Here’s the Reason NOT to be a Genealogy Hoarder

If you may fit the description of a “genealogy hoarder,” you should read this letter from Roland. He shares a powerful story about being generous with our genealogical treasures. (P.S. Sharing family history items can also help you declutter your genealogy files!)

I often hear about the generosity of genealogists: the way they freely share their time, research skills, and even precious family artifacts and photos with others. But it’s probably easier than we realize to lapse into the practice of being a “genealogy hoarder:” keeping family history treasures to ourselves. Maybe we’re just a little attached to them or feeling possessive about our family.

More likely, we just happen to be in quiet possession of something special that we haven’t thought about sharing—or we haven’t figured out how to best to do it.

From genealogy hoarder to generous genealogist

I love this story from Roland about what happened when he made the effort to share:

“I recently ran across a funeral booklet in a relative’s ancestry research materials that I could not connect to that relative in any fashion. It was printed professionally in 1944 by the deceased’s husband and contained a photo, complete biography, obituary and portions of the minister’s eulogy. I looked on to see if anyone was researching the lady and made a connection with a direct descendant.

By the time you receive this, I will have mailed it to that individual for their use. I understand he had never seen a photo of this particular relative. I have been the recipient of others’ selfless research and efforts, so I try to digitize, share and move information along to others. When I reach the place where I don’t personally need to store some items, I donate them to the appropriate place or individual for further maintenance. 

I think it’s important that we don’t accidentally hoard data, photos or any information. I’m grateful that institutions, libraries and all sorts of data collection sites around the globe are digitizing and making their information available to researchers like myself. It is priceless.”

I LOVE Roland’s perspective on sharing! Here’s my favorite part (it’s worth repeating!):

I couldn’t agree more with Roland’s sentiments about not falling into the hoarding trap. We all have a chance at some point to make a difference for someone else, and we should embrace it when the opportunity arises!

The Genealogy Gems blog has covered several examples of how people have returned “orphaned heirlooms” home–you’ll find three of these at the end of this article. But we’ve also covered some of the how-tos that will help you do it. For example:

  • Pat was looking for advice on how to use to track down descendants so she could return artifacts to them. Click here to read advice I gave her about that.
  • A museum in Texas wanted to tell the stories of the people whose heirlooms they held in their collections. But first, they had to research those heirlooms and the stories behind them. Here’s how they did it.
  • Ready to stop holding on to some items in your own archive? Read this article by The Archive Lady Melissa Barker about “decluttering” your genealogy stash—and meaningful solutions for where to dispose of those items.

By the way, Roland also sent along some nice compliments I’d like to share—especially if they’ll help you consider how we here at Genealogy Gems might help your own genealogy in the coming year:

“Love the podcast, information, hints, suggestions and endorsements.  I’ve been conducting family research for about a year. It became clear early on that your website and podcast were at the top of the heap for a novice such as myself, and so I follow both religiously.  Additionally, your broadcasts from RootsTech, interviews with various experts and fellow webcasters, and so forth has also introduced me to other sources that advance my knowledge and research results. I have your book on utilizing Google and I use Backblaze (happily) based on your recommendation.  Your sincerity in educating genealogists and family researchers is plainly evident. Thank you!”

Thank you for the encouragement on all counts, Roland!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Declutter Your House: 3 Questions for the Family Archivist

To declutter your house, you may have to ask yourself hard questions–especially if you’re the family archivist. Is that old apron or state fair ribbon just clutter or is it history? If it’s a nice piece of history but you can’t keep it, where can you donate it? Professional archivist Melissa Barker takes on these important questions for genealogists.

Before you declutter your house, ask yourself these 3 questions.

1. Will this item help to tell my ancestor’s story?

So many of our ancestor’s stories have been lost to time or by people throwing things away. Many of the artifacts and memorabilia that we own help to tell our ancestor’s story. A first place ribbon from the State Fair where Grandma won for her apple pie recipe tells a story. Because Grandma won a ribbon, her pie was the best of all the pies submitted and she was a great cook! A great idea would be to keep the ribbon and write up a story about how she won the ribbon so that your descendants will have this story. A bonus would be if you have the actual apple pie recipe to put with the ribbon and story. If the item helps to tell your ancestor’s story, maybe it should be kept and preserved.

declutter your house


Before tossing those genealogical records, photographs, or artifacts, consider contacting an archive where the family is from and see if they would be interested in the items. Many of our libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, archives, and museums accept records donations to add to their collections. This way, if a researcher contacts or visits the archive and is researching the same surnames you are, they could benefit from the items you donate. Make sure to call ahead and find out if the archive takes donations and set a time to take your items to them. (TIP: Click here to see how to use ArchiveGrid to search for repositories in specific locations.)

declutter your house


Many times we don’t know the value of what we have in our genealogical collections. The value could be monetary and what we own could be worth money. It’s always a good idea to get objects and memorabilia appraised by an expert if you think they could have a monetary value. But maybe your items have historical value and if you toss these items, you would be throwing away history. Many genealogists have one-of-a-kind documents and artifacts that help to tell the story of an historical event. That event could have taken place at the local level, state level, or even the national level. Checking into the monetary value and historical value of an item before tossing it just might change your mind!

