Memorial Day – Grieving the Losses

floppy discs

It’s Memorial Day weekend.  Time for picnics and barbeque grills.  And for thinking about, and honoring those that have departed.

Originally, Memorial Day was to honor the war dead following the Civil War – although it then morphed into a holiday to honor all Americans who died in the military service.  Also called Decoration Day, it has become a time to honor all of our ancestors, visit the cemetery, pull some weeds, add some flowers, relive the good memories and say a solemn prayer.  Some folks are too far from home, or from our ancestors’ homes, to do those things, so we have to honor our ancestors in other ways.

I’ve chosen to spend this weekend sorting through a particularly thorny genealogical problem involving 4 generations of Crumley men, two of which were veterans, all with the same first name, some with unknown wives, confusing signatures and more.  This is part of my 52 Ancestors series, so you’ll get to meet them soon.

I’ve been working on these lines now for almost 20 years.  I was lucky, because when I started, there were a few who had come before me, and one who had published a book, for which I am EXTREMELY thankful.

Starting about 15 years ago, my correspondence slowly morphed from letters in the mailbox to e-mails which I diligently filed and still have today.  Yes, truly I do.

But that’s part of what I’m grieving today.  No, I didn’t lose my e-mails. I’m a backup fiend.

What I’ve lost…what we’ve lost…is a legacy of research – and with it part of our ancestors.  How big a part?  I guess we’ll never know.

Fifteen years ago, there were two primary researchers who were very actively researching…as in visiting courthouses…retaining professional genealogists…and who clearly did not wish to share until they were done.  I can understand part of that, at least to a degree.  No one wants to put half-baked ideas into the wild, so to speak.

But, and this is a really BIG BUT, there is a limit – and they clearly went past that limit.  They died.  Their books are unpublished.  Their research and maps they had assembled using neighbors’ deeds, all gone.  The family Bibles they said they had found among descendants – that information too all gone.  Letters – gone.




They never shared with any of the rest of us.

I contributed information. Many did.

I volunteered five years ago to proofread the two books that one woman wrote that were “nearly ready” but she didn’t need any help.  But she never published, and then she died.  Her husband is in his mid-90s, if he’s still living, and his e-mail no longer works.  At least this researcher did write some articles about these ancestors, which is not the same as two books with promised discoveries that correct earlier research…but it was something.

The second person refused to share at all, not wanting anyone to scoop his book.  That would be the book, by the way, that has never been written.  He is now in his late 80s (if he is still alive) and his e-mail is also now defunct.  When do you think we can expect that book???

A third long-time researcher came to a Crumley meeting years ago with 3 ring binders of his work.  He did share, generously, but sharing bit by bit on lists is not the same as a body of work that he clearly had.  Where are his years of hard work today???

But that’s not all of it….not nearly all.

In many of the hundreds of e-mails that I’ve saved there were links to works and websites of both primary and collateral lines.  I probably tried 40 or 50 links altogether over the past two days.  Know how many worked?  None.  Not one.  The most current ones were only about 4 years old.  Dead as doornails…all of them.  I was so surprised that they were ALL dead that I checked my system to be sure the problem wasn’t on my end – but it wasn’t and they are all dead.  RIP

web page not found

This is disconcerting.  Some were free rootsweb pages, some were on private sites and some were other types of pages, like ones sponsored or connected to genealogy programs.  But the point is that all of those researchers that had something to share no longer do.  It’s gone.  For all I know, they may be gone too.

Once your website and your e-mail is inoperable – you’re electronically dead to people with whom you communicate in that fashion.  There is no electronic phone book for e-mails.  It’s not like it used to be – you can’t just drive across town to check on your cousin.  Nor are their children going to know who their online cousins are.  You are likely not going to be notified of their death – let alone be considered as the steward of their work.

Yes, you can sometimes find defunct website information, at least pieces of it, using Internet Archive’s Waybackmachine – but it’s seldom complete.  If it’s there, it’s better than nothing.

That information too, all of those links I saved because I would need them one day, is now gone.  Some are entire websites devoted to family research of a particular family, like Brown and Johnson.  Fortunately, some of the articles have been reproduced on the Greene County, TN GenWeb site.  And yes, thankfully that is still working just fine. Google is your friend if the information is out there anyplace.

