“How many of you want your work destroyed after you’re gone?” This question was asked by Thomas W. Jones during a lecture. The crowd laughed; of course that was nobody’s intention. Still, this will be the reality for most of us.
We’ve invested a lot in our research; in time but also in money. Books, subscriptions, memberships, travel costs, copies or scans we ordered: most of us have spent thousands of euros/dollars. If we don’t make arrangements, not much will be left in a hundred years.
Many genealogists prefer doing research. We are never done: for each ancestor we find we want to know what happened to them and who their parents were. We search online or visit repositories. We visit places where our ancestors lived and read books about the period in which they lived. There is always a next record, a next book, a next cousin to find.
Few researchers publish their results. We don’t think we’re done, or prefer doing research to writing. We may publish our trees online, but do not turn it into a family history. Much of the knowledge we’ve gathered only exists in our heads, or on our computers.
The downside to digital presentations is that they are not that durable. Your personal website will go offline as soon as the bill is not paid anymore. A genealogical website of a society or company also won’t be around forever: not all information will necessarily be migrated when a new version of the site is built. The computer where we store our family trees may be used for a couple of years before they end up in the trash. The durability of information in our heads is even worse: it decays as we age and is limited by our lifespans.
Publishing is a good way to share our conclusions, with our current and future relatives. Printing-on-demand services allow small editions at low costs. By making multiple copies and sharing them with family members, societies, libraries, and archives, we increase the likelihood that the book will still exists several years from now.
We can also archive our research at Archive.org. This non-profit organization aims to provide continuous access to historical collections. We can upload a PDF of a book or article. Or we can make our website available under a Creative Commons license, and tell the robots of the WayBackMachine to archive our website. The bot will preserve a copy of our website on the servers of Archive.org and will periodically archive a new version.
After years of research I have decided to spend more time on preserving the results. I will archive this website at Archive.org. I will be writing articles documenting how I solved the toughest puzzles. The first one of these, a case study showing how I used neighbors to prove the parents of Griete Smit from Bredevoort, is published in this month’s National Genealogical Society Quarterly. By sharing my results, I hope to prevent the next generation from having to start from scratch.