17 August 2012

This Has Never Been About You

I want you to take a serious minute today and ask yourself what your end-game is with genealogy. I'm a firm believer in "a tree is never done", but you have a finite amount of time to research. When will the end of your journey come? Will you research until you die? Until arthritis robs you of your hands? Until your memory fails you? Until you are killed in a freak accident involving a bicycle bell, a cream pie, 3 firemen and an undisclosed woodland creature? (It could happen).

Why should you worry about the end? Well, now I want you to ask yourself what major mysteries you'd like to solve in your tree. Are you working on them now? Are you planning trips to physical locations that will open up your research? Or are you working on the easier avenues of research online rather than going after what means the most to you? Why are you avoiding the work that will lead you to the greatest high a genealogist can have solving a truly difficult mystery? Do you really think you'll be around for it forever?

Maybe for you it's not about the mysteries, but the new living connections. How many have you made? Not just on member trees, but in emails, calls, and real life. Do you plan get-togethers on small and large scales? Do you know these new cousins like they were your oldest relatives or are they a user name on a screen? They aren't going to live forever either. Get out there and share! Get the facts of your life in as many people's hands as possible to ensure the research done after you are gone is accurate. Share yourself and create new memories for the next generation. Connect with the family that has this passion to trace your family history and celebrate the finds with the people most connected to your research.

And what about your research? I've already said to make the system work for you, but make it something anyone can pick up from where you leave off. Be honest, can they? Are you citing your sources? Are you organising your documents as you go? Does your system make sense? If you aren't sure, or want to test, find a relative willing to "play a game". Have them look at your system. Ask them to find a relative or group in your research and tell you what they learned. Task them to find something that interests them. Did they just stand there, horrified, unable to choose which bookshelf to rummage or pile to destroy? Did they give up frustrated that it made no sense how you decided to put Grandma with her second husband's family even though they are related to her first marriage? Or was it such an experience that they are now asking to learn more? (probably not that last one; I've tried this several times and while I've gotten compliments on how easy it was to find, they all leave as fast as their legs can carry them when I tell them they are done helping me.)

More than that, what happens to your research when you die? Will you donate it to a library or historical society? Which one? My family travels about a lot, to get my research in the right hands would require several copies to several societies in different locales specific to my family. Oh, maybe you plan to pass this info to someone else in the family. Okay, who? I would like to pass this down to my kids, but I don't have any. I could be killed in a car accident tonight so I really can't wait for kids to be born and grown enough to research. I have a plan now to pass it to my brother, but he has no interest in genealogy. He'd only save it for the next interested party. But who would that be? And how can I be sure their research style will be compatible with mine, not to mention reliable? I plan to make surname books that can be printed on demand from an online publisher for relatives wanting an interesting historical account of their family. By doing them on a specific surname, my relatives can choose what matters most to them. Unfortunately, writing a compelling book and gather facts for several generations in a logical order is an enormous undertaking. Without a plan of how I want that book to be, what I want to include, where I want to "stop" the edition, and if I want to periodically "update", the project may never get off the ground.

Your challenge this week

This week I want you to make your end plan. Where is your research going when you are gone? Pick one or all three, but make your plan. By always keeping this as your goal, you will find yourself keeping up with your research in a different way. You'll change from someone who's collecting names and dates into someone who's organising a history.

1. Pass on to your successor- If you plan to keep your research going into the next generation, you need to start looking for a successor as soon as possible. They'll start out as your assistant, so teach them how to use the tools available. Show them how to research using Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Archives, MyHeritage. Make them a list of all the sites you use and your member ID/password for each. Note whether you are a pay member and when your renewal is. Write down customer service numbers so they can contact the company. Specifically state in your will that all your research, photos and heirlooms are to go to them so they can have legitimate claim upon your death. Task them with independent research on a person or line you aren't working on so they can practice and you can gauge their progress. Take them on trips to cemeteries and historical societies. Invite them to seminars and conferences. Make it fun! Do a bit of genealogy, then lunch, then a movie. Show them that your life (and subsequently theirs) isn't swallowed up in dust. WE know that's a lie, but let's not scare the young ones.

I had a woman tell me about a trip her son took to New England. Since he was going that way, she asked for some records and gave him a list of names she was researching. She told him exactly what she needed, or so she thought. He came back with information she had, information not related and the expectation of being paid for the copies he purchased. She had no problem reimbursing him, but she found herself wishing she had trained him better on how to research. In the end, he had asked the desk clerk for help and was led astray. While this may not be her successor, her son wasn't unused to research. He was just unused to genealogy. She has a daughter going overseas and again she hopes to get some help in research. A lesson was learned and she's being more explicit with her instructions. With your successor, that's what you have to be. You have to remember they don't know what you know. You are the one who will warn them against using unsourced information. You will show them the importance of consistent citation and organisation. You will encourage responsible and accurate research...... unless you are an unorganised mess that uses family trees to get past your brick walls in which case you will only compound the problem facing genealogists in an era of quick results. Don't ruin it for the rest of us! Take the time needed to train your new genealogist.

2. Donate to a library or historical society- Just like your successor, the society that gets your research should receive organised and searchable files. Your research will be available to hundreds of others (hopefully), so make it workable. Type up what you can so your handwriting doesn't need to be decifered. Type transcriptions for handwritten items and keep both together. Make copies if you plan to donate to several parties and organise them in boxes labelled for each party. Find out if they have a digital library and what format they prefer. Investigate their storage capability. If the storage closet that occasionally floods is where they'll keep your records, now is the time to start a movement for better storage and updated systems. Get involved in the preservation of records and help the community to raise funds for a crumbling library now before your records are in the mouldy basement next to the decayed books of yesteryear. And again, specifically will those copies to the societies so that your executor knows what to do with your research and gives legitimate claim to your property to the right people.

3. Write a book- Why not write your history down in a book? They make great gifts. Even people not into genealogy might want one to show to relatives or display for posterity. You can do it in chronological order. It can be a simple register of names and dates for further research. You can add photos (make sure to follow all copyright laws and get permission from owners for publication of photos you didn't create). Add stories and narratives from family (again ask for permission). Before you even number the pages of this book, you need to know what it's going to be about. How much you plan to include. My surname books will not include living members for privacy reasons. I plan to allow for publication of updates as family passes. This is something I would need a successor to accomplish, as I don't want to be in a constant state of republish. But this is the stuff you have to plan for. Your tree will always be growing, so waiting for it to be done to make your book will be interminable. Pick your stop point. Figure out how you want to publish. Will you use an online publisher? Is there a minimum number required to publish or is it on demand? Do you want someone to make a hand-crafted book? I saw a publisher on Etsy that will take old fabrics like clothes and blankets to make the paper that they print the books on.... how cool would it be to take that tattered baby blanket and make a family book out of it? And what about the cost: are you going to front the bill or do you expect family to chip in?

And remember to keep up with your clean workspace and your "pinch an inch" tasks as we go!

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It's something all family historians and genealogists need to think about.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets