it somewhere. Everyday working folks are important to the ones that want to know their roots. So I enjoy my passion as will the next person that decides they want to know where they came from. Just my thoughts on an early Sunday morning. P
HI Ben This is a great idea and very necessary. I am in Ireland and what I have arranged if none of my family takes an interest though I believe one will is that I have arranged that my research will be placed in the local city archives Declan Chalmers
It is very important that we instill in our children a pride of their heritage. We have to teach our children when they are young, show them our research and share with them some of the stories we come across. Familiarize them with their grandparents, their great- grandparents and so on. Kids love to hear stories of the "olden" days. We just have to make the effort. That does not mean they are going to be interested in continuing your research, but they are going to value the work you have put into it and make sure your research will go somewhere where it will be appreciated.
I have completed the first part of this course and I have to say it has helped me get my thoughts in order. I haven't selected a steward yet but, I do have a plan for one if I find him/her.

I am looking for a person with an interest in my research, not an institution. I think I would like to have the hard copies in possession of a single person and send GEDCOMs or some such suitable copy of my databases to pertinent libraries, gen soc, FHL, etc.

If you haven't signed up for the course but have concerns for the safety of your research, this is well worth the time and effort and it doesn't cost anything.

Many thanks to Ben Sayer for providing the inspiration and help in trying to resolve the problem of preserving our research.

If any of you are taking this course, could you share your thoughts here with others? It would prob be a great help to see how we are all tackling this dilemma. Also, Ben might get some ideas about how to put his work into a group on Genealogy Wise.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing his group on this subject on this website.
Hi, Dodie.

Great idea! I've created a group here for people who are benefiting from my courses, methods, and techniques. It's a great way to give me feedback to help me improve and to discuss your progress and ideas with others.
Hello Ben, excuse my ignorance but what courses, methods, and techniques?
Hi, Debbra.

Most of my published methods and techniques are available through and (for example, the MacGenealogist File System). Unforgettable Genealogy: Establishing a Genealogical Materials Steward is a course I just made available through I'm also working on another course I'm calling Perennial Genealogy of which Unforgettable Genealogy is a part. It is an integrated set of methods to ensure that your genealogy is not just remembered and available, but extremely useful to other genealogists.

Stewards may be needed as more families disintegrate and as historical societies face budget constraints (and lack of cataloging, archiving, etc.).
The mega Internet sites might be fine for the raw pedigree, but artifacts are just as important. For example, even in our personal history, memories and memorabilia about the lunar landing 40 years ago today.

[I've created a Personal History group, and posted a 4-page outline and an extensive bibliography to encourage the analysis and preservation of artifacts and more on my Preservation group]
PS: Archival CD/DVDs for the public were in the news today.

Best wishes...
In line with this dilemma is I recently purchased a new computer. It was a little bit of a hassle because I needed an older operating system, but I got it, after explaining to the sales rep I wanted to run my older software and open my old files generated by them. But he did not mention the cd/dvd burner would not read cds created on the old burner. GAH! I began to grieve, all my records on cds. So I determined to learn more about cd materials and formats, and to my greater dismay found out that cd data is not burned into the metal but is printed on the plastic coating. That printing has a life expectancy of 5 years! Less with cheaper cds.

On the other hand, on-line services come and go, so while I have some family tree stuff out there, most of my important family history and backup documents were burned on cd. Already both my family tree softwares are obsolete, one is no longer available, and the other is behind a few versions. Sigh. Buying a new software and loading gedcoms and them combing through for errors---all to be repeated in a few years.

So even if I found anyone in my family interested in my data, it's not likely it will be accessible in 10 or 25 years. So stewardship for me means keeping up the "translations" which is a huge chore.
Myss Story" I'm not sure about all you have mentioned but, I believe you are getting too stressed about saving your research. First, a GEDCOM file will open in just about any genealogy program. Maybe any genealogy program. So, if you make GEDCOM files of all your databases and put them on flash drives and CDs, that will be a pretty safe bet even if you have to buy a new computer. Distribute the CDs and flash drives to whomever you can in your family and save one set for yourself. I can not think why you couldn't open CDs made with one burner in another computer's CD drive when we do this all the time with music files and data files, etc.

It is good to make new GEDCOMS of your databases and load them to flash drive and CDs or whatever new media becomes available. You should prob do this about 2-3 years. And, test them to see if they can be opened on any new computer or with any new genealogy program. You do have to keep up with what new media is coming on the market in case CD's or a new kind of flash drive or something else becomes available since it could become a standard. But, new media taking over as a standard does not happen overnite.

As for the GEDCOM error problem, as I work with my files, I watch them for errors that might have happened in the transfer and I haven't encountered any errors so far. That's not to say it won't happen but I believe the ability to use GEDCOM files has become more stable.

Then, genealogy software will work as long as you can load it into a new computer. I've been using my genealogy software for abt 10 yrs and have been able to load it onto a new desk top computer and a laptop. It works fine. However, it is a very simple program. And, one day, maybe when I start using MS VISTA, it may not load. But, then it is very simple to get a new program and load my GEDCOMS into the new program. There have been many updates and new versions to my genealogy software but, I don't get every single one that becomes available. I only need a simple program and don't need all the bells and whistles that come with the updates and new versions. I don't keep copies of documents, photos, etc in my software so I don't need that ability in a program.

I do not post my databases to on-line services yet since I have had some bad experiences with that. I believe the ability to save our work on-line is becoming more secure so, I may do that in the future if I find a service I think I can trust.

Finally, if you have kept hard copy files along with your electronic databases, a Steward would be useful to manage them when you no longer can. Just takes a little organization.

I think if you preserve your databases on electronic media and your hard copy files in a relatively safe place and hand them off to a Steward, anyone in 10-25 years will still be able to use them.

If you haven't done so yet, you might consider printing out hard copies of your research and gifting it to local libraries, the Family HIstory LIbrary or any other institution. That way, at least what you have done so far will be preserved.

All is not hopeless. Just think of the genealogy research that has been saved even as far back in this country as when the first wave landed in Jamestown in the 1600s.

PS watch this group. Some good ideas here.



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