But think again about what you expect to be “forever” or at least be available to you at a later date.  With the shuffling in the genealogy marketspace recently, a lot has changed.  GenForum, bought by Ancestry, is no longer functional – meaning you can read but not post.  Rootsweb list and board usage is significantly down – in favor of non-archiving social media like Facebook.  Rootsweb trees still include text notes uploadable from a GEDCOM file, but Ancestry trees do not.  Yes, you can copy all of your text into files and add them as documents to your Ancestry tree – but it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what and virtually no one is going to do that.  Ancestry actively discourages that, because they would rather have you attach their records – which is fine – but I’ve yet to see Ancestry have the records I have for my ancestors.  All I can say is I wish they did.  But be aware that if you attach Ancestry’s records to your tree, and you choose to download that GEDCOM file, it’s without any of those attached records.

And with the demise of MyFamily, also discontinued by Ancestry, which upsets people so badly we’re not even going to discuss it, not only did years worth of compiled family history get shuffled to the electronic trash can…people became terribly discouraged about sharing and trusting any “forever source.”

And I haven’t even mentioned the fallacy that your tree is “forever” or safe on a third party site.  I would suggest you keep your main tree right on your computer and use a third party site as a backup if you wish.  But I don’t want to confuse the point.  Sharing a tree is NOT the same as sharing research.  A tree is the skeleton of your family.  Research is the story of your ancestors’ lives – the meat on the bones.

So, now it’s up to you.  It’s not up to Rootsweb, Ancestry, Facebook or anyone else.  It’s up to you, just you.  You need to write.  You need to publish.  There are many sources for you to be able to do this today.  No need to know how to write html code anymore.  Publishing is easy and there is no technology excuse.

I’ve chosen the WordPress platform and blogging.  There are other free sites like (disclosure – I have not used this site personally) and other free and paid websites.  I pay for mine so that I get to choose my domain name and I have more storage space.  However, when I no longer pay for it, it too will be gone.  WordPress claims their free sites will be available forever, whatever forever means today.

But what about when I die, when I join my ancestors and when someone, hopefully, comes to pull the weeds and decorate my grave on Memorial Day?  What about my work?  Well, hopefully because I HAVE made it public because I HAVE shared, because I have NOT held back waiting on forever or someday or perfection – it will be out there – circulating around in cyber space.  Is it perfect?  No – but it’s there and it’s far better than nothing – better than the unpublished book that will never see the light of day.  Because it’s online and not committed to ink and paper, it’s easy to update an ancestor’s article with new information.

I wish there was a cyberbank where I could sign up to be sure certain things are available forever, however long forever is.  I’d bank these stories and a raft of DNA results as well.

I’m going to put each of the lines I’ve been researching on a free “forever” website when I’m finished with my 52 ancestors series.  For me, it will be WordPress because I know and love the platform already.  And yes, I really will do that just like I really do write my weekly ancestor article.  And if I die tomorrow, at least those articles are in print, someplace, even if my website and blog will one day be defunct.

And as for the DNA, it’s a part of every ancestor’s story.  DNA results and how we utilize them are an integral part of every family story now and relevant in one way or another to every ancestor.  DNA is in every one of my 52 Ancestors stories one way or another.

I’ve also arranged with the Estes archivist to place the Estes family articles on the Estes family archive website as well.  Not via a link, but posting the actual articles.  Links only work as long as the original site is functional.  Same goes for the Estes newsletter which is distributed to subscribers and libraries.  Plus, I’ve shared with just about every cousin I can think of.  Just sharing the love, and the ancestors!!!

I’m going to print these ancestor articles in book format and donate them to several significant libraries including the Allen County Public Library and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – yes – the Mormons.  I want my work in that vault.  And by the way, I’m not Mormon, but given that their driving force is a religious conviction that genealogy is important – and not profit like a corporation – I feel that my research stands a better chance of preservation there than in the hands of any corporation.  If you’re looking for an ugly corporate example – just take a look at what did with their Y and mitochondrial DNA database and then a few months later with the Sorenson data base as well.

I’m going to print my work for my descendants, in book form, with archival ink on archival paper, because electronic formats will change significantly over the years.  If you don’t believe me, just try to find something to read an 8 inch or 5.25 inch “floppy disc” now.  So, yes I’ll give them a CD or DVD or thumb drive too – but in 50 years, they’ll still be able to read the book (it’s not in cursive.)

So, here’s my take on this situation.  No one owns the ancestors.  I hope people do not hold the information about their ancestors’ lives hostage…for good reasons or bad…because none of us know which day our proverbial number is going to be up.

Memorialize your ancestors.  Share their lives and their history.  Write about them.  State what you know and what you don’t.  List sources so others in the future can verify your work, update it, add to it, or look where you haven’t.

Make sure that when you die, people celebrate what you DID with your life and grieve the fact that such a wonderful, sharing person departed this earth, and that they aren’t grieving what you didn’t do, or worse yet, what you did do, but never shared or published or is no longer available in any format.  That’s certainly not how I want to be remembered, nor the legacy of my ancestors I want to leave.  They may be gone, but I want to celebrate their lives, preserving them forever for all the generations to come!

Do you have ideas or suggestions for how to permanently memorialize your ancestors?  What steps have you taken?



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56 thoughts on “Memorial Day – Grieving the Losses

  1. I fully agree with your article as usual, nothing is forever it seems. However I have taken the approach of publishing all my information in two ways:

    1) My entire ancestors (and their family) are up on WikiTree. That’s an free, non-commercial website run by volunteers like you and me, financed by ads you see when you’re not logged in. It displays my family tree beautifully, has all the relevant info in there (including info about all my DNA tests on 23andme, FTDNA, GedMatch and YSearch) and I can even show the original document as a scan next to it. See my example about my Italian great-grandfather:

    2) I’ve published all of my 12000+ people in my Brothers Keeper (that’s the program I use for 10+ years to collect all my information on my own private website (using the Personal Ancestral File or PAF from the LDS church – it’s a free tool). It will be online as long as I (or someone else after my death) will pay the less than 5 bucks (or Euros in this case) per month. It’s only text based but it has all the relevant info up there, go ahead and copy it (as Roberta says I don’t own these ancestors and if I can help someone in his research than all that hard work was worth it). See the difference, click on “Family Tree” for it:

    Again, to repeat the most important message: “Get your data published and please don’t say tomorrow. It might be your last day today (though I don’t hope it is)”

  2. Re: Do you have ideas or suggestions for how to permanently memorialize your ancestors?
    Your approach of “….. printing ancestor articles in book format and donating them to several significant libraries including the Allen County Public Library and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints …..” is about as good as anyone can do.

    In my opinion, the reality is that there is no way of “permanently memorializing your ancestors.”

    • I disagree to your last comment. Upload your Gedcom file to the LDS church system or to WikiTree and it will stay on forever (especially for the LDS as they are not only motivated by their religion to collect all kinds of info about dead people but also because they have literally unlimited funding through their church members).

    • James B. Hardin,

      You said, “There is no way of ‘permanently memorializing your ancestors.'” True. But Roberta’s suggestions are as close as it gets. She speaks of changing technology and methods of preservation then suggestions two methods I have tested and proven effective. The first is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) storage methods. The second is by physically printing a book. Here’s my personal experience.
      1) I uploaded my GEDCOM to Ancestral File about 25 years ago. It’s still there!
      2) I printed my family history and shared it with several libraries as well as the LDS Church also about 25 years ago. Both my published books are still available in those libraries and are available online as a scanned PDF through

      Like Andreas West (above) recommended, I suggest keeping files and websites in .TXT format. You’ll find most of my websites in that format (,, etc.). In the 45 years I’ve been doing research I’ve found the following file formats to be the longest lasting and most widely recognized: .TXT, .PDF, .JPG, .MP3, .MPEG. But (and like Roberta says, this is a big BUT), nothing beats the printed page for longevity. Print your photographs and text in book form and share it with libraries with a long-standing history of preservation.

      Want proof? My Vincent family has been doing family research for about 110 years. Two Vincent cousins, Marion and Maud Kelly, began writing letters and keeping research as early as 1905. Maud became the first woman to practice law in Alabama. As a lawyer, she became very familiar with probate records. She became a well recognized genealogist who willingly shared her research.

      Because Maud kept carbon or hand written copies of all her correspondence, and because she donated her collection to a library, we have access to most of her lifelong research still today at both the Samford University Library in Birmingham, AL and preserved on microfilm at the Family History Library of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, UT.

      Want more proof? Flavius Josephus shared his written history that ended up in libraries around the world for 2,000 years. Most scripture held sacred by the world’s religions began as preserved history millennia ago. Hats off to Roberta Estes for her suggestions and to you for concurring. Yes, printing and sharing family history with libraries may not permanently memorialize our ancestors but it’s been the most effective method for the Vincent Family for the past 110 years and for the Jews for the past 4,000 or so. I know we’ll all stick with it ’til something better comes along. ~Ron.V

  3. Happy Memorial Day Cuz. Enjoyed your post today but sorry you chose to look at the glass half empty. You could have titled your post Grateful for the Finds and shared the multitude of trails and paths opened by the many bodies of work you were blessed to find and share with your readers.I used to worry about lost memories and tried so hard to leave a trail for my grandchildren to follow. Over time I chose to look at things differently. Probably the tipping point of that change was a sermon at my wife’s Aunts funeral some years back. Her Aunt had passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease like my wife’s mother did before her. The sermon and the funeral was the most touching I had ever attended. The love her Aunt had shared during her life with everyone who crossed her path was great. The church was full that morning with a celebration of song and testimony of that love. One could not help but to be lifted by the joy in the house of The Lord.I was relieved when the Priest’s sermon introduced me to Gods Perfect Memory and the realization that all of our lost memories are retained by God for us and we can reconnect with them in Heaven.So Cuz. Be patient. In Gods time you will have access to those lost bodies of work. They are not lost. Just waiting for you in Gods perfect memory on the other side.God Bless!Howard (Wayne) EstesSent from Xfinity Connect Mobile App

  4. I have built up my Tree on Ancestry, and am also now on Wiki too. I used to have the Tree on my computer several years ago until I had a number of crashes, now I am down to a laptop and no Tree on it, so I need to get a program on the laptop and download a Gedcom, and back it up on a Memory Stick, I wonder how long they will last. Most of all I need to get my paperwork in some kind of order, separate notebooks for each family line, instead of one notebook with jumbled notes covering all lines. One thing I have found really useful for quick reference is a card index which I started for my husband’s BROOKS line, each individual has his/her own card with d.o.b & d.o.d dates, parents, spouses name, marriage date, place, and maiden names, FAG Memorial number where relevant, etc.,

    Since seeing the following on The Genealogy News: Is Being Sold Again?
    (Source: Olive Tree Genealogy Blog via RSS Feed, 21/May/2015)
    I am wondering if our Tree’s up there are now in danger of being ‘removed.’ That would be disastrous for a lot of people who have worked hard on their Trees. Ancestry have supposedly made searching for records easier, according to them. I have not found that to be the case, it has become quite frustrating recently.

    I have a four week old kitten interfering right now with my typing, some nasty person threw her away last Monday and she was found wandering in the middle of the road a week ago today, eyes just barely opened, now she (Misty) is full of beans and keeping us on our toes – and shuffling..!

    • I wouldn’t put anything past ancestry but they also get a lot of traffic as a result of our trees. They also make up “facts” from composite trees. If our trees disappear I bet their revenue will drop like a rock. I know I won’t ever go back if my tree is removed or “altered”. Add up the subscription, software, DNA, access to DNA matches and the kickback from the original documents company that is on ancestry and you’re talking some real money. If we get the shaft, how many of us will ever go back?

  5. Thanks for posting this article, Roberta. VERY well done!

    As you know from our earlier conversations, this is a subject that is near and dear to me. Over the past 40 years I have seen lots of genealogists in my family pass away and their genealogies and old photos ended up in a dumpster. Back in the 70s and 80s I made photocopies of my Great Uncle’s genealogy and received photocopies of many others. Many elderly relatives mailed their precious period photos to me which I copied using my camera and a copy stand (long before there were scanners!) We also tape recorded interviews with elderly relatives in the 1970s who reminisced about their grandparents and childhoods, which I transcribed. I even kept many of those tape recordings which I later digitized. Since I retired in 2008 I have made it a project to scan in every scrap of paper related to my genealogy (and my wife’s) that I have – original documents, letter correspondence from before there was email, copies of complete genealogies (on old Family Group Sheets), old photos and negatives of old photos I had copied, and even some published genealogies that were limited to a very few copies and were no longer available. I also took pictures of every family heirloom I had (and some that other family members have) and annotated them with captions. I even had digital DVD transfers from old family movies made in the 1920s that depicted my grandparents and great grandparents in England and Sweden. I combined all of this with all my digital genealogy records – emails, attachments, GED files, and electronic versions of the books I have published on the family over the years as well as everything on my TNG web site. I included text files describing what was there an how it was organized. All in all, there is almost 30 GB of content.

    My strategy for having all this persist into the future is to make copies of relevant portions and mail them on data DVDs or thumb drives to every cousin I can find – close and distant, including some in England, Sweden, and Australia and New Zealand. Now, even if I die and my research ends up in a dumpster or my house burns down, I will have created “treasure caches” of my raw genealogy all over the world (and all over the family tree) for some future genealogist to discover and “do the happy dance” over.

    I have published portions of my and my wife’s genealogies in book form and sent free books to various local historical societies and libraries (as well as the LDS church!) and put GEDs (that include all the old family stories in the NOTEs field) in LDS’s Granite Mountain vault. But, as you said, that’s not going to include everything you have. I packed those books with photos – but I have acquired many more photos since publishing the books, and discovered new things about our families that some future researcher would want to know, so passing out GEDs and publishing books just isn’t going to be enough unless you find a way to share and preserve your research itself. I used to think that publishing those family books was the most important thing I ever did in my life, but now I think, scanning everything I have on paper and passing it out to my relatives was even more important.

    Now if I could only submit a thumb drive to LDS I would breathe a complete sigh of relief!


    P.S. I have eschewed any proprietary formats in all of this – I learned my lesson when my old PageMaker files became unusable. I like to have all my files in Text, PDF, GED, JPG or TIFF, etc. Open standards that are likely to survive (or, at least, be convertible to new formats), and long-term media (thumb drives have substantial life spans – far more than normal CDs or DVDs, although I have used archival quality DVD media). I don’t necessarily agree that old media will be unrecoverable in the future – it’s still possible to read and copy Apple II diskettes, 8-inch floppies, computer tape reels and even cylinder photograph records. Where there is a will there is a way – the biggest problem is with the use of old proprietary file formats – and old media that has deteriorated. The best advice I can offer is – avoid cheap CD and DVD media! Buy archival grade media or thumb drives and re-copy it every few years.

    • Google Drive offers 30 GB of data storage for free. It automatically replicates everything into the cloud (where they take care of disc failures, backup etc.) as soon as your computer is connected to the internet, meaning your files on your computer are also safely backed up.

      It allows to share files, directory with different people or groups, so privacy is kept as you wish.

      Just my two cents worth if you want to secure your photos, gedcom files, notes etc.

  6. Words to live by! Publish your data, even if it isn’t in finished form (and whose genealogy is ever in finished form?) I have a bundle of websites, but nothing beats paper.

  7. I agree. I also believe in free access. As you say, my ancesters don’t belong to me, so when I decided to publish a my research I selected freepages at Rootsweb for my documents, deeds, photos, etc. and blogspot for my narratives telling the story of our Rudd family because I hope the lives after I’m dead. I link from my blog to freepages. Blogspot was bought by Google so I figured it might live longer than I would and my account is free. I also plan to do as you with tech devices and genealogy libraries. I share with everyone who ask, I get so much fun out of helping other `cousins` connect to their Rudd ancestor! Plus, I have a legacy left to me by those family researchers who shared with me when I started. I have taken all they gave and improved on it with their blessing.

  8. Thanks for this article. Aside from information becoming permanently gone, there is the research that is permanently wrong, that which was done before DNA testing, and which still exists on sites with no way to append to it any corrections or additions, and no person attached to it still online. Maybe we need online wills to assign our pages in the event we become unable to maintain them.

    • Ernest, you point out an important thing to take care off. In my will it’s explicitly stated that all my genealogical material (all files, folders, photographs) is to be submitted to a genealogical society in Duesseldorf, Germany as most of my ancestors are from that area and federal state.

      Secondly I posted this “online will” on my WikiTree page as for my digital afterlife:

  9. One more suggestion for a published genealogy book is to submit it yo the library of Congress so it will be stored by them and made available to the public. And to share with younger family members so they will keep the information and asd new information to it.

    I have not done all I plan to do, but have a public Ancestry tree even though people misuse the data. It is available tothose doing good research too and younger family members are accessing it. I also printed personal memoirs which included stories told to me by other family members so rach of my children would have a printed copy. Still in the future is the sharing to libraries like the LOC. but it would be smart if I added to my will that I wish my children to donate all my research to specific genealogy societies that are closest to the areas of the research involved.

