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. 


  1. Marian, I love the idea of each taking a single place setting, or may two, from a dinner set, and will bear this in mind for the future. Happy New Year.

  2. No one wanted my mother-in-law's mid century modern china set. But, several cousins all wanted a teacup in her memory. We got rid of all the tea cups, and now use the rest of the dishes in our basement bar for snacking or birthday parties. Why not use it for everyday snacking? It's better than sitting unused in a box for decades!

  3. My grandmother did something similar with her china. She had five children and 28 grandchildren. I got the sugar bowl!

  4. There is a site that will make a small lamp from a cup and saucer.....nice way to re-purpose a set.

  5. There is a site that will make a small lamp from a cup and saucer....nice way to re-purpose.