What will happen to your family history after you die?

It’s never pleasant thinking about your own death, but if you have spent many years working on your family history you should make arrangements for what you want to happen with it after you die. If you don’t, then it will probably get thrown out – and that’s not a pleasant thought either. Even if your family knows you have been researching your family history and knows that you won’t want it destroyed, they will need specific instructions from you.

The first problem is that your family or executors will not recognise all the bits that make up your family history. Your folders and papers may be obvious, but would they know that you had family trees online in four different places? Would they recognise the research books, copies of certificates, maps, photos and so on that you collected? Would they know that you used family history software, kept images on your ipad, and had your DNA tested and uploaded to three different sites? Or know that you had drafts of books and articles you were writing?

No? Then your first task is to prepare an inventory of all the bits that make up your family history. And don’t forget to include website addresses and passwords.

While you are making your inventory, it’s probably a good idea to organise your materials a bit better – using a system that a non-genealogist would not have too much trouble understanding. And labelling – lots of labelling! That includes papers and folders, but also folders on your computer. And how about making a folder labelled ‘Save my family history. Read this for instructions’?

Next, prepare an overview of your family history so that anyone who is handling it later will have a better idea of how everything relates to different family members, and understand the labels you put on the folders, books and other items. Print out a family tree chart and a report from your family history software (if you use it) and put them in the ‘Save my family history’ folder. Don’t forget to find a safe and obvious spot for the folder, so someone will find it. Even better – leave it with the person who is the executor of your will.

Now you need to decide where you want your family history to go. Is there someone in the family who will accept it? If not, then investigate repositories who might accept family history research, such as your local library or family history society. Or, if you are in Australia, then you should consider donating it to the Society of Australian Genealogists ( After you make your decision and check that they will accept your family history, include instructions in your will. If you are donating to a repository, you should also consider including a financial donation, to help cover the costs of caring for your family history.

The final task is to check that any subscription or paid services associated with your family history are also assigned. The rules of inheritance differ with each one, so you will need to check each one. With some, you may be able to include information in your will but others may have a section on the website that you have to fill in.

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