Friday, January 29, 2021

Family History Includes New Homes for Old Artifacts

In my role as family historian, I do more than research and document names, dates, and photos for the family tree. 

I also find new homes for old artifacts that have no direct personal connection to the family tree. Not everything has to be in my collection! If relatives aren't interested, I research institutions that collect such items.

By keeping these things out of the trash or garage sales, and donating them to good new homes, I ensure that the items survive into the future. 

And I believe I am showing respect to the ancestors who saw value in these artifacts during their lifetimes. 

Theater buff = lots of programs

My late father-in-law (Edgar J. Wood, 1903-1986) played jazz piano to pay his way through what was then Tufts College. He was quite a theater and music buff. Over the decades, he attended performances in his home town of Cleveland, his college town of Boston, and on New York City's Great White Way. 

Happily, Ed saved nearly every program from plays or concerts he attended, beginning about 1923. And even better, the programs are in decent shape because they've been carefully stored. Now it is my honor and pleasure to find these programs safe new homes in repositories that collect and study such artifacts. 

Ask permission, take inventory, sign forms, send away

As always, it's important to match the artifact to a potential new home. In the case of these Cleveland-area theater programs from the 1950s, I researched historical societies and universities that collect and study items related to Cleveland. 

Narrowing it down, I had an email conversation with a librarian at Cleveland State University. I described how many programs I have and what condition they are in, and provided a photo similar to that above. I highlighted some specific items, such as programs featuring guest stars like Leo G. Carroll (Topper on TV) and Carol Channing (so well-known for Hello Dolly). 

The librarian agreed that these theater programs will fit into his collection, and he will accept our family's donation. If the library doesn't already have a copy, we will include Ed Wood's 1922 yearbook from Cleveland Heights High School, in great condition. 

As part of the process, we must submit an inventory of every program donated. We'll have to sign a deed of gift agreement, which gives full ownership of the artifacts to the repository. Finally, we'll pay to ship to the institution, a small investment to keep these programs in safe hands for academic study in the coming years.

Lots of possible homes for Broadway programs

Ed lived in New York City during the mid-1920s, trying to build a career as a jazz pianist. He went to the theater quite frequently, judging by the dozens of programs he amassed from that period (see photo above). Apart from holes that Ed punched to put these into binders, the programs are in surprisingly good condition for their age.

Finding a new home for these particular programs won't be too difficult. If you do an online search for "university collection of Broadway Playbills" you'll see how many institutions collect such items.

Sifting through the list, I've contacted a Midwest university with a sizable collection of Playbills from the 1960s and later. However, its library appears to have few programs from the 1920s and 1930s. I emailed the librarian, describing what the family would like to donate, and included a photo like this as a sample.

If this university isn't interested, there are many more I can approach. Meanwhile, I'm working on a complete inventory so I can provide lots of detail to any institution that winds up with these items.

My family and I agree that finding new homes for artifacts is an important priority, to honor the legacy of those who came before. My father-in-law Ed would certainly be delighted to know his collection of programs is in safe hands!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Grandma Minnie Goes to the Ball (Spoiler Alert)

This photo puzzled me for a long, long time.

I recognized my maternal grandmother, Hermina "Minnie" Farkas (1886-1964), who was born in Hungary and came to New York as a teenager, just after the turn of the 20th century.

I couldn't imagine what she was doing in this strange get-up, photographed in a  studio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she and so many other immigrants lived. 

The outfit and pose was uncharacteristic of the somber older woman I remember, to say the least. What was the back story? The spoiler alert is in the title, but please keep reading for the steps I took to come to this conclusion.

Comparing Faces in Photos

To date the photo and get more context, I compared the faces, hair styles, and fashions of all my old photos of Grandma Minnie. 

