Q. What can someone who has no living heirs do with his or her photos, documents and heirlooms so they won’t be thrown away?
A. Many libraries, historical and genealogical societies, historical museums and state archives accept donations of family papers, genealogical research and heirlooms. Consider giving your items to a repository in an area that figures prominently in your family history research. The New England Historic Genealogical Society <www.americanancestors.org>, for example, seeks diaries, Bibles and other documents related to New England research. Or look for a museum or university library with a collection that would make a fitting home for your treasures—say, Italian immigrant photographs or WWII ephemera.
The Family History Library (FHL) <www.familysearch.org> in Salt Lake City also accepts materials helpful to researchers. Its online guide (click the Library tab, then Gifts and Donations) tells you what the FHL can use and how you can prepare materials to donate.
Once you have a list of potential recipients, call each one to ask about its donation process. And no matter which facility you decide on, include your wishes in your will and designate a genealogy buddy as your family history executor. A repository can’t take everything you’ve collected, so give instructions for that person to separate papers that can be pitched from what should stay. Better yet, get organized now, while you have a say in the matter (see the October 2005 Family Tree Magazine for organization advice).