Establishing a Family Record Archive

When we hear the word “archive,” a mental picture comes to mind of a large, stately building, usually with a controlled storage environment to maintain proper temperature and humidity.  Documents are stored under acid-free paper or carefully mounted under glass to preserve their original character.

My dictionary defines an archive as, “A place or collection containing records, documents, or other materials of historical interest.” An alternative definition is, “A repository for stored memories or information: the archive of the mind.”

Archives are usually filled with papers and artifacts that describe people, their cultures, values, and morals; their relationships and dealings with each other. Given these definitions, why not a family archive?  Think about it. A family archive. A place to keep important papers of legal significance. A place to keep photographs. A place to keep letters. A place to keep memories.

A friend of mine moved often during the years her husband was in the military service. As a matter of practicality, the Government advised them to keep important family documents such as birth and marriage certificates, proof of citizenship, etc., together in a loose leaf binder and to keep it in a handy place where it would be readily available should evacuation be necessary.

My friend has carried this concept further and keeps the history of their immediate family in a similar binder. Each year she reviews her journal and writes a summary for the family history. Photographs taken that year are kept in the “family book” with their history.  Each member of the family has his own personal book. Mementos of school work, achievements, and of course journal entries are found here. Parents take time to write notes about each child in their own books and even more lengthy commentary until they are old enough to assume this responsibility themselves. As each child leaves home, his book goes with him and copies of legal documents made for the family book.  The originals go with the child.

We know that family ties extend further than our own immediate circle. Adding information about parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to the family archive is a very natural, and almost compelling, extension of this work.  My friend keeps a separate binder for each of her ancestral lines with computer-generated pedigree charts and family group sheets. She adds photos, of course, and copies of documents or other memorabilia–the finished stuff you don’t want someone to throw out when you die.

One year we had an appraiser come to assess the value of our home so we could refinance it. My “office” is in a tiny bedroom just off the kitchen. As the appraiser looked about the kitchen, his eyes fell upon this little room. “Whoa! Office city!” he exclaimed as he counted the filing cabinets. “One, two, three, four. . . I think you could put two more over here under the window!”  “I’ve already tried that,” I replied glumly, “and they just wouldn’t fit, so I had to put them in the basement.” I restrained myself, but I wanted to say, “I have my mother in the bottom drawer and my grandparents over there.  Unfortunately, I could not fit the entire family in one drawer, so I had to use two. I keep my children in the top drawer, next to the bills and taxes, where they are handy to get at.”

Now, I realize that some families don’t have space for six filing cabinets and they have to put their children in the spare bedroom; but every family needs a little space to keep the things they treasure, all together in one place, be it under the bed or in a closet.

My neighbor keeps her family archives (research file folders) in office storage boxes where she can grab them at a moment’s notice if the dam breaks or the house catches fire–something I can’t do with my filing cabinets. Others make copies of their computer genealogy files and give them to their children for Christmas each year.

You can begin with just a cardboard box or a dresser drawer (if you can find one). Bring your important papers, photos, journals, family stories, and other memorabilia into one place. However you do it, start now to collect those things that are near and dear to you. And maybe, if you can, try to retrieve a few things from the archive of your mind and write them down for your family.


I Did It!!

Yes, I finally did it!  I posted my GEDCOM files to FamilySearch!!  I have been worrying about my kids throwing out all my good genealogical research data when I die, so it is a real relief to know that my personal database will be preserved forever.  This has been quite a learning experience.

You’re probably shaking your head and saying, huh?  What is that?  Well GEDCOM is an acronym for Genealogical Data COMmunication.  It is a program created originally by Personal Ancestral File to move genealogical data from one program to another, i.e., from Personal Ancestral File to Legacy Family Tree, Ancestral Quest or Roots Magic.  It is a simple program to use and is built right into the File menu of most genealogy software programs.  Now, you can share your personal database with FamilySearch for the whole world to see!

My first task was to find my Legacy Family Tree database file in Windows 10.  (I haven’t heard many favorable comments from users of Windows 10, and having been away from computers for a couple of years, finding my data file was no small task.)  I eventually found a mostly-current copy of my Legacy file in Drop-Box and moved a copy of it to my desktop computer.   Then I opened the file and saved it as a GEDCOM file.  (The process is something like creating a .pdf file in a word processor.)

Next, I opened FamilySearch (not Family Tree), clicked on the Search drop-down menu and then on Genealogies.  I scrolled all the way to the bottom of the screen to “Contribute your research to the community” and clicked Submit Tree >Add > GEDCOM > Choose File > Upload and then waited while the file was transferred.   Small files are uploaded rather quickly, but a GEDCOM of 35,644 people will take a little longer–about an hour or so!

When the upload was complete, the file status changed to READY.  I could then click the blue View button, download the file, or delete it.  FamilySearch then compared my file with Family Tree and displayed a report like the one below.  This can save a lot of time checking each and every record against Family Tree.  Name and data for living individuals is not displayed.  You may even want to remove the living from your database before making and uploading your GEDCOM.

Potential Matches 6,731
Add to Family Tree 1,341
Already in Family Tree 19,296
Invalid and Living 8,276

Click the red Review Results button to walk through the results one by one to decide whether there are matches or additions that should be added to Family Tree.  No one else in the whole world  can change your submission; but you can delete your GEDCOM file at any time and replace it with another updated copy.

My GEDCOM file was added to the Pedigree Resource File, so I can search only that collection to see what I already have in my database without having to open my personal database.  How about downloading copies of your database for your siblings or cousins?

I found it is not necessary to be signed in to FamilySearch with a username and password to search 1) the Historical Records, 2) Genealogies, 3) the FamilySearch Catalog, 4) family history Books, and 5) the Family History Research Wiki; but you still need to have a username and password to use Family Tree.  Why?   Because FamilySearch wants to follow your tracks to make sure you are being nice. 😉