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.