Where to Donate Records to Make Them Available to Everyone

A newsletter reader sent an interesting question this week, asking where to donate newly-found documents that may be of interest to many other genealogists. Here is an excerpt from her message:

“I recently was going through records and old documents that my grandmother had saved and came across an original passenger list of one of my immigrant ancestors from Poland/Prussia in 1895. To the best of my searching, I have not found any other records from this ship and this document is nowhere else to be found. I have scanned mine in so that others may benefit from it. The problem is I don’t know what to do with it. Aside from attaching it to my ancestors records. Where else can I deposit this information?”

I believe I can give some answers but suspect that other newsletter readers can contribute even more ideas. Here are my suggestions:

Most repositories gladly accept collections of original materials related to the library’s interests. However, few or none of them will accept compiled genealogies that simply list one’s own ancestry.

Founded in 1894, the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City began to acquire genealogical records and continues to do so today. The Library is now the repository for more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, 742,000 microfiche, 310,000 books and other materials such as journals, maps and electronic resources. The Library presently accepts the following materials:

  • Autobiographies and biographies containing genealogical material
  • Family histories with genealogical information
  • Indexes to records
  • Local histories (limited)
  • Well organized collections of genealogical and research materials

The FamilySearch Library also accepts other items although there are some guidelines as to what can be accepted as well as a list of items that cannot be accepted. Details may be found in the FamilySearch document, Gifts, Donations, and Loans to FamilySearch, at https://familysearch.org/sites/default/uploads/Donations-Guidelines-REVISION-12-July-2012.pdf. Library employees do ask you to contact the library prior to donating anything.

The Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has the largest genealogy collection of any publicly-funded library. The Library’s Genealogy Center accepts donations; as stated on the Library’s web page at http://www.genealogycenter.org/Donate.aspx: “We welcome your contributions of papers, books, and disks of data. In print or in digital formats, your work will not only benefit great numbers of researchers, it will also be preserved for generations to come on our shelves and webpages. Whether it’s research articles, images of military veterans in your family history, completed books, indices to record groups large and small, or copies of the family record pages in your family Bible, all will find a good home in The Genealogy Center. Contributions can be mailed or sent electronically directly to The Genealogy Center.”

The New England Historic Genealogical Society encourages members and friends to consider donating their genealogical materials. Donations of books and other published material (family histories, periodicals, etc.) relevant to genealogy or local history are greatly appreciated. Details may be found at http://www.americanancestors.org/Support/Donate-Materials/.

The Newberry Library is a large genealogy and local history library in Chicago and is always looking for books and historic documents that will extend, strengthen, and complement the library’s collection. If you are considering such a donation, please contact a library curator or librarian first. Details may be found at http://www.newberry.org/collecting-newberry.

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) also accepts donations although I believe their focus is primarily on the society’s Americana Collection containing manuscripts and imprints pertaining to the history of Colonial America, the Revolutionary War period and the Early National period. Details may be found at http://www.dar.org/sites/default/files/members/darnet/forms/HG-1009.pdf.

The Midwest Genealogy Center in Kansas City accepts donations of gently-used genealogy books and yearbooks. In addition, certain donated materials deemed to have unique or noteworthy content are considered on a case-by-case basis for special disposition. The Midwest Genealogy Center no longer accepts unpublished research materials.

Finally, the Internet Archive is not a genealogy organization but is used by tens of thousands of genealogists to find historical information. The Internet Archive accepts donations of almost ALL digital cultural artifacts, genealogy-related and non-genealogy items alike. Items need to be digitized first and then uploaded, with the exception of large collections of books that the Internet Archive is willing to digitize themselves. Details may be found at https://archive.org/about/faqs.php#Uploading_Content.

The above certainly is not a complete list. Many local special collection libraries, universities, genealogy societies, and historical societies also accept donations of materials that are relevant to their areas of interest. Such repositories ensure that these personal and family records will be available for research by generations to come. The Society of American Archivists has published Donating Your Personal or Family Records to a Repository at http://www2.archivists.org/publications/brochures/donating-familyrecs although that helpful article does not list specific repositories that might be interested in your donation.

I suspect other newsletter readers can contribute other suggestions as well. If so, please offer your suggestions in the comments below. I will collect the better suggestions and incorporate them into a future update to this article.


I believe you can upload scanned images to Mocavo.com, and share them that way.


The best place for the passenger list is the one where others are most likely to look for it, and that depends upon where in the US the ship arrived. I suggest contacting a local or state genealogical society at that port for advice on where other passenger lists are kept, and to add this one to that collection.


    I agree with John Ralls. We weren’t told any details about the passenger list as in when, where it sailed from or where it arrived. But it should belong to a collection where people are most likely to be looking for it. I was thinking of NARA which Dick did not even mention, for some reason. At the same time, archive.org is a great place to put the digital image. And many other sites and repositories. I would get images of it it to as many places as will accept it.


    The US is not the only place in the world. There are genealogists and family historians in many countries. Why do the people who leave comments not think of this ?


You can also share with The USGenWeb and WorldGenWeb Projects


If this really is an original passenger list of an arrival at a U.S. port (see similar passenger lists online at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org for for the same year for comparison), then I strongly suggest that the current owner contact the National Archives at . It would be helpful to include a digital photo or scan. NARA’s staff would take a look at the photo, check its holdings to see if the passenger list in question is missing from its holdings, and decide whether or not NARA is interested in the item. While it sounds odd that an original passenger list would be among a family’s possessions, stranger things have happened. Of course, the thing in question may well be a paper given to the immigrant at some point in time that documents their arrival (perhaps a certificate of arrival?) but is not a “passenger list” in the truest sense of the word. It’s hard to make an informed statement about what it is without seeing it.