One stood out as very much like the head and shoulders of Minnie as pictured in the costume photo. It was a miniature headshot among a constellation of headshots taken to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Kossuth Ferenc Hungarian Literary Sick and Benevolent Society

Minnie's brother Alex Farkas (my great uncle) cofounded this group, which helped immigrants pay for medical and burial services. Minnie was a member, as were other Farkas ancestors, paying dues and volunteering their time. I had inherited a few loose pages from this booklet, with names and faces of Farkas ancestors highlighted (by an ancestor in decades past).

Pages Lost, Pages Found, Mystery Solved

The pages I inherited were almost entirely in Hungarian, so all I could make out was that the booklet was produced for the group's anniversary.

Then a cousin sorting through her family history files found the entire glossy booklet and gave it to me. It was printed in Hungarian with a few key pages in English. 

The mystery was solved!

Shown here is the English-language title page of the booklet for this fundraising event. Grandma was almost certainly in costume to attend the Kossuth Assn's "Mask and Civic Ball" held on December 4, 1909 in New York City. The studio where Grandma Minnie was photographed in costume also produced all photos for this fundraiser, and was credited with an ad in the program as well. 

No wonder Minnie's miniature headshot nearly matched her face/hair in the costume photo--my best guess is she was photographed twice on the same day in the same studio. One photo was a sedate headshot, showing her in a fashionable dress with a long locket around her neck. The other photo showed her in her eye-catching ball costume. Minnie was in her early 20s and a lovely young lady! 

Sharing with Other Researchers

A number of archives collect booklets such as this, documenting immigrant life and the role of benevolent societies in New York City. My plan is to keep this booklet safe for the future by donating it to an archive that will preserve it and digitize it for other researchers to investigate in the years to come. 

Grandma Minnie would approve, I am sure, knowing that this donation will also keep our Farkas family alive in the archives while sharing the story of the Kossuth Assn with the wider world.


This is my #52Ancestors post for week 4, "favorite photo." 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Genealogy in Greeting Cards: Researching the FAN Club

If you have old family birthday cards, baby congratulations, and the like, you may have genealogical treasure, not genealogical trash! Cards (and envelopes) can provide valuable clues about your FAN club -- friends, associates, and neighbors. Ephemeral items like these don't always survive, so study them and scan or copy them before giving away or, um, tossing away. 

The congratulatory cards shown above were for a baby born in my family six decades ago. A relative found them in her attic and recognized they might have important clues for me, the family historian. I'm thankful she shipped me the box, rather than putting it in the recycle bin! They will be shared with the next generation after I organize them and preserve them in an archival box.

Envelopes - Dates, Names, Addresses

One of the luckiest finds was a stamped and addressed envelope containing the original baby announcement (baby's given and middle name, birth date, and time birth weight). This envelope had been mailed to England but returned because of insufficient postage. I immediately recognized the surname and city, not the street address. Cousins who lived across the pond! 

In the same batch was an envelope written to the baby's parents, postmarked from England. Inside was a congratulatory note from those cousins across the pond. The card was signed with not just the adult names but also several children's names, enabling me to add more names to the family tree.

Name That Well-Wisher

I recognized most but not all of the signatures on these cards. "Uncle Moe" signed, along with the name of his wife, an in-law I knew little about. Once I added her to my tree, I was able to dig deeper into her background.

My working theory is people who signed with first and last names were likely not related directly to the parents or baby. Asking cousins for help, I discovered that one of the cards signed with first/last name was from the family doctor, and another was from the family dentist. These were FAN club associates.

Researching the FAN Club

In my quest to identify and classify people as part of the FAN club, I referred to The Historical Biographer's Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle) by Elizabeth Shown Mills. 

I received a free review copy of this laminated booklet from the Genealogical Publishing Company, but the opinions here are entirely my own.

Packed with lots of useful information for evaluating possible solutions to problems and locating potential resources for FAN research, I highly recommend this booklet. The illustration on page 4, a visual guide to targeted research using the FAN principle, gave me practical ideas for structuring my study of the collection of baby cards.

