April 2012

Alex Coles, alex.coles@one-place-studies.org

OPS estate planning

In family history we deal with the dead every day – discovering and preserving traces in time left by our ancestors, their families and neighbours, and lamenting the gap of knowledge created by no longer having that person with us to explain just where they were hiding in that census year. But have you thought about how to preserve your one-place study once you’ve gone?

Every OPSer puts enormous love and effort into their study. But there will come a time when we no longer have the physical or mental capacity to give as much as we once could, whether that occurs slowly or suddenly. Every one-place study contains valuable information as it stands and it’s a smart idea to put some “estate planning” in place so that it doesn’t disappear with you. Sadly we have seen this happen over the last few years – the originator has passed away, the website has been discontinued, and while fragments may be found archived in other places that body of knowledge is generally lost to future researchers. It is rare that family members can be contacted and the study “rescued” without plans already being place, so it’s up to us to take steps so our study can live on.

The Next Generation

Are you able to partner with somebody on your study? A sprightlier version of yourself will not only share the load now, but be in the best position to take over when the time comes.

If you do have someone able to step into your shoes, make sure that they know:

  • how to access your physical records
  • which family member to liaise with if need be
  • how to obtain copies of your electronic files
  • how to log in to any online data, and where this is stored
  • how to get the domain name and hosting of your website (if applicable) transferred to their name

For your part:

  • Make sure that you have given your successor's contact details to your chosen family liaison so they can update them upon your untimely demise.
  • Make sure you keep your successor updated on any logins or other pertinent pieces of information.
  • Keep your OPS records as tidy as you can.
  • Maintain a list of the projects you are currently undertaking within the study, their current status, and any thoughts you have that would help get these finished in your absence.

The Heir

Are there organisations that would be keen to be the new home for your one-place study? Family history societies or record offices for the region covering your OPS may be delighted to be the repository of choice for your study. Check with them in advance, particularly if you have a lot of physical records. If you have an archive of original and irreplaceable physical documents a record office or a local museum is probably the most appropriate home.

For your study itself, including electronic files, working documents, software backups and website pages, a family history society may be better placed to give this a home, and use the information within when they receive enquiries relevant to your place. If possible, both a paper set (using archival-quality materials) and electronic set may make it easier for the society members to manage.

Do you have a particularly enthusiastic correspondent or two with many family connections to your place? Perhaps you could send them a complete set of your electronic records, even if they don't have any interest in expanding on your work - the more people that hold copies of your study, the more likely it is that one copy will survive and find its way to an even wider audience once you're gone.

Consider publishing your study as either a physical book or e-book. If your book is available for sale (or free) via Lulu, Smashwords or the many other self-publishing options now available this will again increase the chances of your study surviving. If you self-publish you can easily remove older versions and update them with newer editions from time to time. A copy of all physical books published in your country may be required to be deposited with your national library, which again helps preserve your work.

Website domain names and hosting generally require annual renewals. If these are not renewed by your family members after you've gone, the website will just disappear with no way for any visitors to find out what has happened and who to get in touch with about it. If any of your non-genealogist family members are web-savvy, perhaps you could prepare in advance a revised landing page for your website for them to upload after your death, letting everyone know that you're no longer around, that the website will likely disappear on the following whichever-month-your-renewal-is-due, and the email address or other contact details should people like to get in touch in the interim.

Consider copying or transferring the contents of your website to a free host like Rootsweb. Even if the owners of the free host site changes in future (or the domain name changes) your pages might be grandfathered along to any replacement free site system they put in place. Publish online copies of your study under a Creative Commons licence like BY-NC-SA that will allow people to duplicate and expand on your work.

If you currently have a website and sufficient warning of your imminent demise but no-one to hand your website over to, please get in touch with us and we will do what we can to ensure your study is preserved online.

The Will

  • Draw up a list of your OPS “assets” – both physical and electronic – including where they actually are.
  • Copy a complete set of your electronic records to a portable device of your choice and update it periodically (both contents and technology).
  • Outline exactly where the assets are to go. Include copies of any correspondence with your desired repository or successor, and keep their contact details up to date. Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems website has a Genealogical Materials Directive PDF template (available to premium members only in Premium Episode 4) that will be useful.
  • Make sure your family knows that you have a plan for your OPS research, where to find that plan, and what you would like them to do.

If you have any comments, updates or corrections for this article, please email us.

The author of this work retains all rights and must be credited when the material is displayed or shared. Any use of the material for commercial purposes requires the written consent of the author, as does any use of a significant portion of the material for purposes other than individual private research.

Picture credit: Adapted from an image taken from the Wellcome Collection website and used under a Creative Commons licence.

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