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!


  1. What constitutes a "collection"? I have a hodge podge of stuff but I don't think it's enough to say it's worthy. I already donated 2 scrapbooks and old diplomas - now those I am proud of. The rest of my stuff is just STUFF. Should a "collection" make sense?

    1. Wendy, congrats on donating and keeping those items safe for the future in non-family hands! In a broad sense, I think "collection" is whatever you've inherited and gathered during your genealogy research. Your collection can have significance even if it seems like "stuff" to you. Please take a look at the Society of American Archivists article for more info. Take care and thanks for leaving a comment.