The illustration is a bull's eye, with the center being the (1) target person (in this case, the new baby). Moving out from the center in concentric rings are: (2) known relatives and in-laws; (3) others who have the same surname; (4) associates and neighbors of the target person; and (5) associates of associates. 

Following this guide, I tentatively assigned all senders of the baby cards to one of the FAN categories and will be following up little by little, applying the Mills process.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Memorializing Ancestors for Today and Tomorrow

Continuing to share family history now, I'm writing brief bios of my ancestors and my husband's ancestors, then posting them on multiple sites. I've gathered a lot of research and know a lot about these people, but it's not enough to have that in my genealogy software and in my file cabinet. To be sure the stories and faces of these ancestors are known to future generations, I have to post them where they can be seen today and tomorrow.

Sharing Mary Slatter Wood's Story

Shown above is the Family Search profile page for my hubby's paternal grandmother, Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925). 

I've posted two "memories"--a photo (with identification on the image, as well as properly tagged) and a written story about Mary's life. My story follows her from her birth in the notoriously poor Whitechapel section of London, England, to her education at a school for paupers, then across the pond where she marries a home builder in Ohio and becomes a loving mother of four sons.

I posted the same story and photo on Find a Grave, where I am now the manager of Mary Slatter Wood's memorial page. On both, I included a title for the bio--not just this ancestor's name and date but a brief description, "loving mother," based on what her descendants told me. 

Also I posted the same story and photo on MyHeritage, plus a link to the summary page on my blog where I recap the Slatter family history. This ensures that Mary Slatter Wood's life can be discovered on multiple genealogy sites (and perhaps serve as cousin bait for others researching this ancestor).

Sharing James Edgar Wood's Story

Similarly, I wrote a brief bio for Mary's husband, James Edgar Wood and posted it, along with a photo, on both Family Search and Find a Grave (where I am the manager of his memorial), as well as My Heritage. The title of his bio is "James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) - Home Builder." I also included, on My Heritage, a link to my summary blog page about the Wood family of Ohio.

Although I plan to post these stories and photos on more sites, I've made a good start on my goal of sharing family history right now, so the stories and images are immediately available to others. I want to keep the memory of these ancestors alive for a long time, starting today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Five Men Named Brice in 265 Years

The given name Brice is distinctive in my husband's family tree, appearing only five times in the 265 years his family has been in America.

At left, a search I conducted on my Ancestry tree to identify the five men named Brice.

Adding them to my online trees and posting more detailed bios on Family Search, Find a Grave, and other websites keeps their memories alive. 

This is all part of my plan to disseminate family history now, before I join my ancestors and my research and artifacts are bequeathed to the next generation.

Brice Smith - Brice #1 in America

Brice #1 is shown at bottom of the search results. That's Brice Smith (1756-1828), my husband's 4th great-grandfather. 

This first Brice in America was born in Cumberland County, PA, a son of Irish immigrants. As an adult, Brice caught "Ohio Fever" and moved west to Fairfield County, Ohio with his wife, Eleanor Kenny (1762-1841). Their daughter Rachel Smith (1799-1838) grew up and married John Larimer (1794-1843) - and this couple named their oldest son Brice S. Larimer, in memory of the first Brice. 

Brice S. Larimer (1819-1906) - Railroad Agent

Born in Rush Creek, Fairfield County, OH, Brice was brought to Elkhart County, Indiana in 1835 by his pioneering parents. There, he met and married New York-born Lucy E. Bentley (1826-1900). Brice and Lucy raised a family of four children while Brice was first a farmer, then a postmaster. Later, he served as the area's first railroad agent during the heyday of rail travel through Elkhart. This Brice was a grandson of Brice #1.

Margaret Jane Larimer (1859-1913) was the youngest daughter of Brice and Lucy. At the age of 17, with her parents' consent, she married William Madison McClure (1849-1887) who--like his father--worked for the railway in Indiana. 

Their oldest son was Brice Larimer McClure. Months before his birth, however, another Brice was born into the family. Brice #3 and Brice #4 were both great-great-grandsons of the original Brice in America, both grandsons of the second Brice in America.

