What to do with the genealogy and family history I collected

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What do I do with … that never ending story of genealogy and family history I have collected?

Once you are ready to share and pass on your collection of genealogy and family history material, you need to organize what you have, decide what to share with whom and where. Create a plan, work the plan. Evaluate and adjust as needed. The more preparation you do early on, the easier it is to do.

Well documented and organized genealogy and family history, in physical and digital formats, can be shared with many different people and organizations. Be aware that there are restrictions to the types of donated genealogy, family history and family heirlooms depending on the requirements of the institution or group you want to give to.

Donations to Organizations

Digital Material

Digital items can be scanned books, manuscripts, diaries and they can even contain images (pictures & documents). The key to such is organization that includes a table of contents and a good index of names.

There are dozens of computer programs, like Microsoft Word and Scrapbook Factory, and other family history utility programs that you can buy that will help you go step by step in creating digital and printed family history works. Family History Centers (FHC) and FamilySearch Libraries (FSL) have digital scanners that can be used for free. This includes flatbed, picture and possibly slide and negative film scanners.

The most common industry standard for word processing programs is the Word document format. (.doc) and it has been around since the 1980s. This format is used around the world in business and will be with us for some time.

The same thing goes for images. JPEG (.jpg) is a file extension and has an average 10-1 compression of the image that is also referred as JPEG. The Photographic Experts Group created the standard in 1992 and it has become the "de facto" standard for many digital organizations around the world.

Another format for both documents and images is called the Portable Document Format (.pdf) by Adobe and was created in 1993. Many who use it believe that it is the best for what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) and preserving what the author intended. For books, it is the most popular format and very likely to be around for a long time. For example, FamilySearch International (aka Familysearch.org) is using this format to scan their books and images as their standard format. They also encourage people to submit quality scans in the same format.

Remember - Before sharing old physical images or breaking up photo albums – scan them. Make a digital copy for everyone. Do not throw away old letters or stories before you take a good picture of them or scan them. When in doubt take or create an image. This also includes slides and negatives. If possible label all images or create a document with snapshots of the images, a list of who is who in the image with a where and when it was taken.

When in doubt always take a digital picture or make a digital scan at 6 megapixel or 300 dots per inch (DPI) level or better. Use higher resolutions when working with smaller images or any group of images.

Long term data storage on physical data DVDs (digital video disc) are optical discs and many are rated for up to 20 years. But only about 5-10 years for the ones you do for yourself. These discs have been around since 1995 and can store any kind of digital data. Businesses around the world rely on this method and will likely continue to do so for some time. Their biggest weakness is scratches from improper use.

Digital data can be easily transferred to any long term storage media device in the future. Since copying digital data to a new media creates a virtual copy, the copy will last longer than the original material. So make copies of your long term data to preserve the shelf life.

The current and most popular methods to hold larger amounts of digital data are called Flash Drives (2000) and the electronically similar Secure Digital (SD & mini SD) Card (1999). Both of them claim to have an ideal 10 years of storage life and both are backwards compatible. Backwards compatible means the newest version can read the older versions. Since the data is digital, it is also forward compatible with future digital storage devices.

Be aware that both SD & Flash drives are rated for the number of cycles used. The more you use such an item; this shortens the shelf life of the data. And in time, serious errors in the digital media will cause it to be corrupted. The average SD card in a smart phone will last less than five years with daily use. The average SD card used only a few times and properly stored can last a decade.

Sharing any digital genealogical records from any computer genealogy program or online format is best shared via GEDCOM. Unlike the print format, GEDCOM allows the receiver to save time and reduce data entry error by having a format they can use in any modern computer genealogy program.

GEDCOM – GEnealogical Data COMmunications is a way to transfer genealogical data from one program to another. It has been around since 1984. Almost every genealogy program has GEDCOM. Some common genealogy programs are Personal Ancestral File (PAF) *, Ancestral Quest (AQ)**, Roots Magic (RM)**, Legacy** and Family Tree Maker (FTM & FTW). Genealogy programs are generally used on personal computers. On line genealogy programs such as FamilySearch Family Tree***, Ancestry.com*^, and other on line genealogical type trees*^ also use GEDCOM for submissions.

-* PAF is now computer shareware and still works on Windows based machines including Windows 10. Some links, primarily for LDS temple features, are of course, no longer supported.
-** AQ, RM and Legacy have a free version with some advanced features turned off. But the GEDCOM feature is not. These specific programs allow access to FSFT (FamilySearch Family Tree). This allows you to place and take individual and family entries from FSFT. See more about these programs by clicking on this link.
-*** FSFT is an online collaborative genealogy website that is free to use. Its primary function is LDS Temple work. The big weakness is that anyone can modify deceased individual ancestors and indiscriminate merging can over ride the data you submitted. This is not a proper place for long term data storage because of the easy modifications that can be made for any reason by anyone to your data. It is a better place to share family history, pictures and stories.
-*^ Paid web site. Generally speaking, one year after you quit paying for the use, the host considers the genealogical material, including images, as abandoned property and claims full use of it for their own purposes. Read the fine print and be aware or remove your data when you quit using paid genealogy websites. Unless you want to give such companies your data, this is not a proper place for long term data storage.

