One Way to Preserve Your Genealogy Information Forever

NOTE: I recently published an article with the title of Converting My Personal Library to Digital at https://blog.eogn.com/2020/04/15/converting-my-personal-library-to-digital/. A newsletter reader posted a comment at the end of the article asking which method(s) I use of keeping my own family tree information safe and available. I decided to create a new article here with my answer in the hope that other genealogists who read the article will be inspired to do something similar.

What do I use and recommend?

Two words: “multiple means.”

I certainly hope that MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast, Archive.org, and all the other websites will last forever and will keep my information online and visible to the public forever. However, in this ever-changing world of high technology, I doubt that will happen.

Instead of expecting other organizations to preserve my data for me, I make multiple backup copies of my own data and store the copies in multiple places. I have written about this often in this newsletter, so I won’t repeat everything here. Making my own copies gives me confidence that my information will remain available to me FOR AS LONG AS I LIVE.

There is a bigger, long-time issue however: How do I make sure the information is available to other family members after my demise? I don’t have a single, simple answer, but I can describe what I do: I make sure that as many of my relatives as possible have copies.

I doubt if all my relatives will care about our family tree. Some of them undoubtedly will throw the information away. What I am betting, however, is that quite a few of my relatives will keep the information and preserve it. I suspect one or two or maybe more relatives will even copy it and make everything publicly available on whatever technology replaces the World Wide Web in the future. They may simply copy what I supplied, or (hopefully) they will copy it to newer and better formats and even update and improve the information and the source citations I offered. Then at least a few of these relatives will pass the updated information on to other relatives at that time.

Proof

Earlier this week, I discovered an online family tree that seemed to include all of my family tree, including both my father’s and my mother’s families. It was amazing: there was all the same information I had spent years collecting. Somebody else had collected the same information and all of it seemed to agree with mine!

Then I noticed the name of the person who uploaded it to the genealogy web site: it is the name of my grandniece. Apparently, she obtained the printed information I had given her mother many years ago and laboriously re-entered everything by hand into some genealogy program. Her information did not include my newer discoveries found in recent years, but that is easily resolved if I send updates to her and to her mother as well.

When reading my grandniece’s uploaded data, I smiled. It is a great example of how sharing information with multiple relatives allows the information to be handed down to later generations.

Is this guaranteed to preserve my information forever? No! Nothing is ever guaranteed. But I suspect this idea of sharing everything with everybody will greatly increase the odds of preservation.

22 Comments

While not foolproof, I create Wikipedia pages for my notable ancestors, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Moore_(colonial_official)

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I am really encouraged by the work being done to establish Permanent.org. I think they are in the right track

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    Permanent.org is integrating with FamilySearch Memories. FamilySearch users will be able to connect their FamilySearch account to create a private permanent archive for any members of their family in their family tree. The first gigabyte of storage is free; additional gigabytes have a one-time fee of $10 per gigabyte. You can learn more about the Permanent.org pricing here.

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    Toni, I haven’t tried the Family Search integration yet, mainly because “my” tree on FS is in horrible shape. But I am running experiments with Permanent.org on file format conversion and metadata. I pledged there back in early May. I have high hopes for them.

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My attempt at preserving some of the family story has been to create Wikipedia pages for the notable ancestors, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Moore_(colonial_official)

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Southwing Fine Books June 20, 2020 at 2:44 am

Some of those sites mentioned can go to hell. They take your published and copyright information and republish it, for their own profit. You have spent, as readers here will know, thousands of hours and many, many more than thousands of dollars travelling the world to archives not yet digitized. You will find, as I have found, that persons (family history “researchers”) have just gone online and put together this John Smith from Alabama, and that John Smith from Leeds in England, and now you have 120,000 names in your family tree! Brilliant!—It’s pure fiction.

My archive is indeed on a computer, and backed up. But all of it starts in handwriting. The scribble (at my age) goes in various folders on a very large bookshelf for this line or that line. It is possible that it will get thrown out when I’m gone. “Who wants all this old rubbish?”

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    I do pick up some info from other researchers and appreciate their help but I try to verify any info before putting into my tree. The thing that bothers me is someone having wrong info and u try to give the correct info w verification and they don’t seem to care because they never correct

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Barbara Mcclatchey June 20, 2020 at 4:38 am

Multiple methods are essential, I believe. Many years ago I wrote to a county, trying to trace an ancestor. They sent me his original marriage certificate, since they were transferring everything to microfiche. I only hope that as technology mutates, they have continued to copy everything. Personally, I keep my work on computer, on thumb drives distributed to relatives, and plan to put it into a book form at some point.