In the UK, the Society of Genealogists is usually open to donations of genealogical materials, family histories and the like:


I am the original person who contacted Eastman, The document I have is the printed passenger list from the Norddeutscher Lloyd 7 Sept 1895. From Breman to New York. Captain W. Reinkasten.

I have the document scanned into Pdf Format, I have contacted. http://www.gjenvick.com as they have one similar to what I have had, but have not heard back. I will work on contacting the other places listed.

I’m happy to share as the list contains 265 passenger names and 19 officers


I would say the NATIONAL ARCHIVES and in the hope that IT never burns down, or since IT has information on folks coming in, why not sent IT to the ELLIS ISLAND center in NYC…


    Many countries have NATIONAL ARCHIVES ! Are we supposed to assume that the US one is the only one ? I find it difficult to believe that a serious genealogist would write such a message. Were his/her ancestors over the last thousand years all born in what became the USA ?


Lesley K. Cafarelli February 2, 2015 at 10:03 am

Like others above, the first repository I thought of, provided this is an actual passenger list and the ship arrived at a U.S. port, is the National Archives. I would strongly recommend not donating it to a commercial entity, and a nonprofit organization might cease to exist at some point. The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild might also be helpful. http://www.immigrantships.net/


On Ancestry.com I recently ran into someone who had converted a Washington D.C. street car company yearbook into a shared family tree. Each entry was scanned for users to view and the entries for whatever reason contained spouses (with maiden names) and children, as well birth dates and where they were born. It helped me find out what happened to a 2nd great aunt I had no other sources for.


Thanks so much for this article. After 40 years of collecting original documents and photos which are no longer around, I’ve been wondering what to do with it all after my demise. Current relatives don’t exhibit the desire or ability to continue this endeavor or to safeguard these priceless items. Thanks for the suggestions.


Here is a link to the scanned passenger list I was referring to when I contacted Eastman



good news!.. I just heard from the folks at http://www.gjenvick.com and they plan on having my passenger list on their website within the week.. this article and forum has been so helpful. I have 3 file boxes of materials filled with artifacts and photos from the South Chicago area in the 1900’s that I’ve been dying to find a home for. The Passenger list was the big one that I wanted to get out there, as I know so many people look for that immigrant ancestor, and so much has been lost during those years. At least now I know where to start with donating artifacts. It is my school of thought is that history can’t be owned by anyone, so I have been trying to find free places to upload all my artifacts. Thank you all for your inputs.


One issue with donating documents — what happens to the right to make
copies? Many organizations will claim copyright to whatever they post online, even though all they did was to scan the document or do a bit of enhancement. Many organizations will impose terms-of-service agreements much more restrictive than the actual author could impose. Prospective donors need to ask about public access before donating.

We need a standard access provision that donors can demand, to ensure that the item is in the public domain. Something carefully drawn up to be viral, like the copyleft or open source software licenses.

An example of the problem was discussed here (Jan 31). UFO Project Blue Book Files Removed from a Web Site at the Request of Fold3


I would highly suggest if you submit it somewhere to keep a copy for yourself, and to also submit copies to other organizations. In many cases, state and local genealogy societies may not be able to house the originals, but would love to have indexes or copies of the documents. If you think about the many ways that you can archive something now, think multiple so that we don’t lose them to fire like the documents in the recent fire in an Illinois genealogy society.

So an archival plan might look like this:
1. Keep scans in your family tree file.
2. Send an index of the document to the US GenWeb or World GenWeb projects.
3. Send the originals to FamilySearch, NEHGS, or another large society, or a place like Allen County Public Library.
4. Send copies of the originals and the indexes to a local or state genealogy society.

That way, we ensure not only that the data gets out there but that should one archive be destroyed, there are backups available and we don’t ever lose that data permanently.


Yes, be sure you keep the rights to use the document/information when you donate.
Several years ago when I donated an 1865 family quilt to a museum I specifically changed the language in the contract to allow me to use photos I had taken of the quilt (since the original contract excluded all photos except ones by the museum). The museum had no problem with my changes.


It’s a Bremen passenger list, so why not go to the online digitized Bremen passenger lists? That’s where anyone looking for a Bremen list would go.


The image is of a list from Bremen, so why not send it to the online digitized site of the surviving Bremen records? That’s where anyone looking for a Bremen list would look.


My father had a medium-sized collection of a variety of family documents, including a New Testament printed in Amsterdam in 1743, with family names; multiple documents belonging to my gg grandfather, a Methodist minister and missionary to Liberia in 1849-1850, including a journal and a photo album; lots of information on a related family in central IL in the 19th c; 300+ postcards exchanged between my paternal grandparents in 1910-1911 in WA State; and thousands of slides my father took. He put all this into my custody at the end of his life, with the proviso that when I’d extracted all the genealogical information, I would donate everything to a single repository. Even then, I was pretty sure no one organization would want them all, and I knew the United Methodist archives at Drew University in NJ wanted the Methodist-connected material but nothing else. Still, I agreed, and those in the family who are interested are working with them. We’re by no means finished. Today, with the advent of digitizing, maybe it can be split among repositories. It doesn’t necessarily have to be either/or.


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