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.”
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We have to ORGANIZE! (Yikes)
We don’t like to hear this tip, do we? Just because you know where everything is, doesn’t mean that anybody else knows where anything is. When you’re researching, there’s no single right way to organize your genealogy files and such. But if you’re thinking about the longevity of the research, you really do need to use a system that would make 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:
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 to have a logical pattern for the arrangement for all of the files. Don’t 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 be part of what they curate.
How do you find out which libraries, archives, or museums would accept your collection?
Think about the libraries, historical societies, archives in the area where those ancestors were. If you have a special 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.
You might have to SPLIT UP your collection. (Gasp!)
It would actually make sense. Let’s say that your father's side of the family is from Alabama and mom’s side of the family is all from Vermont. Those locations are not close and there are few libraries or archives out there that would really want both of those family lines together.
In short, match what you have to the right facility.
Tell Your Family Where You are Donating Your Genealogy Research
Make sure you tell your family where to donate your research. Far too often the family doesn’t learn that the filing cabinet goes to XYY library until the reading of the will AFTER they have cleaned out the house and taken the filing cabinet to the dumpster.
To avoid those ‘Oops” moments, tell your family your plans.
I suggested putting 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 only special 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.
When you get in that situation where life events are happening and you have to make decisions when you are under stress, you won’t make the right choices. The earlier you can start planning and getting these things organized and taken care of, the easier it will be on everybody It’s easier to organize in little bits.
You Don’t Necessarily Need to Obtain Archival-Quality Boxes
When donating your genealogy, archival boxes are not as important as taking your materials out of the garbage bags and grocery sacks. Anything that you can do to get your materials more stable is going to be preferred. Make it easier for the next person to use your research.
BONUS TIP: Reduce Your Genealogy Collection Before You Donate
Archives do not necessarily want your room full filing cabinets. And there is so much stuff online. 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!
For more tips on reducing your files in preparation to downsize, order our book Downsizing With Family History In Mind at Amazon.
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:
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