Are you leaving a legacy…or a mess?

September 10, 2020

Written by: Kelly E Lee

In the words of Ben Franklin, “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.” This bit of advice from Franklin emphasizes the importance of being productive.

What I have realized is that there is a difference between “being productive” and “always doing something.” They don’t always mean the same thing.

My love for family history manifests itself in genealogy. If you are like me, the biggest appeal to genealogy is the mystery, the detective work, and finding that next bit of information.

Of my time spent working on genealogy, 99% involves research of some kind. Yet the act of consolidating and presenting that information is a far less common genealogy task for me.

Perhaps your primary focus for your family history is on some other aspect. For some scrap bookers, it may be more about focusing on collecting supplies than about creating the scrapbook. I’ve been there – Hobby Lobby, you are simultaneously my worst and best friend.

Last year I moved, and while I was packing up, I made some startling realizations about my heirlooms, photographs, and genealogy research. It was all over the place!

I had some of my grandma’s family history stuff saved in my bedroom closet, while I kept my dad’s family history information in a downstairs closet. Suddenly, I saw my genealogy as a vast store of unrelated notes and scraps of information, gathered into piles around my house.

Sure, I kept my family tree and all of my ancestors in my family history software, but there was no real tie between the photos, the scraps, the documents and my actual family tree.

More than that, though, was the fact that there wasn’t one central place for it all, and there was very little in the realm of final reports and summaries of my research.

I am also not sure I would want my children to be shackled with the responsibility of all the items I have collected over the years, since not everyone has the same degree of appreciation for family history.

family history legacySo I want you to ask yourself: “what do you want your family history legacy to be?” If you were to wrap that up into a box and give it to your descendants, what would it look like?

Next, ask yourself if you have already created this. And if the answer is no, then follow me as I take the journey towards accomplishing this goal.

Here is a summary of the resolutions I have made about the future care of my family history legacy. I will:

1. Spend more time organizing and documenting my family history, and less time researching for new information. I will make an effort to not get so excited about another research idea that I overlook documenting and properly sourcing the facts I have just located with my current research.

2. Digitize as many old photographs as I can. This will allow my family photographs to be available to other cousins online.

3. In September of every year, I will print out a report from my family history software, so that it will be available to my family, both immediate and extended. You may also want to consider adding everything you collect into your Footprint instead.

4. Get all of my family history related belongings into one central location in my house. For example, once I moved to my new house last year, I decided to put all of my family history related stuff into a China cabinet.

Of course, once I had everything in one central location, I was shocked to discover how much I actually had in my possession. Over the years, I have happily become the go-to repository for all family history related objects from family members.

“Oh, you found an old box of photos? Send it to Kelly, she’ll take care of it.”

Keeping our balance can be such a challenging task, as we all have a tendency to focus on the parts of our hobbies that are the most fun. After all, that’s why they are hobbies in the first place.

Maybe you are like me, and you get so lost in the research that you lose sight of the real purpose of genealogy: not only to document and share with others, but to essentially create a story that gives a voice to those that came before us.

Kelly E. Lee is a writer, genealogist, and founder of Root Pursuit is a website dedicated to helping family historians and genealogists find resources, connect, and share. Kelly is also the author of “How to Make a Living as a Professional Genealogist,” to be released in May 2016.