Milton Brice Larimer (1878-1968) - Electrical Entrepreneur

Milton Brice Larimer's parents were William Tyler Bentley Larimer (1850-1921, a son of Brice S. Larimer) and Elizabeth Stauffer (1852-1936). Born in Elkhart County, Indiana, on January 16, 1878, Milton Brice was the third Brice in the family.  

He began his career as an electrician. At the age of 27, he married Elizabeth Luzetta Wright (1877-1968) in 1905. Within a few years, they moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Milton Brice was president of Protective Electrical Supply. They had no children and died within months of each other in 1968, both aged 90.

Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) - Master Machinist

The fourth Brice was born on December 29, 1878 in Little Traverse, Michigan, during the very brief period when his parents--William Madison McClure and Margaret Jane Larimer McClure--lived there, close to other McClure relatives. The Michigan foray lasted only a couple of years, until the family returned to Elkhart, Indiana, where Margaret had been born. Brice's father worked for the railroad, but died of typhoid fever when Brice was just 9 years old.

Following in his father's footsteps, Brice became a machinist for the railroad. In his 20s, he was already a master machinist, working for the "Big Four" railroads. Brice met Floyda Steiner (1878-1948) and they married in 1903 at the home of one of her sisters in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. 

They immediately settled in Cleveland, close to Brice's work in the railyards. Their beloved only child, Marian Jane McClure (1909-1983), grew up in Cleveland and remained there most of her life. Brice continued working as a machinist, foreman, and supervisor until the end of World War II. He died in 1970, two weeks before his 92d birthday.

Brice in Current Generation 

While Marian Jane McClure was working at an insurance firm in Cleveland, she met and married Edgar James Wood (1903-1986). They gave their younger son the middle name of Brice in honor of his grandfather, the master machinist. This youngest Brice is a 4th great-grandson of the original Brice in the family, the first in America. 

Currently, there are only five men named Brice in the family. But perhaps that will change with future generations, and now they will know the story of their namesake.


Namesake is the #52Ancestors challenge for this week.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

No Heirs for Your Family History? Recap

Ken Thomas, the longtime genealogy columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, suggested I write about what to do if you have no obvious heirs for your family history. 

Based on his suggestion, I wrote a four-part series earlier this month. Here is a quick recap of ideas for how to donate or preserve your family's history for the sake of future generations. 

Background before making decisions

Before you make any final decisions, please read this page from the Society of American Archivists about donating your collection as a whole. Also look at this informative Family Search wiki page about what to do with a genealogy collection. If needed, I urge you to seek professional advice about particularly valuable, quite historic, uniquely specialized, older/archeological, or extremely fragile items in your collection.

Ideas for what to do

In Part 1, I wrote about trying to coordinate your preservation efforts with cousins and other relatives. Someone may be willing to accept all or part of your genealogy collection and keep it safe. In particular, consider how to safeguard some photos and memorabilia of family members without direct descendants--"no cousin left behind." And if you have fine china or silver, offer a place setting or a teaspoon or a teacup to each of your relatives.

In Part 2, I explained the process for identifying potential institutions that might be interested in accepting artifacts and/or possibly some of your genealogy materials. Each institution has its own collection priorities and procedures, so it's important to understand what each museum, library, archive, society, or university is interested in collecting and studying. For more about the actual donation process, see my post here.

In Part 3, I wrote about looking at your collection from the perspective of non-family eyes on your family's history. Neatness counts! Organization is the key, including a written family tree and other documents to help researchers navigate your collection and understand what it contains.

In Part 4, I discussed how to summarize the scope and significance of your family-history collection. Focus on how your ancestors' lives might be of interest to an institution and other researchers. Whether or not you donate any of your materials, do consider offering your family-tree information to an institution. 

Thanks so much to Ken Thomas for suggesting that I cover this very important and very timely topic.

