Preserving The Past

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.

Some of Henry Jenkins’s gold rush letters are now in tatters. Fortunately, I have a transcript made before they fell apart. (Collection of the Huntington Library)

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.


Organization of my paper files by couple and generation. I will reorganize by last name and couple before donating.

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.

The computer files organized by last name and couple. There are sub-folders for various types of documents and photos.

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.

One of the original documents in my collection is a homestead patent issued to Clara Ransom, my great-grandmother.

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.

I was required to pay a $5 fee for this card in order to access public records at the Codington County courthouse.

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)

30 thoughts on “Preserving The Past

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      1. I had to roll up my hammock for the winter. I’ll find another way.
        Limited access libraries sounds a bit archaic, doesn’t it? Fresh looks and collaboration should be encouraged, I would think.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. We watched an interesting film about Gore Vidal last night – man, that guy had our political “system” pegged!

      Yes, knowledge should be freely accessible, I say. Hooray for the internet in that respect (although way too much ignorance showing up there, too).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This system is really giving us the business!

        I’ll take the ignorance if it gets me information in return. It’s worth the trade off, and I don’t concern myself with most of the nonsense anyways.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is also something I am looking at. While I do not have a huge amount of original records, letters, and photographs what I do have is important to my family’s history. So I must find a way to make sure this information does not get lost. Please keep sharing your thoughts and actions on this. I look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like you have a fair number of descendants, Charles, to pass things on to. Has anyone expressed a particular interest? While only a fraction of my documents are original, having them compiled and organized is still a gift to future researchers. Photographs will undoubtedly be the most time-consuming, adding meta-data and such.


      1. My Granddaughter Nicole and my Daughter-in-law have more than a passing interest. I would also like to put a lot into book form so libraries and historical society’s in places where the family put down roots would have something.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I should probably start thinking along the same lines, as I am the current Keeper of The Family Archives, although the thought of the amount of work involved is quite daunting. I will read your future updates on the subject with particular interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Are you back already? Hah. How are you feeling? You are so knowledgeable. I’m sorry about the Huntington. It’s such a beautiful place. My grandfather donated a lot of the family photos to Western Michigan University. It’s good that they aren’t all in my hands, but who is using them? Almost nobody.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t researched family history – and probably won’t. (After all, so much of my family history is in Europe). You are not alone in extensive research, so thanks for giving those who are something to ponder. Good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m intrigued by those scanners that you can place a book on and just keep turning the pages while it scans. Getting up from my desk to place items on my scanner now, returning to the desk, scan, save, REPEAT…. just slow and cumbersome.

    Liked by 1 person

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