    One other concern is stored media such as CDs and DVDs now that I have noticed that new laptops don’t even have CD/DVD drives. Put that data in other forms. Store it on backup drives,store it inthe cloud, on thumb drives, etc. Print form is good too, but paper is overtaking my house, so I need to consolidate the information for retention.

      • With some people it seems to be a case of ‘If it appears to fit, slot it in.’ An online family tree on one of my lines was like that, admittedly it was compiled by an old lady many years ago, now long since died, it was fine as far back as the 1700’s but beyond that it was ‘pick and fit.’ A cousin on that line who still carries the name has done a great job of taking it back to the 1400’s, discarding the ‘ancestors’ who do not belong, he checks all the records and collects copies, and proof where ever he possibly can. On a certain tree on Ancestry my husband’s great x 4 grandfather appeared living in a different state, with a different wife, and about 20 children, some apparently born when his wife was in her 60’s. 70’s and dead. Some of the ‘hints’ provided by Ancestry are so ‘way off’ and if you are not careful you end up with a bad Tree full of false information. It is all too easy to make mistakes. Even information from Find a Grave is not always dependable, if the person who created the memorial has inserted wrong information, sometimes supplied by a family member who has got it wrong. I recently found two memorials supposedly for the same woman, credited with the same husband, but relevant dates were different, and they were located in two different cemeteries. Same names, on investigation I believe one is the mother, and the other her daughter, but I just don’t know and have no way of checking. The creators of the two memorials need to do that, but don’t seem inclined to bother.

  10. This is such a sad story. I hope it teaches some people a lesson. If you aren’t going to share-as-you-go, at LEAST save your work and designate someone to finish it for you, should you not live to complete it. Barb

  11. Long term storage options – it’s interesting that newer technology like CD and DVD has a shorter lifespan than older floppies and cassette tapes. M-Disk claims to last 1000 years if properly stored (even if it’s not quite that much it’s got to be better than the cut-rate CD and DVD media that will last 2 to 5 years if you’re lucky). Flash Drive longevity is based on write-cycles and the number of times you insert it and remove it. If you write to it only once, though, and then put it in a safe-deposit box I’ve read it can last up to 100 years or more.

  12. Roberta,
    The last time i was on The Wayback Machine, i saw that you, yourself, can archive a specific webpage. I noticed it because they had not archived a newspaper article i wanted and which was no longer on the newspaper’s website, not even in its archives. Oh how i wish it had been available when my mother died in 1999!

    Also consider sending your book to the counties where your ancestors lived. Either the historical society or the public library will be happy to get it. (In Prince William County, VA, send it to RELIC . In Rappahannock County, VA, send it to the Rappahannock Historical Society

    Thanks for the, as usual, excellent article.

  13. This is the most important blog post written about genealogy research that I have read to date, and the comments are extremely helpful. I’m a fledgling researcher and still have a lot to learn. Thank you for the excellent info.

  14. Thanks for the great article, Roberta. It serves as a strong motivator for us on this important topic. I’ve been wrestling with the issue of how best to preserve our family history ever since I read an article several years ago in Popular Mechanics on the “digital ice age”. In the spirit of providing links that eventually will go stale, it is currently available at .

  15. Roberta,
    As part of your preservation effort you mentioned “I’m going to print my work for my descendants, in book form, with archival ink on archival paper, because electronic formats will change significantly over the years.” I intend to do the same, with the books also distributed to various public and private institutions. In this day and age of identity theft concerns, I struggle with the issue of whether to include personally identifiable information, such as birthdates, for living individuals in these books. What is your recommendation?

    • I never include any information about anyone living. Unfortunately, some people have included that information not only about me but about my children as well. I wasn’t very happy about that.

      • I don’t know, Roberta. It seems that scammers & robocallers can always find a way to contact you, and I doubt they rely on Family Search trees to get their data. On the other hand, I would be thrilled to get a call from an undiscovered cousin who found me there. I suppose it might irritate Aunt Em to have her real birth year published but I don’t thing it would give the other girls at her bridge club much of a surprise.

  16. I’ve discussed this a number of times as I struggle with my own situation and what’s right or wrong.
    My conclusions as far as my own philosophy is that I do this genealogy and genetic genealogy work for all of us. In reality, the genes aren’t owned by anyone but our descendants, our cousins, etc. Our genealogies and histories are for prosterity. We do what we do for prosterity. We get the joy of finding the insights and at seeing others surprise and amazement, but what value is there in something that isn’t shared?
    My father and mother are still going, but we all have a time clock. I remember my Grandmother Madge’s calendar holder in her kitchen. The banner was “Time waits for no man.”

  17. This article really hit a chord for me. I got into genealogy in 2007. It is amazing how so much has changed in eight years short years. I missed most of the early websites, which you cite which had a lot of family trees listed. I got in on the tail end of genealogy forums. So many of those websites are now gone. Of those that remain, many are mere skeletons with broken links.

    I also got in on the “I’ll share my information, if you share your information.” People were unwilling to give up information they unearthed from an expensive trip.

    It is really too bad, because like you, I’ve seen some of these people die without ever sharing their information. That is a loss to everyone.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen people who have been generous with their knowledge, post it on websites, provide it on FindAGrave and the like. In some instances, these people have helped to move the knowledge of a family line or surname forward well beyond where it would be had they not done so. I am very grateful to those folks. We lift everyone up and we can ride on their shoulders.

    I hit a brickwall early in my Kenyon surname research at my 2nd great grandfather, Lyman Kenyon. It’s been nearly eight years and I have still not solved it, although I do believe that I am closer.

    In my research, I decided to study all of the Kenyon males who lived in New York State during the time frame in which I Lyman’s father would have lived there (1790 – 1850). I also decided to research census and other records for each county. I kept notes for all of this. Along the way, I added memorial pages on FindAGrave, with bios. I shared with the belief that this would benefit other people in their Kenyon research. It was my hope that by doing so, I could do my small part to advance Kenyon research. It was my hope that if I could help to advance someone’s research, in time it would come back to help me.

    I also worried about what would happen to all the of research I did if I should die. I figured my family would probably throw it away. I decided to publish my research notes, “My Search for Lyman Kenyon’s Ancestors: Early New York Kenyon Males,” and submit it to the Family History Library, which I did. It is 248 pages, including an index. I continue to update those notes and I will submit revised additions in the future. This way, I know the research I have done, will not go in vain, if I should died tomorrow. I have seen so many websites come and go or become abandoned, even in this short eight-year span. I think publishing is the answer. Don’t wait until your research is “perfect.” With genealogy, if you wait for perfection, it will never come.

  18. ” And by the way, I’m not Mormon, but …”

    I hope you’re Catholic, then, because you’ve qualified for sainthood.

  19. Thx Roberta! I have often wondered what format you are using when you write, and share, information about your ancestors. Now I have a new goal to work on this year! Please consider it flattery if I copy your format! Mary

  20. I recently decided it was time for me to publish a family tree for my adopted family. Being the only grandchild of my Hartzell grandparents that was old enough to remember the family tree ( and the only one interested) plus the only one having pictures of some of the ancestors. So, I set about recording my memories and biography in Ancestry, made the tree public so that it would be copied from and distributed hopefully to future generations of the family when they grow up and want to learn about their wonderful kin. And yes, all my research about my birth family and my adopted family may go in the trash. Probably will go in unless my adopted first cousin is not in the nursing home with me !

  21. Writing an entire book seems too daunting for many. I know it felt like that for me. Then I read an essay by Patricia Law Hatcher entitled “Writing As You Research,” which has been published in several places by NEHGS. She suggested that you work on a book one chapter at a time — one ancestor, one family, one location, whatever fits. Then send each chapter to your family members as gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. ANYONE ought to be able to do one chapter. Then another. And another. In my case, I took two and a half years to compile my 25 years of BMD information with as much historical background as I could. In the end, I had a published book with eleven chapters in more than 270 pages, of which almost a quarter is footnotes. The book includes a 60+ page everyname index that I created manually (a chapter at a time of course!).

    If you send two copies of your manuscript to the Allen County Public Library Special Collections Division in Fort Wayne, Indiana, they’ll bind both, keep one and send the other back to you. You can also buy additional bound copies (you have to send that many copies of the manuscript) for a nominal sum. I think it cost me $15 each. I gave a copy to NEHGS because many of my ancestors came from New England. So my research is available to read and use for free in Fort Wayne and in Boston.

  22. Excellent posting and discussion.
    Two books out for me, but not to repository libraries. Must get on it.
    I thought that with your professional background you would know what “forever” means for electronic media. I have heard so often that it is five years or until the next technology change – whichever comes first!