For more about how to plan to keep your genealogy collection safe for the future, please check out my best-selling book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. Updated in Sept 2021!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Repurposing Ancestor Stories to Share More Widely

Now that I've written a family history booklet about my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz, 1919-2001), I'm repurposing the content to share more widely. The bite-sized stories are already written--why not condense, adapt, and post on multiple websites, sharing family history with a larger audience without spending a penny or a pound.

Another approach is to begin with a brief bio you post on a website like FamilySearch or Fold3 or Find a Grave or WikiTree, and use that as the basis for a written booklet or a photobook or some other family-history document for your family to enjoy.

Case Study: Choose Photos, Write Headline

Above, a snippet from the Fold3 memorial page for my aunt, WAC Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz, who served during World War II. She's not the first ancestor I've memorialized for free on Fold3, but she's the most recent--a good case study for how to repurpose content.

First, I selected and uploaded several images of my aunt that I had inserted into my booklet. Previously, I had cropped the images to remove extraneous background. For the main profile photo at top left of her Fold3 page, I uploaded a portrait she sent home to her family, prominently featuring the sergeant's stripes on her uniform.

Next, I wrote a headline for my story. My goal was to highlight not just my aunt's military background but also what she did in her life. Therefore, I included her military rank, her full name and dates, and the fact that she was a "decorated WAC" (she earned the Bronze Star in World War II) and, later, a high school teacher.

Case Study: Content for Story

Now I was ready to write the actual story. I consulted the booklet I wrote about my aunt for the main points to include. As context for my aunt's life, I wanted to say something about her family, her education, her specific role in the WACs, and what she did after her honorable discharge. This was covered in my booklet, so all I had to do was copy out sentences, condense where needed, and write smooth transitions.

In the five succinct paragraphs I wrote for the Fold3 memorial, I managed to say:

  • Dorothy was a twin (I included her twin's name and their birthdate).
  • She lived and went to school in the Bronx, NY, then went to Hunter College.
  • She enlisted as a WAC and had a tense voyage across the Atlantic with 650 other WACs headed for Europe. 
  • Exactly what her role was as a WAC, listening in as officers made decisions about bombing and transcribing her notes into written orders.
  • Dorothy received the Bronze Star and wrote the history of her WAC unit.
  • Dorothy returned to school for education courses, then taught at two Bronx high schools until retiring.
  • She later became an advocate for renters' rights and consulted on retirement issues.
  • When Dorothy died and what cemetery she's buried in (next to her twin).
Now the "family legend" of my aunt's meritorious service during World War II is memorialized for the world to see on Fold3. And I posted it on Find a Grave, too!

TY to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt of "Family Legend" for week #2 in the 2021 challenge.


My presentation, "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects," is part of the all-virtual New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April. I'll be sharing more tips for repurposing ancestor stories. Registration is now open!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Wish List: Cousin Connections


If I could go back in time, I would ask my mother and my father to list the names and addresses of their first and second cousins. Only years after my parents passed away did I discover how extensive their cousin connections really were.  

Cousins? What cousins?

My father never mentioned his Burk cousins, relatives who were actually at his wedding! It took me a decade of research to identify them and find their children, my second cousins. Dad certainly would have been able to rattle off their names, but I never thought to ask until it was too late.

My mother never mentioned her first cousins on the Schwartz side, even though she knew some of them. Using photos and documents, I eventually traced several. I was able to meet one and, happily, get to know a few of my cousins in the next generation.  

For a number of years, I've been doing what I wish my parents had done: Maintaining a list of my cousin connections. One of my goals is to continue this practice, keeping the names and contacts updated and sharing with my relatives.

Write down your cousin connections

Creating a list of cousin contacts will help you and your family (and your heirs) know who's who and how each person is related in the family tree. It's not enough to have a name, address, phone number, and email address in your smartphone contacts. It's really important to explain the relationships. Otherwise, all you have is a list of contacts with no genealogical context.

At top is a sample of my "cousin connections" form. This week, I updated the list for my side of the family tree, and created a new cousin contact list for my husband's side. I'm sharing with immediate family so everyone is on the same page, literally.

