What do we do with stuff that we need to downsize but can no longer (or don’t want to) take care of? Amy Johnson Crow shared five fantastic tips on donating your genealogy to archives and libraries.
Amy says what we do with our stuff is the “$64,000 question.”
We have to ORGANIZE!
We don’t like to hear this tip, do we?
Just because you know where everything is, doesn’t mean anybody else knows where anything is. When researching, there’s no best way to organize your genealogy files.
If you’re thinking about the research's longevity, you need to use a system that makes sense to somebody else.
Avoid being so specific that you are the only one who understands the system.
With a degree in library science and familiarity with library archives, Amy suggests we arrange the following:
paper files, rather than binders by an ancestral couple
digital research files, arranged by location
For a further explanation of why she researches by location, watch the video linked below.
The key to organization is having a logical rrangement for all of the files.
And do not donate your genealogy research if it’s a mess.
Don’t assume a museum, library, or archive will accept your donations.
Archives, museums, and libraries have space limitations. Talk to the library, society, archive, or museum before you drive up and drop off your donations.
Make sure they will accept the genealogy research you want to donate. What you want to share with them might not align with what they curate.
How do you determine which libraries, archives, or museums would accept your collection?
Think about the libraries, historical societies, and archives in the area where those ancestors were. Then, if you have a particular research topic (military, ethnic groups, etc.), find a museum or library that accepts those items.
Also, consider donating to Universities and Colleges. Look at their special collections online to see what they are curating and see if your materials fit their interests.
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You might have to SPLIT UP your collection.
Let’s say that your father's side of the family is from Alabama, and your mom’s side of the family is all from Vermont. Unfortunately, those locations are not close. Furthermore, there are few libraries or archives out there that would want both of those family lines together.
In short, match what you have to the suitable facility.
Tell Your Family Where You are Donating Your Genealogy Research
Far too often, the family doesn’t learn that the filing cabinet goes to XYY library until they read the will AFTER they have cleaned out the house and taken it to the dumpster.
To avoid those ‘Oops” moments, tell your family your plans.
Putt big warning labels on those filing cabinets, “When I die, take to XYZ library.” Amy liked that approach.
Amy has a box that is completely different than any other box in her office. It has unique things in this box, so her family can tell this is something they should keep.
Plan Ahead to Donate Your Family History
Don’t wait until something before you start making these calls and these decisions about where you will be donating your genealogy.
You won't make the right choices when you get in that situation where life events happen, and you have to make decisions when stressed.
So the earlier you can start planning and getting these things organized and taken care of, the easier it will be for everybody. It’s easier to manage in little bits.
You Don’t Necessarily Need to Obtain Archival-Quality Boxes
When donating your genealogy, archival boxes are less important than taking your materials out of the garbage bags and grocery sacks. Anything you can do to make your materials more stable will be preferred. Make it easier for the next person to use your research.
For more tips on reducing your files in preparation to downsize, order our book Downsizing With Family History In Mind at Amazon.
BONUS TIP: Reduce Your Genealogy Collection Before You Donate
Archives rarely want your room full of filing cabinets. And there is so much stuff online. So reduce your files before you pass them on.
Census records are online, so discard your handwritten transcriptions of the census records. Toss out the printouts of the census records as well. Just be sure you have
migrated the information to your genealogy database.
So, if it’s online, toss it out.
It is amazing how much paper you’ll get rid of just by eliminating duplicates!
Support Amy Johnson Crow and Generations Cafe
I enjoyed learning these tips from Amy Johnson Crow, be sure to check out her podcast – Generations Cafe (available on podcast services such as Stitcher, stitcher.com/podcast/generations-cafe. Two of my favorite episodes are: