Get Your Ducks in a Row – Time May Be Shorter Than You Think


Helen Rutledge is my cousin.  She and I have been sniffing around the same records in the same counties for many years now.  I only wish we had met earlier so we could have shared more of the chase.

Helen is no “spring chicken” as we say on the farm.  In fact, Helen has continued to research far into her golden years – being in her 90s now.  Want to hear the great irony? Helen has no children to leave her work to – but this does not deter her.  Helen is the aunt that every one of us wants to have in our family.

Recently Helen sent me an e-mail that both saddened me and inspired me, and with her permission, I’m sharing it with you.  I have omitted some of the more personal portions.

After 13 days in the hospital I returned to long term nursing care. I brought my computer and genealogy records from Assisted Living to my new level of care. However, now instead of researching, I am organizing my research to leave for my nephew and some research archives. I have been forewarned in the most urgent way that there may not be time to think about how I will do this when the research is done. Well, we all know research is never finished.

Keep urging perseveration of research on your blog. It is as important as the research itself. Answers are no good if I am the only one who knows the answer to the puzzle…I must share it with others whether they give me credit or not. I thank you for alerting me to that truth and God for allowing me extended days to get my records in order as a gift to other researchers. Oh, the many little tidbits I have garnered, documented, and put together for those who follow in my footsteps with our family lineage.

Organization is not just entering our data into a genealogy program. It is documenting, making copies of the documents available when possible, and recording the ORDER of our research so those who are not familiar with the records, can follow the generations and become acquainted with their ancestors.

Be honest, say information is not documented, when such is the case, and challenge your readers to find documentation. Try to inspire descendants to fill in the blanks and record those who are yet unborn. While they will miss the thrill of solving the puzzle after years of frustration, they will know the joy of learning who they are.

Thank you, Helen, for your lovely, inspirational message. Sometimes we aren’t fortunate enough to receive a warning. (Note – Helen passed away in February, 2018.)

Another e-mail this week told of another cousin’s husband who died suddenly, with no warning, and he was 30 years younger than Helen.

DNA in Perpetuity

I would add one thing though, and that is to record your user names and passwords – especially relative to DNA accounts and tests and anyplace, like GedMatch, you have uploaded your results.  Your DNA can never, and I repeat, NEVER, be replaced, while genealogy research could be with enough effort.  Don’t let your DNA results become inaccessible.

At Family Tree DNA, you can designate a beneficiary.

On your personal page, under “Your Account” on the left hand side, select “Manage Personal Information.”


Then select Beneficiary Information and complete the form which includes your beneficiary’s name, e-mail and phone number.  If you should pass away, this is who Family Tree DNA will allow to access your account.  Other companies, to the best of my knowledge don’t include this information or provide this option, so you’ll need to be sure to leave your account access information available for your family members.


If you have not prepared for the inevitable, please take a few minutes to do so.   You can make the DNA arrangements now, and easily.

Remember, at Ancestry, your DNA won’t be available unless your account (subscription and login) remains active, so you’ll need to take how to handle that into consideration.

You might want to download not just your raw data files, but matches as well when possible.

Public Sites

Upload your Y and mitochondrial DNA to sites like and  Be sure to record the most distant ancestor and enough information to positively identify them, like birth and death dates, locations and spouse’s name.  This is the only way to get your info into a public data base that is accessible without having DNA tested for a match.  You can also enter Y and mito info at and attach it to the proper ancestor.  This helps others in the future learn about their ancestors.  Be sure to include your full haplogroup in the notes and a link to anything you may have published about that line.

Upload your autosomal results to and upload trees where possible.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, because baskets aren’t forever either.  Think about how many genealogy companies have come and gone and what happened to our Y and mitochondrial DNA with both Ancestry and Sorenson (also destroyed by Ancesty).

Genealogy Research

You can take a few minutes to put together a plan for how to preserve and present the balance of your genealogy information.  Preserving and publishing my genealogy research has been on my bucket list for some time now and is the purpose of the 52 Ancestors articles I’ve been writing for the past 18 months.  I’ll write them until every ancestor is covered….or I can no longer write the articles – and I sincerely hope I have the opportunity to finish.  Not just for my own sake, but for the benefit of everyone else who follows.  I hope future researchers make huge breakthroughs and add immensely to what I know today.  My work will at least give them a firm foundation to start from and they won’t have to replow the same ground.

One of the avenues to preserve your work online is a blog.  WordPress offers free blogs and they will be available into perpetuity, whatever that really means.  I am also printing my articles and will be donating them to archival facilities like the Allen County Public Library.  And of course, I’ll have a set of binders for each of my children.

WikiTree is another public resource for your trees, your Y and mtDNA results and additional information, although that’s not the same as offering the detail in an article.

So, however you choose to do whatever you choose to do… just do it.

And do it now.

You may not have an opportunity later.

Time may be shorter than you think.

Get your ducks in a row.



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17 thoughts on “Get Your Ducks in a Row – Time May Be Shorter Than You Think

  1. Great advice for family researchers of all ages. At 54, I may be much younger than cousin Helen, but I type as my medication dispenser beckons me to take my morning pills. None of us knows when our number will be called for the final door prize.