Please do your family and future generations a big favor and write down your cousin connections!


This is one of the tips in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, a practical (and affordable) guide to passing your genealogy collection and knowledge to the next generation. Please check it out!

Participating in The Genealogy Blog Party, 2021 Goals!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

No Heirs for Your Family History? Ideas, Part 4

Captain John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) 

If you have no family heirs to assume ownership of your genealogy collection in the future, I hope this series will give you some ideas for keeping documents, artifacts, and photos out of the trash or flea markets. This post is about one question: What institution would be interested in your genealogy collection?

Idea: Think about the scope and significance of your collection

Think about your family history collection as a whole and its significance. What does it exemplify, in terms of genealogy and history? What story does it tell about a particular place, a certain period, a group of people, a specific situation or experience? Did your ancestors keep scrapbooks, photo albums, or other items that help tell the story?

What might researchers learn by looking at some or all of your collection? Does your collection include unusual personal items or hard-to-find records that you've managed to collect? Did your ancestors have a brush with history, fame, or notoriety? Were they representative of a larger movement such as immigration or the Gold Rush? 

Try to summarize your collection in a relatively brief "elevator pitch" that captures the essence of your collection. Jot a list of the main surnames, places, years covered, types of materials in your collection, and anything important that a repository should know when considering your collection.

Idea: Take your time and do your homework

Do an online search, based on the scope and significance of your collection, for appropriate institutions. Look at libraries, museums, archives, genealogical societies, historical societies, or other repositories that are in the area where your ancestors lived/worked. Out-of-area institutions may have a research interest in the place or time, so cast a wide net at first. 

Think about what in your ancestor's life might be of interest to a museum. Gold Rush? Irish immigrant? Military service? Pioneer? Civic leader? Scallywag? Some institution, somewhere, may be interested!

Next, click around the website of each repository to find out about its donation policies and preferences. On the NEHGS website, an entire page is devoted to explaining what the institution is interested in collecting and how to take the next step by making contact.

Always, always contact the repository before making any plans. This is where your elevator pitch comes in. And remember that you, not the repository, will be responsible for getting your collection to its destination.

Idea: Contribute your genealogy knowledge

Whether or not you wind up donating your entire collection, do consider contributing your knowledge of your family tree to an institution. Many institutions (local, regional, national, and specialized) are interested in collecting genealogies, even if they won't accept your collection of materials. 

For instance, I contributed the genealogy of the Slatter family to two military archives that collect artifacts about these ancestors of my husband. Neither institution had the background I had collected about Captain John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954, shown in portrait at top of post) and his brother, Bandmaster Henry Arthur Slatter (1866-1942). The archives were both pleased to add to their knowledge of these eminent military bandmasters, and I was happy to share my research.

Earlier posts in my series looked at preparing for non-family eyes on your family history collection, planning to donate a family history artifact, and coordinating with extended family to plan for the future of your collection.

Monday, January 4, 2021

No Heirs for Your Family History? Ideas, Part 3

If you have no obvious heirs to take over your genealogy collection in the future, I hope this series will give you some ideas for keeping documents, artifacts, and photos out of the trash or flea markets.

This post includes a few starting points for getting your genealogy records into shape for donating to an appropriate library, society, museum, archive,  surname/place study group, or another institution. 

As you plan, I highly recommend reading the informative post "what to do with the genealogy and family history" on the Family Search wiki here

Idea: Think about non-family eyes on your genealogy

Institutions usually won't accept a stack of loose papers in haphazard order, like the mess I inherited, as shown at top! Unless a non-family member can make sense of your genealogy paperwork, it will not be useful to anyone.

The point of donating your documents is to help other researchers interested in any of your ancestors or that place or period in history. You may have an unusual set of records in your collection, or a person you've confirmed and documented in your family tree who is not mentioned on other trees, or a photo that connects your family to a certain time/location/event. 