So, if you are considering cleaning out that closet and tossing items that you don’t think mean anything to anyone and are just taking up space, ask yourself these questions and make sure you are making the right decision.

Declutter your house by repurposing old family heirlooms

You can often transform the family “gems” from your piles or boxes of clutter into meaningful items to use or display. Get inspired by these upcycled heirloom projects:

A New Heritage Quilt from Old Family Fabrics

An Old Earring Gets New Life as a Wearable Conversation Piece

Create a Heritage Scrapbook

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker

The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and bi-weekly advice column The Archive Lady. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

Home Archiving for the Genealogist: 5 Ways to Think Like an Archivist

You may be doing some “home archiving” without even realizing it, if you’re the keeper of any family photos, documents, heirlooms, or artifacts. Professional archivist and genealogist Melissa Barker offers these tips for the family historian and keeper of the family archive.

Home Archives

I have always said that “home archiving” is something genealogists do, perhaps without ever calling it that. So family historians can definitely benefit from learning how archivists work. Here are five ways to think like an archivist.

5 Home Archiving Tips for Family Historians

family history video documents home archiving1. Learn to preserve family artifacts.

Archivists are always educating themselves on how to preserve certain items that have come to their archives. Genealogists inherit family heirlooms all the time. Learning how to preserve them is thinking like an archivist.

Tip: Preserving an item means keeping it from further deterioration. This may mean putting it in special storage materials, keeping it out of strong light, and storing it in a place that isn’t too hot, cold, or humid. Click here to read an article on humidity and your family archive.

2. Organize your “collection.”

A very important job for archivists is keeping their records collections organized so they know what they have and can pull them efficiently. Genealogists, as home archivists, would also benefit from keeping their genealogical records organized.

Tip: Get inspired! Click here to catch some tips on organizing your digital photos from Denise Levenick, The Family Curator and author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records.

archival sleeve3. Store your treasures carefully.

Archivists are always careful to use special materials such as archival file folders and boxes to put records and artifacts into for preservation. Genealogists should use archival materials to preserve and store their records just like archivists do.

Tip: Click here to read my article on how to archive family history documents. It’s packed with great tips and recommended products to store your items safely.

4. Keep the stories that go with your artifacts.

Telling the stories of the people that have come before us is also something that archivist try to do with the records they have in their care. Archivists do this by sharing their records collections with the public through displays, exhibits, and open houses. Genealogists should tell their ancestor’s stories by sharing their family histories with their families and passing down their ancestor’s stories to the next generation.

Tip: Create a meaningful display of artifacts in your own home. Group together items that tell a story, preferably unique, eye-catching items. Add framed copies of documents and photos (keep originals safely tucked away). Click here for some fantastic ideas from Lisa Louise Cooke on sharing your family history with the non-genealogists in your family.

5. Archive your own mementos.

Archivists collect today for tomorrow! Many archivists collect documents and artifacts that are produced today so they can be preserved for tomorrow. They collect items such as the high school graduation program, digitizing the local newspaper, and that local diner menu.

Genealogists do the same thing in their “home archiving” by collecting and preserving a funeral card, digital photographs they took at the grandbaby’s birthday, and the marriage invitation you received for your niece’s wedding.

Home Archiving, National Archiving: It’s all in the Genealogy Gems Podcast

Did you know I’m on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast now? I chime in frequently with that “offline” archival perspective that’s so important in our research. Click here to see the list of recent episodes. In Episode 211, publishing this week, I report on a fascinating way you can help make collections from the National Archives more accessible to everyone. Why not listen in? It’s free!

Getting Genealogy Organized for Genealogy Gems Premium Members

Getting genealogy organized is just one of the topics we cover here at Genealogy Gems, and Premium Members have exclusive access to podcast and video content to help you accomplish that goal. We’ve put together a step-by-step plan for getting the most out of Premium Membership, and going from unorganized to organized in nothing flat!


