Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rescuing the Residue

I had a very interesting experience last evening, I spent a couple of hours reviewing the records of a lifetime of genealogical research. The genealogist had passed away and the family fortunately recognized the value of the work she had done and wanted to know what to do with all the paper. The accumulation filled a good-sized room with boxes, floor-to-ceiling shelves and filing cabinets. There were 3-ring binders full of notes on possibly 50 family lines, books, the old family group sheet binders full of photos and documents and a whole lot more.

I didn't have time to get into the substance of what was or was not there, but in talking to the family members, I determined that most, if not all the valid family pertinent information had been submitted to FamilySearch or its predecessors. None of those present, except me, even knew what FamilySearch was or had seen the online Family Tree program. I felt that it was extremely fortunate that the family was open to the idea of preserving some or all of the information. The challenge was determining what was and what was not worth preserving.

From what I could see, the now deceased researcher had been involved in a process of name extraction. In other words, I found long lists of names with similar surnames copied from the International Genealogical Index. I began to wonder how anyone could pick up from where the previous researcher left off without essentially re-doing the same research?

One thing that was evident, the researcher had not had the opportunity or perhaps not taken the opportunity to involve anyone from the family in the research. The family members present knew virtually nothing about their ancestors and were not even familiar with the computer set up being used. They did mention that much of the information was in two programs; Personal Ancestral File and Legacy Family Tree. I did see boxes for an older version of the Legacy Family Tree program.

So, what would you do in these circumstances? What if you were the surviving family member? What if you were in my position as a "consultant?" How much time and effort is warranted? In this case, the family members are starting out at absolute zero knowledge, not just of the family's history, but also about genealogy in general. Even if they were determined to learn what was necessary, it might take years of effort just to understand what had and had not been accomplished. Perhaps, if I get the opportunity to view the computer files, I will find out what has and has not been done. This, of course, depends on how much of the information was entered into the computer and how much ended up in FamilySearch online. How do we rescue the residue? Is rescuing the remains of the research worth the effort?

This particular pile of research raises many interesting questions. What real value is there to the family if it turns out that the research has been conducted as an "extraction" project. It is a legitimate method to determine ancestral lines to examine all of the people of a certain surname in a small geographic area and try to determine the ancestral families, but what if the conclusions or the status of the extraction cannot be determined? Are the remaining family members some how obligated to continue the research? What if the status of the reliability of the research cannot be determined at all?

What would be accomplished if the mass of paper were preserved as is? Absent the examination of the research by someone familiar with the particular places and families being researched, who would take on the task of shifting through a mountain of paper without a clear goal or research objective?

I suspect that I will be further involved in answering some or all of these questions. But those of us with huge piles of paper documents should consider what will happen to all that paper when we become incapacitated or die. Will there be anyone familiar enough with the work to carry on with the preservation and documentation or will the entire pile be consigned to the dumpster?

There is some hope that the majority of the research in this case concerning the family lines has been previously recorded by FamilySearch. I certainly hope that this is the case.


  1. Does Arlene Eakle still take family genealogical collections? If so, that might be a good place for the family to give the collection. Just a thought.

    1. Yes, she does, I talked to her yesterday. In this case the family wants to preserve the collection.