How to share the wealth

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Well, you have spent 20 years accumulating your family tree information, photos, documents, and sundry. Now what do you do with it?

Share the wealth!

When you get to a good break point in your research, you should put together a disc of your scanned photos and documents and make copies and send it out to relatives, close or distant.

There are a multitude of reasons why you should use the tools of computers to copy and distribute your life’s work. 1) Preservation — By having everything copied to the computer, it keeps the originals from being handled. You can store the original photos and documents in a safe place. By sending copies all over the country, you can always find someone to retrieve your files from if you lose yours to a computer crash. Backup your complete archive to a flash drive or portable hard drive on a regular basis.

2) The Gift of Giving — There is no way to put a price tag on the information you have accumulated over all these years. For you, the cost of copying a CD or DVD is very cheap. I know you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to do all the research, but you did that for yourself. It costs very little to make 50 discs at home and mail them out. But to the recipient, you may be sending them items of value they will treasure for the rest of their lives. Maybe they lost a photo a long time ago and you found another copy of it. Maybe they don’t have Nonna’s bracciole recipe. Maybe they’ll print a large copy of the photo of the ship that the grandparents came to America on, and put it on the wall to remind them where they came from.

3) Other People’s Contributions — By sending all these items to family, you’ll be surprised what comes out of the woodwork. First, other relatives you have not contacted yet might magically appear once they find out that their brother has a copy and they don’t. Then you might get a call from someone who recognizes people in the photos that you don’t even know.

Please keep in mind that you need to review what you send out. Do not just copy your entire photo folder from your computer to a disc and send to all your relatives. For one thing, you may overwhelm your family with sheer volume. You may bore them to tears. There are only so many pictures you need to see of the 1963 Thanksgiving turkey before you snap! Lastly, you don’t need someone else to see that fraternity party picture of you hanging upside down from the light fixture drinking shots of tequila. These moments make us who we are, but are best kept in your private archive, in case you are nominated for the Supreme Court later. All seriousness aside, you should choose the most important, historical photos and documents that tell the greatest amount of your family history.

Now I have to address a delicate subject with some genealogists. Many of us who have been at this for a while get frustrated when we run into that distant cousin, in person or on-line. He bugs us for copies of the family tree, but never gets around to sending us the birthdates we ask for. Then we send the tree, and we never hear from him again. Every family has one, or many, of these people. In a perfect world, they would send you the information you need. Maybe they would invite you over for dinner. Maybe they would send some photos you don’t have yet. There are very few irrefutable laws of life, but one of them is, “You have relatives who will take information but never give.” It is easy to get upset by this and to view this long-lost relative as greedy or selfish or ungrateful for not giving back to you what you gave to them. I’m not exactly known for my patience, but I advise all of you to give this relative the benefit of the doubt, all the time. It will never help your research for you to hold the grudge against that person. That person may just be busy and not have time to reply. If you burn the bridge, you are only hurting yourself. When you need information from that relative later, you have taken the high road and can advise this relative that you have updates to that old information you sent last time.

For every 10 relatives who give you the brush, you’ll find that one gem who invites you over, breaks out the old photo albums, and helps you add valuable material to your collection!

Write to Dan at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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