In general, the goal is to organize your genealogy documents so that non-family eyes can understand what's in the collection. Take inventory. Know what you have and figure out a logical way to put your materials in order--by surname or by family group, for instance. Family Search has good ideas here about organizing your files.

Neatness counts. You want your collection to be orderly and organized, without physically changing the materials. No punching holes in documents to insert into binders. No stapling, no rubber bands, no paper clips. 

Idea: Written family tree, sources, and table of contents

You can guide outsiders through your family history by creating or adding detail to a written family tree or chart explaining who's who. 

The Family Search wiki lists many sources of downloadable charts you can use, and you can also download from the National Archives. If you use genealogy software, you can generate reports. Or you may prefer to create a spreadsheet or use another system, as long as it's understandable by non-family eyes.

Cite your sources to show how you know what you know. Other researchers will appreciate seeing sources in writing. Again, neatness counts. So does accuracy. Double-check your spelling, dates, place names, and sources. 

Consider a table of contents for each binder or box or file folder (and label binders and boxes and folders with your trusty label maker). You might assemble all tables of contents into a package that goes with your written family tree, to guide outside eyes through the collection. 

Please don't leave behind a mess like the one I inherited. Little by little, start now to organize your genealogy collection and get it into shape for non-family eyes to understand.


Earlier posts in this series looked at donating artifacts to institutions and finding new homes for photos and china with other relatives. More posts to come in this series! 

For additional ideas about sorting your collection and writing instructions for its future, please also see my affordable best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

No Heirs for Your Family History? Ideas, Part 2

If you have no family heirs to take over your genealogy collection in the distant future you join your ancestors, there may be other ways to save your family's history from being tossed in the trash or sold in a flea market. The key is to begin planning early and to think creatively.

My previous post was about approaching relatives to accept some or all of your family history, particularly photos, and about helping to save things from other cousins who have no heirs. Also I mentioned the idea of offering a single china setting (or a teacup, says reader Heather) to relatives.

This post is about researching possible non-family homes for your family's artifacts. NOTE: Seek out professional advice about highly valuable, quite historic, uniquely specialized, older/archeological, or extremely fragile items.  

Idea: Classify your artifact - where would it fit?

My aunt, Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), had no direct descendants. She was a WAC during World War II and led an interesting life--one worthy of being remembered. To keep her history alive, my sister and I wanted to donate some items we inherited (such as her Bronze Star citation and the written history of her WAC unit) to an appropriate institution. 

I began by classifying the artifacts in various ways: (1) the items relate to the Women's Army Corps, part of the U.S. Army; (2) they relate to a U.S. Army veteran; (3) they relate to World War II. 

Take a few minutes to classify your artifacts and see how many/which categories they fit into before you go looking for an institution that might be interested in accepting these items. 

In some cases, institutions are looking for specialized items for specific exhibits. The Norwalk CT Historical Society recently put out a call for artifacts related to an upcoming exhibit entitled "Miserable vagrants, petty thieves and scamps: a history of crime in Norwalk.” If that describes your ancestor, find out about the society's process (see illustration at right)!

Idea: Which institutions seem to be a good match?

Next, look at your classifications and search for institutions that have closely-related collections. Think about not only your top choice but your second choice.

I did online searches for the classification phrases Women's Army Corps, U.S. Army veterans, and World War II. Looking at the results, I read about the mission of each institution and also looked at what each institution is interested in collecting.

After doing this research, my conclusion was that the U.S. Army Women's Museum would be the best match for Sgt. Schwartz's artifacts. The website (see illustration at top, with a headshot of my aunt) offers these instructions, which I followed.

We are always actively seeking materials for our collection. If you would like to donate artifacts or archival materials please ensure you contact the Museum before sending anything. If you do not, it is possible the material will be sent directly back to you.