  23. I started my family research late in life, about 74 years of age. It has kept me focused and moving ahead with life and most important of all it has kept my mental health at a very high plateau at almost 93 years of age (July 21). I learned to use a computer at the same time I was learning to do genealogical research. I still work long hours every day because I know my days are numbered. I don’t know how God feels about extending my days for research. I long ago realized preservation was going to be as important as my research. I have no children and thought I was doing this for my nieces and nephews, but you guessed it, they could care less.

    Now my focus is on preservation. I had decided Technology was not going to be the answer, it changes too often, usually before I understand fully how to use it. Paper copies given to several larger archives seems the best solution. At my age, drawing the line for research and working on preservation seemed the better action…until Roberta generously gave me a whole new family line that I didn’t know about…the Estes line and wonder of wonders,my father’s line merges into the Estes line as does my husband’s line. both through a sister and a brother, who are the children of John R. Estes. So I added again and now I must now stop before time runs out for me, and separate all this information into individual family books that are easily handled by researchers and get them to as many large Archives as possible, Until that is done, in case of my demise, my dear nephew who makes life so great for me these days and who has helped me with printing copies, has promised to see that all my work, finished and unfinished, goes to the Filson Genealogical Library, Maryland State Archives, and others I will decide on in the next few days.

    Like Roberta I have kept copies of emails, letters, etc. because they are “research in progress”. They will go with the finished copy. Then researchers will understand why some info was rejected and how major decisions were made.

    I had the great good fortune to have wonderful researchers work with me, one a retired Forensic Medical Doctor and Attorney who gave me hundreds of hours of legal advice that has enriched my work and some important DNA. Lastly, Roberta Estes generously added my Estes line, documented and ready to enter into my records. May God delight to bless them both for their kindness and generosity.

  24. Well, I guess you haven’t been to genforum lately. What a mess ancestry has made. There was so much information on that website. It would have been fine to leave it read only, but they had to change the format. You can now reply to messages by signing in with Facebook, Twitter, Google or Disqus. But you can’t search individual forums. How are you supposed to find anything? Many of the county boards are still not up. I don’t know how long it will be there, so I would recommend doing a copy & paste if you’re lucky enough to find those wonderful long posts with so much info. Many of the early internet researchers would only post on genforum.

    Also, rootsweb is not allowing attachments on their message boards. Ancestry is supposedly working on it but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. I guess all those photos and documents that were shared by very kind people are no longer available. So sad 🙁

  25. Thank you for all the information about DNA you provide. I have been a researcher for 50 years and earlier this year my cousin died unexpectedly. She never wanted me to share the information she had gleaned over the years and shared with me; but; in my last conversation with her she had a death bed wish. She wanted me to publish all of our work This is an enormous undertaking. I wish we had done it earlier. . However, thank you for the reminder that I need to get busy now if I could only choose a way to preserve it. After all, do we trust the internet anymore?

  26. Good article, Roberta, I hope more people take notice and implement accordingly! A few things I would add:

    1) Before you give up on a broken link, check out The Wayback Machine at Here’s a brief overview of what it’s about:

    2) If the broken link was from Geocities then try Replace the “G” in Geocities with an “R” in the link address and give it a try. I resurrected some very interesting research on my family name that way.

    3) If you want to download images of all the records you attached at, then you can purchase Family Tree Maker (FTM) which is’s desktop genealogy program and create a “linked” tree which downloads a copy of all media to your FTM copy of your tree. Then use FTM to export all or portions of your tree to a gedcom with or without the attached media. You can keep the tree linked and synched on an ongoing basis or you can “unlink” the tree and repeat the process from the top periodically. I prefer the former as I like to utilize the rich set of reports that FTM provides to help me manage my tree and organize my research.

      • What’s their pay back there 😉 Would that explain it? I’ve been unhappy with ancestry many times in the past but now that the new & improved web site is going to be forced on me and the ancestry health -don’t get me started on that- and pay to see any result of the DNA kit I bought from them which requires a paid membership to view………well, in the past week I have found replacements and even more on other web sites. Ancestry, do what ever you want. I’ll be abandoning my tree there. I will only leave it because it might be cousin bait. BarbaraF has downloaded all my photos and documents and uploaded them as her own. Since she has done no research she has pictures attributed to the wrong people and facts that are not right. If anyone asks for more information from her………?????

  27. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Basic Education Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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