Where will the research, photos and keepsakes go?
Hawai'ian genealogist Leilani Maguire has 30 years of professional experience in historical preservation, but these particular boxes were overwhelming. It was 2010 and Maguire, her brother and their first cousin were attempting to identify and distribute a lifetime's worth of papers and photos from their grandmother.
"On top of that, my grandmother died in 1959; her two sons did not deal with any of this," wrote Maguire in an email. "Thankfully one daughter-in-law kept everything."
There were family Bibles from the early 1800s, daguerreotypes from the 1850s and '60s, and various records and keepsakes from the 19th century. Maguire used her professional knowledge to set a simple goal: "find the right museum-like home for continued preservation."
The daguerreotypes and photos were accepted by the genealogical society and library in the area where the family came from. Other photos went to state archives, while some business-related items were accepted by museums specializing in those businesses. And not everything was sent away - Maguire kept a family Bible which contained locks of hair, and still has her grandmother's wedding dress.
Maguire later led a discussion on succession for the Honolulu County Genealogical Society, with the following tips:
1. Decide early who will inherit which keepsakes - now is the time to research museums and make sure family members are willing to take certain items.
2. Consider giving away some heirlooms now, when you can personally explain the importance of certain objects.
3. Label items clearly and keep instructions in a safe, easy-to-find place.
For completed research, libraries and museums are two options. Texas-based genealogist Larry Akin recommends your local genealogical society, which if affiliated with a local library, probably has a dedicated space to keep local research.
If your research isn't very local, consider a larger organization, such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Akin also suggests splitting up your material and finding a library willing to accept certain sections.
"For example, I have some very unique material associated with a New York Historical Site named Johnson Hall in Johnstown, Fulton, New York," he wrote in an email. "The Johnstown Public Library would probably accept this material on Johnson Hall, but there is also a Genealogy Library in Johnstown that would be even better suited for it."
There's also the hope that another genealogist will take up your work and continue it, a hope that requires a lot of planning.
Who will keep researching the tree?
Akin, who has over 30 years' experience in IT and genealogy, has several low-tech and high-tech ideas on finding a genealogy successor. The first is to enlist a family member, although he says finding a willing close family member is a matter of luck. Finding a younger member, unfortunately, isn't typical.
"Younger people are more interested in the present and, to a lesser extent, the future," he wrote. "They have families with needs to fill and jobs making demands so they are not prime candidates for assuming the responsibility for maintaining and growing a family tree."
Maguire agreed, saying that her cousins' twenty-something children aren't especially interested in genealogy. Maguire is fortunate that her daughter does enjoy research, although Maguire said she is unsure of who will continue the work after her daughter's generation.
But if close family isn't interested, consider distantly-related genealogists. Akin met one of the older, premiere Akin family genealogists and carried her work into his own database. He reminds genealogists that using an online program such as Ancestry already identifies relatives who work on genealogy.
Akin added that by giving different people different levels of access on a public Ancestry family tree, a genealogist can already have editors and contributors ready to take on an entire family tree when it's time for the original researcher to step back.
But however a researcher decides to hand off research or divide up information, it needs to be done sooner than later.
"In all of these cases, it becomes an urgent matter for all genealogists to think about research succession, develop a plan, and take the steps necessary to implement the plan," Akin wrote. "None of the options I identified will take place without prior steps taken by the research owner."