Idea: Understand the institution's process 

Be guided by the institution's process, which usually begins by asking you to make contact and describe the artifact before sending it. I was able to donate my items to the museum, after receiving approval to send them--along with a biographical sketch of my aunt, and her role in the WACs during World War II. My sister and I are happy that our aunt, Sgt. Schwartz, is now represented in the museum's collection.

However, if the institution replies that your artifact doesn't fit in the scope of its collection, or it already has other examples similar to yours, do ask for suggestions of other institutions that usually collect your artifact. Or move down the list of results from your own research and contact your second choice. 

To learn more about the general process of donating to any institution, please see my detailed blog post here.

My next post in this series will have ideas for what to do with your research and documents if you have no family heirs. Remember, these are only ideas--please adapt as appropriate to your situation. Also take a moment to read this Society of American Archivists article about donating your family history collection to an institution.

- This is my entry for the 6th Annual Genealogy Pot-Luck Picnic hosted by my gen friend Elizabeth Swanay O’Neal. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

No Heirs for Your Family History? Ideas, Part 1

One big reason I wrote Planning a Future for Your Family's Past four years ago was to provide ideas for curating a family history collection and preparing it to be passed to the next generation. The concept struck a chord in the genealogy community -- and my book has been selling steadily ever since.

My book didn't explicitly address what to do if you have no family heirs to take over your genealogy collection, although many of the ideas in the book do apply. 

Today I'm beginning a new series of posts with ideas about possible paths forward if this is your situation. The goal is to keep your family's history from winding up in a garage sale or dumpster. The new year is a great time to begin thinking about what happens to your genealogy--before you join your ancestors! These ideas are meant as starting points for your own plan to protect family history.

NOTE: If you're considering finding a non-family home for your collection as a whole, please read this informative article about the process before you make any changes to your collection.

Idea: Try to coordinate with relatives

Whether you are in touch with nieces, nephews, 1st cousins or 1st cousins once/twice removed or 2d cousins (on either side of your family), you may be able to find someone or more than one relative willing to accept at least a few of the key items in your genealogy collection.

Often, nephews/nieces/cousins are willing to accept a gift of a group family portrait that includes their parents/ancestors as well as yours. Maybe you have such a portrait from a family wedding or reunion. Even if the photo was fairly recent rather than decades in the past, ask whether your relative would be kind enough to take possession of your [hopefully good condition] original for the sake of future generations. 

If you know a certain relative was especially close to your mother or father or a grandparent, consider approaching that relative with the request to safeguard some or all of your family history collection. At the very least, your relative may be willing to accept photos/documents related to part of your shared family tree.

If nothing else, a cousin or niece or nephew who appreciates the value of family history may be willing to take some (or all) of your collection and hold it for their heirs to avoid having that info lost to future generations. 

Idea: No cousin left behind

Also coordinate with relatives to protect photos and documents related to ancestors who had no direct descendants. It's possible that a few relatives could agree to share the collection of these ancestors. 

That's how I ended up with the wedding portrait and childhood photos of my 2d cousin Iris, shown at top of this post. She had no direct heirs; her collection went, by default, to her 1st cousin. That cousin held onto the bulk of Iris's photos but asked me to take a few key items because of my interest in the Farkas family's genealogy. She also shared a few photos with another cousin who remembered Iris with great fondness.

Now a selection of Iris's photos will live on with my heirs, labeled and captioned so future generations understand who she was and how she was connected with my grandma Minnie Farkas's family. I want them to at least know Iris's name and her smile, even if they never knew her in person.

Idea: China or silver? Offer one place setting at a time

If you have your own fine china or silver (or an ancestor's tableware inherited in the past), consider asking relatives whether each would accept a single place setting. One setting doesn't take up much space and it would keep the tradition alive in a different household--multiple households, ideally. 

In my extended family, a niece and a cousin accepted a single place setting apiece from an ancestor's tableware, just for the uniqueness and the tradition. Mix and match is in style, remind the younger generation! 

FOR MORE IN THIS SERIES: Please see Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.


"Beginnings" is my #52Ancestors post for Amy Johnson Crow's 2021 challenge.