A new Gem’s reader recently sent us the following email:

Dear Lisa,

I have recently joined Genealogy Gems as a Premium member and wanted to ask if there is a good place to get started. I have a ton of family information collected, but as yet have not figured out a plan of attack. I was wondering if you could guide me in which podcasts, premium podcasts, and videos would be good ones to start with. I need to put this information into some semblance of order so that I can move constructively on it, as well as to be able to share the family history with others and have it make sense. Thanks, Gerri.

Getting Genealogy Organized with Premium Content

Hi Gerri, we are so glad to have you as a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. Welcome!

Getting Organized with Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

The best place to start is by digging into these blog posts that I highly recommend:

When you are ready to move onto the Premium Podcast episodes, I suggest you focus first on:
  • Hard Drive Organization Part 1 and Part 2
  • Use Evernote to Create a Research Plan
  • Podcast episode 114: Paper Organization
  • Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast episodes 31 & 32: Organizing Your Genealogy Files.

Getting genealogy organized is one of the most overwhelming tasks new and seasoned genealogists deal with. Whether you’re new to Premium Membership or a long time member, make sure you have a solid basic structure for your genealogy organization, as it is the backbone of everything that follows. That basic structure for getting genealogy organized might look like this:

A Quick Plan for Getting Genealogy Organized

  1. Assess what you have.
  2. Pick a genealogy database software program. We recommend RootsMagic.
  3. Set-up a few 3-ring binders with acid free sheet protectors so you have a place to put documents and other important things.
  4. Set-up a basic folder and file structure for your hard drive based on the Premium videos Hard Drive Organization.
  5. Have a back-up plan for your precious family history files. We recommend BackBlaze as a way to automatically back-up your computer files.
  6. Sign-up for our free newsletter (if you haven’t already) to stay up-to-date on all the latest records and techniques.
  7. Don’t wait to be fully organized before you begin. Stay motivated by scheduling “fun” research time, as well as organization time.
  8. Make appointments with yourself to stay on track, and listen to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast while you organize.
  9. Regularly tap into all of the Genealogy Gems resources like what’s new in books and guides.
  10. Like us on our Facebook page to see more genealogy ideas

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member

If you are not a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, take a look at what you are missing! Premium Members are able to listen to our Premium podcasts packed with even more tips and techniques for all things genealogy. You also have access to my most popular training videos.

BONUS e-book:

Bonus EBookFor a limited time, new members will receive
this exclusive digital PDF e-book,
a collection of my most popular
articles from Family Tree Magazine!
(the e-book will be emailed to you
within 24 hours of purchase)

Writing Personal History Workbook Assists You Step-by-Step

Writing your personal history can be simple and oh-so-fun with the step-by-step approach from our own Sunny Morton. She has just released her book “Story of My Life” and we are ecstatic to tell you about it! This fill-in-the-blank workbook will guide you as you write and organize the story of your life from birth to retirement.

Story of my life workbook cover

Beginning Your Personal History Journey

Writing a personal history is a big project and one that many of us consider overwhelming. As time rolls on, I know I feel a tugging on the old heart strings to write more of my own history for posterity. I just don’t know how or where to start.

Sunny has the answer in her recent workbook titled Story of My Life. It’s not only a fill-in-the-blank workbook, but inspiring and instructional for any novice or experienced writer. Sunny has also included many tips and hints for how to jog your memory or the memory of others. Others? Yep–others. I love the way she has incorporated ideas in which we can include the memories of others in our personal memoir.

Why This Book is Unique

When asked why her book is different, Sunny shares:

“This book helps you say more than, ‘I remember.’ It helps you say, ‘This is what I got out of my life.’ That’s the ‘so what’ factor that gives your best stories value and staying power. Story of My Life works for every life path and life style, too: its questions cover the gamut from childhood to retirement, motherhood to military life, school to hard-scrabble working, triumphs and failures, and relationships of all kinds.

Along with traditional questions like when and where you were born, Sunny includes places for you to record other special memories. Some special memory ideas include writing about an influential teacher or coach, a godparent, or a flashbulb memory. A flashbulb memory is described as “your memory of a highly public event.” Just reading that reminded me of where I was standing, in an Army base hospital, when I saw the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. It was an event that is burned in my memory and had a lasting effect on me.

More Ideas for Projects and Preservation

Like I said before, Sunny suggests collaborating with others to recall memories of your life from a different perspective. I thought it would be neat to work with my sisters on the “Me and My Mother” worksheets for childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. These help us each reflect on our relationships with her during different seasons of life. I thought it would be neat to collect these worksheets from each of my siblings and have them bound together to give to Mom on Mother’s Day.