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Lord John Napier-Winch June 20, 2020 at 5:50 am

I publish books about my family about every 5 years. At least in say a hundred years there will be copies in the national and state libraries.

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Roy Marshall
Have you never considered Wikitree.com? It’s a Google site and
thousands of people are involved and we all help each other.
Duplicates if found are strictly merged.

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    Christine Milling July 11, 2020 at 11:03 pm

    Roy, I use Wikitree.com and it is a great site, but I do worry if it every disappears then so does years of research. Can anyone recommend a computer program that I can copy my family tree onto .

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Many thanks Dick, your insights kept me going during many years of research. My mother was a veritable walking expert on family and sadly I never recorded all her insights but starting later in life have recovered many. Thanks to you and to her I now have as a complete historical record as is possible for an Irish person, with Scots ancestry. Regards

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Have been trying to work on the same pronciple. Let’s hope it works.

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I am digitizing all my research, letters, pictures, etc and putting them on flash drives for my children and siblings. I know some of the nieces and a grandson are interested, so hope this gives them a start or helps they continue. We have a family cookbook that a cousin compiled about 25 years ago and I have asked permission to digitize that to send to cousins, grandchildren and other family members who may not have a copy of the original cookbook.

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If you live in the UK you can make provision in your will to leave all your family history trees, documents, records, even any hard copies of anything you have, to the Society of Genealogists. If you contact them they will talk you through the process and send you a suggested format to include in your will.

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Clare Powers O'Neill June 20, 2020 at 9:14 pm

Genealogical societies would be interested in well-researched, extensive trees.

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In what form do you share it? Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts, ancestor or descendant charts or reports, backup files created by popular genealogy programs (requiring the recipient to own and be able to use the same software)?

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    —> In what form do you share it?

    In my case, I use all of the above.

    I save information for my relatives in at least two different places:

    First, I maintain my primary genealogy data in one of the online genealogy web sites and my relatives all know where to find it or they can ask me.

    Next, I “print” numerous reports to text and/or PDF files and then upload them to my own private area in a cloud storage service. Upon request, I can give anyone a user name and password to access that information. They can then see the family’s genealogy information but no one can access any of my other files stored in other folders.

    In that online file storage service, I include all sorts of files created from my database, including family group sheets, pedigree charts, and , most important of all, in a very long “e-book” that is automatically generated by computer. In most cases, two copies of everything is on that site, one as a plain text file and another as a PDF file. Luckily, storage space is cheap these days so having multiple online copies of everything costs almost nothing. In addition, generating these automatically-generated reports from most any of today’s genealogy programs only takes a few minutes.

    I also save a GEDCOM file as well.

    Finally, I also include a lot of family photographs in the same file storage area, mostly old photographs of family members from the late 1800s up through the 1960s or 1970s. Almost all of the people in these photographs are now deceased.

    My suggestion: think about what works best for you. You may not want to copy my methods exactly but the goal should be to find whatever is best for you and for your relatives.

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I have been researching my family history for many decades but found printing in hard copy doesn’t work . As soon as I print I inevitably find new data! My son is an expert in computer science and cloud saving. Your articles and advice are invaluable for going digital and preserving photographs.

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Dick, I had a very similar idea. My plan is to publish a genealogy book for each branch (great-grandparent ancestors along with their descendants down to their grandchildren) of my family tree, and make it available to to anyone who wants one for as inexpensive a price as possible. I want these books in the homes of all of my second cousins if possible. In addition, I donate copies of these books to local county museums and genealogical departments of local libraries where descendants of these families lived. This way, I know the information will stick around at least as long as the books survive and even longer if a cousin a couple of generations along becomes interested and copies my information.

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Who will pay the bill for your cloud storage after you are gone?

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    —> Who will pay the bill for your cloud storage after you are gone?

    The same as taking care of anything else afer you are gone: that is totally up to your heirs.

    If you want something to continue after your death, it is up to you to make sure your heirs or others know about your wishes and are prepared to follow your instructions. That is true of online accounts as well as giving money to charity, taking care of family pets, or anything else that you desire to continue after you are gone. You need to tell your heirs or agents verbally or with written instructions or put the instructions in your will, as you feel is best. Also, if appropriate, your might need to leave some money to pay the fees.

    Continuing anything after your demise always hinges upon your making arrangements BEFORE your death.

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