In early 2016, I took a 5 ¼ inch floppy disc (10-20 year shelf life) from 1991 and transferred every thing to a 3 ½ inch floppy diskette. I then used a portable 3.5 inch USB drive with that last diskette to send the data to the computer at the FHC I volunteer at. From there I converted the GEDCOM file for use with a free genealogical program for a community patron to use on their Flash Drive. Over 15,000 names, notes and sources were recovered from media created 25 years ago.

Donate to the Pedigree Research File (PRF).

This is an “As Is” genealogy location with user submitted notes and sources. No pictures will be transferred. A GEDCOM, once submitted, can be viewed by everyone. And yes, those not listed as deceased will not be shown based on the PRF age of birth model.

“Pedigree Resource File (PRF) is a collection of user submitted genealogies. It shows individuals’ names; family relationships; and dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. No merges, corrections, or additions are made to genealogies submitted to Pedigree Resource File. The most current version of the Pedigree Resource File (PRF) is available for free on the Internet as part of Genealogies.” If you have read and understand the PRF requirements, the direct link to upload a GEDCOM is here.

Donate to: A specific surname project or geographic project.

If your genealogy is based on a specific surname, like Carpenter or Zimmerman, Chandler, Doane, or a specific name of a common surname like Roger Williams, many such surname projects, family associations and such would welcome well documented genealogy. Many will accept pictures and other images.

The same goes for some specific geographic area historical societies, projects or groups. Combine a surname with a long tern location where your ancestors were located and that is very helpful to that area or surname. For example: Smiths of Chatham County, North Carolina or Family Tree of the Jewish People.

Do not forget to see if your surname is registered with the Guild of One Name Studies. Your genealogy could be very helpful to the person or group collecting such surnames.

Please be aware that some groups may modify or only use new material or portions of what you send. When in doubt, ask.

Physical Material

In general unbound material is rejected. There are some exceptions. When in doubt, ask them. Each organization has a focus and rules of what can be donated. All require some type of signed release or use acceptance under the “Fair Use” laws, as cited by the Copyright Rules of the United States. Other rules will apply in other countries such as Canada, or Mexico.

A general rule of thumb is that older material, from say a century or more ago, may have more value with the oddball material stored with it. To many institutions and archives, those incidentals place the material in context of the times. Ask before culling or editing such collections.

Below are a few sample genealogical organizations that accept physical material. Yes, there are more such places out there.

FamilySearch International (FS and FSI) will accept readable, organized and indexed in some manner printed material. The goal is to digitize the book and manuscript collection for use on the FamilySearch.org website. Hard bound material with tight bindings and wide margins are difficult to copy and may be broken apart for scanning. Duplicate material is generally rejected unless it is in material better quality or significantly updated. When in doubt check, email, or call. Pre-scanned PDF material must meet the same standards and are very welcome.

Family History Library (FHL) for book donations, Church Archives (LDS records), and the Church History Library (LDS related material) all are in Salt Lake City, Utah. All of these are LDS focused. They also accept monetary donations to help procure and preserve LDS related items.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) – “NEHGS encourages our members and friends to consider donating their genealogical materials. Donations of books and other published material (family histories, periodicals, etc.) relevant to genealogy or local history are greatly appreciated. These gifts will be added to our Research Library as new titles or replacement copies. If they are not needed in the collection, they may be sold to benefit the NEHGS Book Preservation Fund. We also seek donations of digital files (preferably PDF or Word documents) for addition to the NEHGS Digital Library and Archive.”

The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) - The SAR utilizes genealogy in establishing “the lineal descendant of an ancestor who was at all times unfailing in loyalty to, and rendered active service in the cause of American Independence.” The SAR is a "lineage" society. This means that each member has traced their family tree back to a point of having an ancestor who supported the cause of American Independence during the years 1774-1783. The SAR has a Foundation, Library and pending Museum and each has a different focus for donating material. Donated books and manuscripts should be properly bound and organized.

Oregon State Historical Society – “Thanks to the generosity of the people of Oregon as well as people outside the state, the Oregon Historical Society Research Library has been able to build a large and important collection of papers, books, photographs, maps, audio recordings, films, and other historical materials.”

A general rule is that most local and state historical societies are almost always short of cash and stress monetary donations. But most of them will accept genealogical related material IF it meets their criteria. You need to ask them. Do not assume.

Summary

Today it is far easier to share ones life’s work. Everything can be digitized and shared with all family members. If you have significant historical material that can be physically donated, you can do so, but take images so that can be shared digitally with others. Personally, I would designate one person and a back up to keep or distribute (in a proper format) the original genealogical and family history material. Share all material digitally with the rest of the family.

Use the technology of today to record for your posterity the history of the past. Share your data especially in a digital format. Your efforts will reward the future generations in ways that you will not realize. Genealogy, family history and those mementos which you preserve physically and digitally today can be and will be used for centuries to come.

See also

The following provide other places and thoughts on this subject.
Donating Your Personal or Family Records to a Repository by the American Society of Archivists in 2013.
Where to Donate Records to Make Them Available to Everyone by Dick Eastman, dated 1 February 2015.
Five Keys to Leaving a Visual Legacy for Future Generations by Andrew and Rachel Niesen, dated 28 April 2016.