Before Your Dump Your Files off at the Library

Putting a clause in your will that “my genealogical papers are to go to the BlahBlah Library” without some advance planning could have unintended consequences.

Some thoughts on preserving your “files” and papers by donating to a library or archives:

  • libraries may not want or be able to maintain random copies of public records that are available elsewhere
  • libraries may not want or be able to maintain random copies made from published books
  • unorganized materials are difficult for libraries to inventory and manage and they are difficult for patrons to use
  • photographs, personal certificates, and other “unique” items are more likely to be preserved and collected, but it can be difficult for some facilities to afford to maintain these collections–consider leaving some financial legacy (if possible) to assist in long-term maintenance
  • ask first to determine if the facility can or is willing to take your collection
  • again–ask first
  • organize your material while you are still able to. Make continued organization of your materials a regular part of your research process. You never know when that day may come when your donation clause will go into effect.
  • one last time–discuss this with the recipient first.

We will continue to have occasional posts on this topic. We don’t have all the answers, but we want readers to become educated about these concerns so they can make decisions and take action while they are still able to.

When your death certificate is being filed at the local records office—it’s too late.

Reasons to Organize Your Data

There are many reasons to organize your genealogical data, including:

  • noticing clues you did not notice before;
  • finding gaps in your research;
  • making it easier for you to share your research;
  • reducing the number of times you locate something you already have;
  • making it easier for you to publish your information (if that’s your goal);
  • making it easier for someone to preserve your information after your death;
  • making it easier for someone looking at your information to help you; and
  • saving money if you hire a professional–they will have to organize it for you before they can help.

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Who is Not Listed?

In any record or genealogical reference that lists a group of relatives or family members, determine if there are individuals who should be there who are not.

Sometimes this is easier to do that others, but it’s still a good exercise. The 1959 reference in the illustration is to a birthday party where siblings and nieces and nephews birthday celebrant were in attendance. The newspaper lists two individuals as “Mrs.” with no “Mr.” listed. In one case, the husband was deceased. In the other case, he was not (it’s not known why he did not attend). I also made certain that there were no other siblings of the celebrant besides the ones listed. One guest was actually the girlfriend of one of the nephews but that is not stated. The celebrant’s husband attended as well, but his name is listed last.

Never assume a list is complete. And if you realize that there are people who should be listed and are not, add that comment to the item when including it in your genealogical database.

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HouseKeeper Versus Keeping House

The 1870 US federal census instructions include detailed instructions about how occupations are to be listed. Among the distinctions to be made was the one between “housekeeper” and “keeping house.” Someone who was a “housekeeper” was one who received wages for performing that service. Someone keeping house for their own family members was to be listed as “keeping house.”

Instructions for the census were to be followed precisely, but like anything else, there can be variation from one census enumerator to another. The complete set of 1870 census instructions can be found online at

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