Other ideas include tips for preserving your precious artifacts and memorabilia.

Writing Personal History at any Time in Life

Whether you are just starting out in your adult life or if you are in the prime of retirement,  you will finally be motivated and able to complete your personal history. Everyone can use a little motivation and encouragement to write those stories. Follow along as Sunny shows you how to weave your way through the good, the bad, the triumphant, and the sometimes tragic, story of you.

Save the Whole Writing Personal History Kit and Caboodle

For a limited time, “Story of My Life” can be purchased as a set along with Family Tree Memory Keeper for the price of $19.99
(originally $39.98 – you save $20!). To purchase this family history book bundle, click here.

If you are really serious or ambitious about writing your personal history, you might opt for the super-savings bundle titled Write Your Family History Toolkit featuring:

1. Story of My Life (Book, $19.99)

2. Remember That? (Book, $16.99)

3. Family Tree Memory Keeper (Book, $19.99)

4. Writing Your Family Memoir Independent Study (PDF Download, $99.99)

5. Copyright Law for Genealogy (Webinar, $49.99)

6. Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects (Video Download, $39.99)

7. Outline Your Family History Writing Projects (Video Download, $8.99)

This mega bundle is normally priced at $255.93, but on sale for $59.99! And as a special treat just for Genealogy Gems readers, you can use coupon code GEMSHISTORY10 for an additional 10% off!*
Click this link to get yours today!

More Gems on Writing Personal History

Scrivener Software for Writing Family History

How to Reconstruct Your Early Childhood Memories and Stories

Using Facebook Posts to Write Your Personal History

*Coupon expires 12/31/16. Coupon only valid on the Write Your Family History Toolkit.

How to Organize Notes in Evernote Notebooks

how to organize notes in Evernote notebooksUse these step-by-step instructions to organize notes in Evernote notebooks.

Recently Donna watched one of my Evernote for genealogy webinars. She wrote in afterward to give the webinar a thumbs-up and ask this question about how to organize notes in Evernote notebooks:

“I…have been happily using Evernote for a while now so I already have lots of notes, notebooks and stacks. Got web clipper, made my Genealogy and Personal notebooks, added tags you suggested, and discovered Evernote Clearly is no longer available. But you’re right, I’ve lost some of the notes in the myriad. What is the best way to begin putting notes into the new Genealogy & Personal notebooks?  Is there another video on that? Thanks for being there for us, Lisa, All our stuff can become overwhelming if it can’t be organized.”

shortcut through time organize notes in EvernoteI’m so glad that Donna found the video helpful!

The thing about getting organized is that sometimes it can gobble up all your research time. So one approach I often recommend is just to move Evernote notes as you use them. That way you can keep researching, while getting more organized each day. As you create new notes you’ll be putting them directly where they belong, and as you use existing notes, you can tidy them up as you go.

If you feel more comfortable getting everything moved in one fell swoop, that’s good too. One way to save time is with a simple trick: decide what you have more of (Genealogy or Personal) and then move ALL your notes into that notebook. So if you have more Genealogy notes, all your notes will be in that notebook. Now you only have less than 1/2 of your notes that need to be moved to Personal.

You can move the rest to the other notebook by selecting multiple notes at once. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

1. Click the Genealogy notebook in the left column.
2. In the center column are all of your notes. Click the first note in your list to be moved.
3. Hold down the Control key on your keyboard.
4. Now click to select each additional note you want to move to the Personal notebook. (Use the wheel on your mouse to scroll down as you need to.) Your notes will be collecting in the right-hand window pane, and a dialog box will appear.
5. In that dialog box, click the Move to Notebook button and click to select the desired notebook from your list (ex. Personal).
6. For good measure, click the Sync button to manually synchronize all of your notes.

I heard back from Donna with this comment:

Thank you Lisa! Within a matter of minutes I was able to move my notes and notebooks into the two stacks.  Now that Personal and Genealogy are separated, I’ll follow your suggestion to tidy up the notes as I go and add all my tags (which I hadn’t realized the importance of before the video). Ahhhh!  It feels so good to have it clearly organized! You rock, Lisa!”

Ultimate Evernote Education abbreviatedThis website is packed with resources for using Evernote for genealogy! Click here to find free tips and videos to get started. To REALLY make Evernote work for your family history, become a Genealogy Gems Premium website member. Members have a full year’s access to my Ultimate Evernote Education for Genealogists instructional video series with their membership.

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