    To all those that resist sharing family information or DNA because of secrets only to be whispered beyond the grave;
    “If you cannot get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.”
    George Bernard Shaw



  2. Roberta, Thank you for this touching and real article! The information is invaluable! Not everyone who has children are confident they (and theirs) will value the long hard work that has gone into the years of research done by grandma, auntie, etc. Archiving the work is essential. I have made provision in my Trust to leave my collection (with a small endowment) to a world class genealogy society. Even societies must take this seriously, too!

  3. As I am looking forward to my 80th birthday, I am trying to make sense of my genealogy, so someday my daughter will understand it. I am still researching as it seems more and more info is coming on the internet. I am hoping she will take up the research on the blank walls that I could not find answers for.

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Thank you Roberta. Many of us are getting “up there” in age. I’ll let all in my group know about your excellent and timely article.

    Much success to you on your upcoming talk at the FTDNA Conference.


  5. Thanks, Roberta, and to you too aunt Helen. Somehow we resist thinking about what will happen to our non-physical assets when we die, but we all should think about it.

  6. Roberta, may I have your permission to use this column in two newsletters that I supply columns for? Absolutely with attribution to you.

    One of my columns is for a surname society. I manage the Thrasher/Thresher DNA project for the Thrasher Family Association, and we use FamilyTreeDNA as our testing company. I would like to use the section on designating a beneficiary.

    The other column is for my Frederick County (Maryland) Genealogical Society (affectionately called FreCoGS). I usually write a “From the President’s Desk” column, but in today’s blog you have said things so well that I would just like to tell folks to read the Roberta Estes blog, and then print it.

    I look forward to hearing from you with any stipulations. And let me express my appreciation in advance ….


    nancy thrasher cherry

  7. “…I must share it with others whether they give me credit or not.” Your aunt is so right! Please consider donating it to a local historical society so your descendants will have access to it.

  8. That’s right, I should add a sheet in my genealogy dossier with IDs and passwords of every website I use.

    “Your DNA can never, and I repeat, NEVER, be replaced”

    I have an identical twin sister, a real life biological backup copy. My DNA could well outlive me (because, of course, I’m the original). XD

  9. Excellent column and I salute Helen Rutledge for her words of wisdom! I’m glad to say that this morning I learned that cousins had successfully gotten an elderly mutual relative to test and that his results are awaiting me at FTDNA. The day is off to a good start!

  10. Helen Rutledge is your cousin. I get quite excited to see the surname “Rutledge” as I have been researching my mother’s paternal Routledge/Rutledge connections (and dozens of alternate spellings) for the past 10 years. In vain I’ve wandered the paper trail from archive to archive online and in person through England/Scotland, hoping to link my Yorkshire Routledge ancestors to the earliest known records of the surname, about 1420s, in Cumberland and Roxburghshire on the Scottish/English border. I’d hoped DNA would help but little or no luck in the past five years: no direct surname matches, and FTDNA’s ancestral search turns up just one with a Rutledge connection (not Helen), which led nowhere. Besides myseIf I have only managed to persuade my son to test. My own daughter isn’t even willing to test and neither are Routledge cousins — sigh! Hence any mention of the name, anywhere, gets me excited.
    Interestingly, FTDNA’s FF ancestral search does turn up a third-party link (5th cousin-remote) to your ancestor Abraham Estes (1647, Elisha 1703, Elisha 1729, Robert ?, Mary 1742, Mary ?, Mildred 1736, Elizabeth 1765) about whom you have written extensively. While I explore that route with FTDNA tools, I am also wondering if Helen has a public genealogy file I could check for possible clues. BTW, my son and I are also on Gedmatch.

  11. Thank you for this special article. It is a beautiful tribute to my years of work. I hope we can inspire a multitude of people to “Get Their Ducks I A Row”.

    I am battling some new wars now, blood clots in my left leg and of all things, Gout. Both make it difficult to sit at my desk because I need to keep my feet up. But I will find a way, God did not give me these extra days for nothing.

    Helen Bivin Rutledge

      • Many thanks to you Helen for reminding and inspiring us family historians to do all we can to keep our ancestors from disappearing into oblivion. Even if you and I do not share enough Rutledge DNA to show up on FTDNA or similar websites, we are certainly in the same boat sharing physical evidence that time is running short — I too work with blood clots in the left leg, the last one leading to the lung. So better get busy, despite setbacks.

        If I can add anything to your Rutledge side, I’d be glad to share. I have a database of hundreds of documents, including photocopies of charters dating to 1400s. My basic tree is on FTdna, Ancestry,, Gedmatch,com and on my own website (with full source details) at

        Roberta, I should have thanked you in my first message for introducing Helen to us. A mere thank you seems pathetic in light of all you do as a mentor, teacher, and generous sharer of knowledge in support of us would-be genetic genealogists. I stand in awe of your work and, for the sake of my own ancestors, I can only aspire to find a fraction of the energy you deliver to the benefit of this community and the history of your own kith and kin.

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