Q. What can someone who has no living heirs do with his or her photos, birth certificates and other family heirlooms so they won’t be thrown away? Is there any organization I could donate these items to?
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 the area that figures most heavily into your research.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society, for example, seeks family diaries, Bibles and other documents related to New England research. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library in Salt Lake City also accepts materials it considers helpful to researchers. See its online donation guide for information on what the library can use and how to prepare your donation.
Or look for a museum or university library with a collection—say, WWII ephemera or Italian immigrant photographs—that would make a fitting home for your treasures. Once you have a list of potential recipients, call each one to ask about its donation process.
No matter which facility you decide on, make your wishes clear in your will and designate a genealogy buddy as your family history executor. You can’t expect a repository to take everything you’ve collected over the decades, so include instructions for that person to weed through your papers to separate what can be pitched from what should stay. Or better yet, get organized now, while you have a say in the matter.
The Society of American Archivists’ offers more tips in a guide to donating archival materials.
Last updated: September 2020.