Week 51: #52 Ancestors – Future
By Eilene Lyon
“The future” is a seemingly contrary topic for a historian. But the tagline for my blog includes the word “future,” because I believe history can teach us so many useful things.
Preserving knowledge for coming generations is important in my view of the world. So what is a family historian/genealogist to do when they don’t have children to pass a legacy on to?
Deciding where the fruits of my years of research should go is part of my estate planning process. I already have this blog and a couple books in the works, but there are documents (physical and digital) and photographs to be dealt with.
My great-grandmother set an example by donating some family papers and photos to various archives. Some went to the University of Idaho and the Latah County Historical Society. The priceless gold rush letters she donated to the Huntington Library.
I wish she hadn’t chosen that particular place. Why? Because they are very restrictive about who should be allowed access to their collections. They have their reasons, but I don’t agree with them. I am all for equal and free access to knowledge.
While the Huntington does have some items pertaining to the gold rush, and it is located in California, there is a better place for such artifacts. The Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley is a fabulous trove of all things gold rush. And their archives are open to everyone.
I am currently in the process of making sure I have digital copies of every paper in my files. Some of it needs to be scanned. Other items will be downloaded from my Ancestry account. Every computer file is getting organized according to a plan that mirrors the paper files.
Photograph scanning is a huge project, so I recently invested in a quality scanner that can process pictures rapidly and at high resolution. Afterward, I will preserve them in archive-quality containers.
Then there is the matter of where all this goes when I’m gone.
I have already begun the process of establishing relationships with various organizations that may be interested in these collections. Almost all the work I’ve done on my maternal line will likely go to the Latah County Historical Society in Moscow, Idaho.
The LCHS is impressive in their management and the organization of their collections. They are well funded and on my first visit, they told me that there was no charge for access. I had sent them a list of family names ahead of time, and because all their artifacts and papers have been digitally indexed, they had them ready for me when I got there.
Much of my paternal research should probably go to Codington County, South Dakota. However, I have not been as favorably impressed when going there to do research. One problem has to do with access to public documents.
When I went to the county courthouse, I was told that I had to pay a $5 membership fee to the state genealogical organization in order to see anything. And you are not permitted to make copies of anything – only note taking is allowed. Therefore abstracting is more efficient than transcription.
There is a historical society in a musty museum in Watertown, and they do allow free access to their collections, which don’t appear to be extensive. But finding what you want is not as simple as I would have wished. Probably any donation of research material would need to be accompanied by a substantial cash donation as well.
Overall, my impression was that family history is not much of a pursuit in Codington County. One reason for that might be that most descendants of the homesteaders left the state. It’s a hardy few who stayed behind to make a living there.
A few other locations I will consider for archiving my research, documents, and photos are in Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But first, I have to get it all ready. That is what I am doing now and will be doing in the very near future.
Feature image: The Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley (E. Lyon 2019)