JOPLIN, Mo. —
When researching family history, genealogists collect many reference books, pamphlets, documents and photos. What will happen to your cherished items after your death? Unless you make your wishes known, those items could be tossed or sold at a flea market by unknowing relatives or friends.
One of the most disheartening examples for me occurred about 20 years ago, when Jim and I went to West Virginia in hopes of meeting an elderly lady who owned the Waldo farm that had been in the family since the 1700s. She and I shared the same seventh great-grandfather.
I learned about her through a newspaper editor in her town. He had sent me copies of articles that had been written about her farm and the efforts that she had taken through the years to protect documents such as bibles, deeds, Revolutionary War letters and Civil War letters that pertained to the Waldo line.
Unfortunately, she was in her late 90s at the time, and her lawyer said that her mind was no longer clear. He knew that she had documents in a cedar chest, but neither he nor anyone else had looked through them. Because she had no family, we were told that she had willed the farm to the local university.
When we returned to the area a few years later, we stopped at the university in hopes of seeing her work and resources. I learned that the university did receive the land, but that her references, bibles and family documents had been sold at an auction at the same time that her household furniture and other items were sold. There were no records of the people who bought them.
Don't let this happen to your work.
There is a free document on the Internet that can be used to record your instructions about the dispersal of your family history information. To see the document, first go to www.cyndislist.com. When the site opens, scroll down to a section called "Important Links." Click on "Browse New Links."
When the next screen opens, click on "Browse New and Updated Links-1 May 2013." When the next screen opens, click on "My Genealogical Will for Preserving My Family History."
The genealogical will can be placed with your regular will. The document has a section where you can list the people who are to receive your items. Next to each person's name, there is a space for a telephone number.
I would add an e-mail address and mail address for each person, too. The site also has a place to list institutions that could be contacted who would preserve your years of work and share it with others.
I recommend that you add a note that tells where you store everything. What are the titles of your books and pamphlets? Where are the documents? Where do you keep your family history? Is it on the computer? What is the name of the file or files?
Another way to protect your family history is to share it with others while you are alive, and your mind is clear. Make copies of the documents and share those, too.
Suggestions or queries? Contact: Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.