Re: I Want My Trees To Outlive Me #general

Dennis Aron

Here is an excerpt of an article I wrote on the subject:

Preserving family history research

Many of us, as we age, think about how all the work we have put into researching and documenting our families will have value for future generations.  One easy solution is to pass on the desktop computer software and family trees to the next generation.  You can pass on your passwords for the online genealogy web sites.  That’s fine if you have a next generation that not only cares, but is willing to put in the time and energy to understand what you’re passing on.  My kids are overwhelmed with the responsibility of parenting their kids and earning a living, especially in this time of COVID.  It’s not going to happen.  My brother’s kids will be in the same situation.  Will my grandchildren be interested?  Who knows?  So, I’m faced with no comfort that anyone will take over. 

I’m also faced with the concern that the technology currently supporting my family tree will become obsolete while no one is paying attention to it.  We are all faced with this.  I felt some urgency to resolve this issue while I could.

A major focus of my research documents the impact of the Holocaust on my family.  My family tree includes documentation of over 1,500 family Holocaust victims who are shown in the context of their families. 

The tree includes almost 500 photos of Holocaust victims and images of over 60 Theresienstadt death reports. 

I had to find a way to preserve these memories.  I considered my options:

1.     Put the contents of my tree onto a website that will keep it available and guide it through changes in technology over the generations.  A couple come to mind:

o   Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People in Jerusalem has the ability to accept a gedcom file of a tree, load it onto their system and make it available online, keeping private any information on living people.  They will even permit you to send periodic updates.  I will probably end up using this option.

o   JewishGen offers the Family Tree of the Jewish People which essentially is the same idea as Beit Hatfutsot.  I would expect someday they would merge.  I don’t know if JewishGen can take updates to submitted trees.

o has the goal of its users combining to build a single world family tree, not just for Jewish families.  Thus, your tree could get combined with that of others.

2.       Contribute PDF reports documenting my family to a museum relevant to my family.  Here again, some come to mind:

o   The Leo Baeck Institute in New York and London is devoted to the history of German-speaking Jews. Since all of my documented ancestry is German this would be a good choice.

o   The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  Since much of my research has been on the impact of the Holocaust on my family, this would also be a good fit.

o   Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the same reason.

o   The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC.

I’m sure there are other options, but I was satisfied with these.

I developed a report format that I believed would do the job, so option 2 was the route I would take. Now, which museum?  I wanted an institution that has the financial support and political stability to maintain its collection for many generations.

Fortunately, I have a cousin who has worked at Yad Vashem.  I put the problem to her.  Her paraphrased response:  “Of course, I have to say Yad Vashem, but if I were you I would select the Washington museum. You’re an American and it’s much closer to you than Yad Vashem. It also receives significant funding from the United States Government. Thus it is economically stable and not in the middle of perpetual threat from other countries.” 

Right now, the US government provides about 50% of the museum’s funding; the remainder primarily is from contributions.  I had my answer.  USHMM became my choice.

Digital reports of all my ancestral lines totaling thousands of pages were recently accepted into USHMM’s permanent collection.  They will not be available online, but will be available to researchers in the museum.  I am satisfied that documentation of my family history is likely to survive many generations.

But, I have not given up on family members continuing the research.  I wanted this research to be in their hands as well.  Over my years of research and networking, I have collected email addresses of many family members.  I have a mailing list for each ancestral line that has between 17 and 80 email addresses per family line.  For each ancestral line, I sent out an email to each person with a link to that family’s Family Reference report. 

I received no reply from a majority of my cousins.  Not everyone is interested in their family history.  However, I was pleased that these documents led come cousins to send me corrections and additions.  They also sent pictures.  I was especially pleased that some sent their family trees and emails of others in the family that I had not met.

The Family Reference Report

Each of these reports has the same format, adjusted as necessary to portray any unique characteristics.  Below as an example is the table of contents for my Heinemann Family ancestral line.

  • ·       The family introduction gives the size of the family, a summary of its losses in the Holocaust and acknowledges others whose research had been important sources for me.
  • ·       Notable family members are just that.  This family’s notables include a Hollywood script writer, a novelist, a leader in England’s undercover Special Operations Executive in France, a scientist/artist, the victim of an 1875 multiple slaying and a discoverer of documents and art in post-war Germany (not a Monuments Man).
  • ·       The Holocaust sections are self-evident from their titles: Victims, victim photos and documents, those whose fate in the Holocaust has not been determined.
  • ·       The Family Album is just that
  • ·       Family Locations is a Location Index for all events recorded for family members
  • ·       The Niedenstein section describes the family’s home town with a narrative on the town’s Jewish community and photos.
  • ·       The family reports are an outline register and a full family register including all notes, articles and obituaries for individuals.
  • ·       The last chapter "A Brief History of the German Country Jews" was written by a UCLA history professor (also a cousin) as an Introduction to a book recently published in Germany on some small town Jewish communities.  Since some family branches have long been in the states, today’s relatives have heard little or no information about where they came from.  This article provides them with an understanding of Germany their ancestors lived in.

These reports were prepared with out of the box features of Family Tree Maker desktop genealogy software.  However, setting my tree up to take advantage of these features was challenging to figure out.  It was worth the work; I’m very pleased with the final product.

Dennis Aron

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