Friday, May 6, 2011

Open Discussion Weekend: Could You Walk Away From Genealogy?

Recently I've been corresponding with some cousins from different lines of my family. Back in the 1950 and 1960s one of the women in the family had gathered all kinds of research and documents on the family history. I'd seen some queries she posted in old genealogy journals as well as some references to her research.

One of the cousins shared a letter she had sent to his grandmother which confirmed much of the information I had discovered and offered some new facts and clues. I found the woman's obituary which referenced a brother and sister, which further research indicated they were step-siblings. This woman had one son, close to my age, and I wondered what ever became of all of her research and documents.

I wrote to one of the cousins inquiring if his line of the family had ever been in touch with her or her son. He sent me a copy of a letter she had written to his father in 1987. The first paragraph of the letter stated:

"About 19 years ago (1969), I destroyed much of the genealogical data I had and memories are not reliable."

She went on to describe the land records, wills, church records, marriage records, birth records, death records, et al that she once had. Some family history information was gleaned from her letter to confirm my research. She had spent more than twenty years researching our family history.

But - "... I destroyed much of the genealogical data I had . . ."

I can't even begin to imagine what would trigger someone to destroy all of that research. I won't even try.

For Open Discussion Weekend, please comment below:
  • Have you experienced this within your family?
  • What do you think could cause someone to destroy their research?
  • Would YOU ever destroy your research?


  1. I can walk away from certain family lines for awhile to take a break from them but I could never walk away from genealogy. The thought of destroying any of my research would be an impossibility!

  2. I might be able to walk away from researching, but I would never destroy anything I found. How sad to think of all the work that went into her research and it is gone. I would love to know what triggered her to get rid of it.

  3. Nope. Could not walk away ever. Nor could I destroy all my work.

    I have a distant cousin in his 70s or 80s now who "says" he has filing cabinets full of materials. Said he'd give me copies (12 years ago). Nope. I uncovered more than he's ever mentioned so I wonder how much info he really has.

    Now my great grandmother decided to tear up her old family photos before she died and be buried with the family Bible. When I meet her in the afterlife we are going to have a long talk about that!

  4. I could never destroy any of my work, or walk away from it for that matter. Of course, life gets in the way and sometimes it takes a backseat. But, I know where it is and can go back at any time.

    However, on my in laws line, someone put a ton of old photo's in the sink and set them on fire. My sister in law was horrified when she learned this. The person did it because she though no one cared about them.

  5. I can quit anytime I want to! No, really! ;-) I don't understand the need to destroy things... if no one else in the family wants them, at least donate them to the local historical society. Or sell them on ebay if you're really not interested so they find new life.

  6. NO WAY~only if I were dead and gone.
    Like Jen, I would have to have a talk with both grandmothers and find out just why they never talked openly about the family backgrounds.
    Same here Teri, I am still trying to find the photo albums / and diaries my mother made for my great grandma Vercie durning her Winter trips to California from Indiana back in the mid / late much of my child hood is in those photos...
    The Slides my sister took from me are now lost forever because of a flood in souther calif. early 80's

  7. Not me, I'm hopefully addicted to the chase, the detective work, the finds. I would never destroy what I've found or stop researching. Like Marian I vary which lines I research.

    I've found as people get older they start to think about what they will do with all the "stuff" especially if they aren't genealogists. I see it with elderly family members even though they may be packrats and have some idea of the value to our family history. They will throw out things or get rid of them at garage sales. "Who would want that old thing?" is the mantra. The decision line between what they think is valuable and what we might think is valuable is different.

    People could be in downsizing mode and may make decisions that don't make sense to others. I believe it is important to have clear directives for your own research and do this when your mind is still clear. We all age and someday we may make some decisions our family or future genealogists will also question.

    Great discussion, thanks!

  8. The talk of all these things being destroyed is making my head spin!! Not only could I never do that, but I have already told my nieces and nephew that if they don't AT LEAST keep all the old pictures I will find a way to come back and haunt them!!

  9. I can not even imagine. I cry that some of my pictures have been destroyed over multiple moves before I knew better methods of preservation. Shaking head.

  10. I think if somebody destroys their research, they might do it because there are too many errors to fix or they completely lost interest or there isn't anybody to give it to. Perhaps their reports and genealogy wasn't up to par and nobody could figure it out (like mine sometimes). Would I destroy mine, NO, would somebody else, perhaps. And that is why I feel it is important to get as much as I can online, so it can be shared.

  11. Destroy my research? No way! I do worry about someone else destroying it though.

    I haven't experienced this within my family, at least not yet. There are certain family members I do worry about though so perhaps I should approach them soon about acquiring some of their information. You have got me to thinking. Thank you!

  12. I will probably have nightmares from just thinking about this. I can't walk away from, let alone destroy my research. And I am writing up instructions on what there is, where it is, and what is to be done with it.

  13. Sad. She must have been very upset and thought no one cared to destroy everything like that.

  14. Heck, I can't even make myself throw out the hard copies of stuff that has been scanned. I once had a dream of being paperless but have long since accepted that's just not gonna happen.

  15. No way - I am too addicted and I could not destroy all that work. I think it is so sad when families throw precious documents and photographs out as if they have no value, all beit sentimental. On my father's side I have nothing of when he was growing up. Apparently his older brother had the family material but when he died, his widow just threw them out wihout ever thinking about it. I know how much the family archives from my mother's family mean to me and would be devestated to see them chucked away. Two elderly relatives, who live some distance away, have even more memorabilia stored in an attic. But how on earth do I broatch the topic that I would love to have this after their death. It needs some sensitvity. Does anyone else find this a difficult issue?

  16. I can't imagine - and not sure I want to. I will say that in old age my grandmother made some decisions with papers and files that she would not have at a younger age. Fortunately for us this was more a question of hoarding or copying information over and over again. It's made it more difficult to work through her papers, but I'll take it over the alternative.

  17. Oh dear - what a shock and disappointment :-( I can't imagine anything which would induce me to destroy my research work (except insanity perhaps!). I've made sure that everyone in the family knows I'd be delighted to have copies of photos, letters etc in the hope that anyone having a "clear out" will hand a box my way.

  18. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I still can't quite grasp why someone who had invested so many years in family history research would destroy it.

    Personally, I have no heirs to leave my research to, which is why I am trying to get as much as possible published on the internet.

    I also have made provisions for my research to be given to a local genealogy library upon my demise.

  19. What a trip.

    I cannot fathom what would cause someone to do that.

    Destroy genealogical and family history, no.

    You don't want it any more and feel you *have* to get rid of it? Give it to another family member. At last resort, donate it to an historical society or county or state archive.

    But destroy it?

    I cannot even imagine...perhaps someone who finds out at the age of 50 that this isn't their family because they were adopted would no longer wish to keep information about their adoptive family, but there is always still another way to handle the information.