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Preserving the Present

Genealogists are often so busy preserving the past that we forget to preserve the present for the future.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Genealogists are often so busy looking for family history that we forget that we need to leave some family history. It is arrogant for us to presume that all the information that we research and solidify will be saved for several generations. Families move, records are lost, and people lose touch. We need to make sure that we leave clues, as our ancestors did, about our lives.

Public records will exist for us. Future generations will be able to check censuses, probate records, land records, military records, marriage records, birth and death records. The unfortunate truth to remember is that it is getting harder to check these types of records in today's world. I recently buried a family member. He was not a close family member, a first cousin once removed, and I was not allowed to look at his service records, even though I handled the funeral and needed his service dates to get his flag put on the coffin. The information had to be retrieved for me by the county clerk. In past years, genealogists could go into public offices and see the information, but identity theft has changed all that. It is realistic to consider that these records will become harder to retrieve in the future.

One of the biggest gifts you can give your heirs is leaving copies of your records. Go ahead and get a copy of your birth certificate, your marriage license, or your service record. Keep copies of land deeds in the same place as these records. By having these copies, your heirs will be able to reconstruct your life much more quickly and with less anguish and frustration. In today's mobile society, getting these records often puts a burden on your family.

Another important place to leave a record for future generations is your hometown newspaper. How many genealogists have gleaned important information from a social column in the 1880's? It is not far-fetched at all. Early newspaper printed the comings and goings of friends and relatives. Names and places were mentioned. Older obituaries were often agonizingly bereft of details, but the social columns were not. Social columns often included details of deaths, births, and weddings. Don't forget to look in the classifieds. The classifieds often yield a wealth of information for a genealogist, especially for death dates. Estate records, probate records, and debtor requests often help to piece together an ancestor's life. This information can work both ways. If you have a vague idea of the death date or year of an ancestor, you can check the local classifieds to see if any mention is made of the settlement. This can help you pinpoint a more specific date.

Check to see if the town, city or county where your ancestor lived had a newspaper. Most small towns had a weekly newspaper that doubled for the county paper. The majority of these newspapers are now on microfilm. The microfilm copies are usually kept in the local public libraries and are available to the public. Check with your local librarian to see about obtaining a listing of microfilm newspapers in a specific area.

In another vein, if you do live in a small enough town to have a local newspaper, be sure that present events get recorded. People are often hesitant to give news to social columns, but as long as no personal information is public, you are protected. Tell your local newspaper about your family reunions, your trips, and your visits. Be sure to get all the engagement, marriages, births and deaths in the newspaper with as much information as possible included. Then you need to be sure to keep copies of all of these items for future generations. If you are involved in civic activities, professional organizations or social clubs, be sure that information is publicized. It is amazing what a small snippet of information can lead a genealogist to research. We need to keep this in mind for the future.

Although most genealogists are dedicated to preserving the past for future generations, we need to remember that we also need to preserve the present.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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