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

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

If you don't share it -- You lose it! -- Part Two


I need to start by noting that the original documents of the Mary Ann Linton Morgan collection are housed by the Brigham Young University Special Collections Library as part of the Harold B. Lee Library. Where I donated the collection after digitizing it in its entirety. Here is a screenshot of the collection webpage.

The digital version of the Mary Ann Linton Morgan Collection is also available on the computers at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library, as I mentioned previously.

If you live somewhere near a university, that university probably has a library, and the library would likely have a Special Collections department or division. Special Collections usually house the library's rare books and documents. Many genealogically important documents are one-of-a-kind. This includes letters, journals, diaries, and many other important resources. All of these can be considered rare and depending on the emphasis of the specific library's collection, they may want to preserve your particular documents such as letters, journals, etc. It doesn't hurt to ask, but you might want to have an inventory of the documents and an explanation of their historical significance. For example, letters or a journal from an early resident of the area near the library or someone who fought in one of the wars might be of interest. 

What the Special Collections libraries do not want are paper pedigree charts and family group records unless there is some significant reason why the information in the records would not already be online or that the records were created by a historically important person. I might add that the FamilySearch Libraries also do not want paper pedigree charts and family group records. 

Other institutions that may house your collection include local libraries, genealogical societies, historical societies, state libraries, and archives. 

You might believe that only famous people warrant having their "papers" preserved. This is not completely correct. History is made by all the people living at a particular time and the desirability of any document or collection of documents may depend on the document's age rather than any consideration of the prominence of the person who created the documents. For example, any letter written by a soldier who was fighting in the U.S. Civil War is a valuable collector's item and sometimes the envelopes have more value than the letter itself, but both together are even more valuable. 

Another common way that people share their genealogy is to put the information and copies of the digitized records online. However, putting your information online raises the issue of digital preservation. This is especially true if the information is put online in a "private" family tree or other private venue. Privately held information seldom survives online for very long even given the short history of online storage as a possible solution for preservation. Digitized documents are usually stored in one of three file formats: PDF, jpeg, or tiff files. These file types are the most likely to survive technological changes over time. For a discussion of each type of digital preservation of these file formats see the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate

One format chosen by many genealogists is to publish their data in a printed, paper book. However, very few of these books preserve information that is not readily available in some other venue. For example, if I were to decide to publish a descendancy book about my Great-great Grandfather, Sydney Tanner and his descendants, it is highly unlikely that I would be preserving anything that was not already readily available online. This is due to the fact that books about Sydney Tanner and his descendants already exist and his online entries have extensive documentation. For example, see the following:

De Brouwer, Elizabeth. 1982. Sidney Tanner, his ancestors and descendants: pioneer freighter of the west, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah (4545 S. 2760 E., Salt Lake City 84117): S. Tanner Family Organization. See also:

The issue here is how do we save that which is unmistakably unique and separate it from those parts of our collections that are readily available online or in print format? We do that by digitizing the original records and storing them in a venue that is dedicated to preservation. For genealogists, that venue is the website. Don't confuse the Family Tree portion of the website with the document preservation section entitled "Memories." No one can erase, change, or delete one of your memories unless you do so yourself.  You can preserve documents, photos, audio files, and stories. The Family Tree portion of the website becomes the way to organize the Memories by individuals and families. If you digitize or copy an original source document and add it as a Memory, and then link it to an individual, the document cannot be removed even if the source citation to the document is detached. The major limitation is that Memories attached to a living individual can only be seen by the person attaching the Memory until after individual dies. You can change the tags identifying people in the photos. 

But how do we know what is historically and genealogically significant?  That is the real question. What we do is err in favor of preservation if there is the slightest possibility that the information contained has not already been preserved. Do we destroy the originals after they have been digitized? No, never. That is why I have discussed some of the alternate ways of preserving records. A handwritten journal or a letter is unique and irreplaceable. 

More to come. 

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