Column – Destroyed

“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. 

Garbage man emptying a bin in a garbage truck

Garbage collection, 1932. Credits: Willem van de Poll, collection Nationaal Archief (CC-BY)

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.


A Dutch version of this column appeared in the December 2016 issue of Gen, the quarterly magazine of the Central Bureau for Genealogy.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  1. I love your newsletters Yvette. Thankyou. They are always informative giving me food for thought usually about where to look for who or what. This time you’ve touched on a subject Ive worried about for a long time. Ive gathered snippets of information from various people & situations & spent a huge number of hours in between, work, study & other responsibilities to verify my snippets into facts & place them within the genealogy they belong. Im doing both sides (paternal & maternal) because twice they crossed over & back. No one in my family seems interested so I was wondering what to do with all this research & work Ivd done. Publishing seems a good idea & even though no interest is shown now, a book with photos & captions and well set out information may appeal. Im hoping so. Thankyou. I hope you enjoyed Sinterklaas Day and I wish you a very Merry Christmas & exciting 2017.
    Helena

    • Could you imagine finding a book or article written by your ancestors, or even by a 10x great aunt? You would be doing your future relatives a big favor 🙂 Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  2. What a great suggestion! Happy Sinterklaas Day and best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year.

  3. Hettie van de Pavert says

    Dear Yvette.

    I have worked for years to get my family tree updated. – never finished off course- I planned to upload this to the internet at my Internet provider.
    They sent me a letter that next year March all my websites will no longer be available, they will remove it all! The only way to keep them is getting the sites in the cloud, getting the individual folders back the way I made them!
    So, there goes the permanent saved genealogy, like you said.
    I am printing most of the information out and send them to my children. Paper seems to last the longest.
    Have a Peaceful Christmas and 2017.

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