Write Your Family History; Do Not Assume That An Archive, Society Or Library Will Take Your “Raw” Data; the Mulvihill Family History of Chicago

Hi Everyone!

While reading the December 2011 issue of the Newsletter of the Chicago Genealogical Society, I noticed a very compelling and eye-opening article that was written by Craig Pfannkuche.  Craig is a major player in the genealogy community within our area and is the Corresponding Secretary with the Chicago Genealogical Society.

Craig authored an article that showcased a real life example of someone trying to pass on their “raw” genealogical research to a society, library, archive so that all that hard work would not be lost.  In our own personal research efforts we may have children to whom we would like to “pass on the torch” of our hard-work research but for whatever reason the children do not have the same level of zeal we have for family history research.  The same lack of zeal may even apply for our siblings or cousins or any of our own living family connections.

Or we may simply be in a situation that there is really no one alive to whom our material can be passed to for care for our years of hard work.

Often times we may think that certainly a library, a genealogical society, an archive, the Family History Library will have an interest in our “raw” data and material accumulated through the years.

I know this may actually shock you, but the above categories of institutions may have NO interest whatsoever in your “raw” genealogical data!!

The article authored by Craig Pfannkuche in the December 2011 Newsletter of the Chicago Genealogical Society made me take note of the importance of the article that I actually contacted the society and asked them for permission to reprint in a blog post the entirety of the article.  I was so taken by the subject of the article and its importance that I did not want to paraphrase the article.

The article points us in the direction of converting our “raw” data to a fully composed family history in published format.  In this format it is much more easily able to be taken in by a society, library, archive connected with including such material into its collection.

Craig did an outstanding job in describing the situation in such a way that it is very important that you read the full article.  I think if you do read it, you will certainly take pause as to how your own personal research situation compares to what Craig wrote about.  I have no doubt that you can easily substitute your “raw” family history data into the article and you may very well face the situation of having no home for your “raw” data after you are no longer here on this earth!!

What follows in Italics after the separator line is the full-text of the article written by Craig Pfannkuche that appeared in the December 2011 Newsletter of the Chicago Genealogical Society.  Permission was granted to me by the Chicago Genealogical Society to include the full-text article in this blog post.  Thank you to the Chicago Genealogical Society for granting me permission.




Recently, two four inch thick binders of family history data (including original photographs) concerning the Mulvihill family of Chicago were donated to the Chicago Genealogical Society. The donation came about because the person who spent much of her life collecting and organizing the data could not, upon her death, find any family members who were willing to take the material.

     The material prompted your CGS Corresponding Secretary to try to find a place to archive that collection.  Since the Chicago Genealogical Society does not have an archives of its own (We have no permanent home.), it was thought that Chicago’s Newberry Library would be a fine place to deposit that material.  I brought the material to the Newberry for Matt Rutherford to look at and discuss the possibility that the Newberry Library might want to take it.  As much as Matt felt that the collection was very interesting and well researched, he said that the Newberry could not take it in its present format.

    Mr. Rutherford said that the Newberry wants to collect family history material which is “bound, with page numbers, and with an all name index.”  He went on to say that all too often material offered is organized in a manner which makes sense to the compiler but not to anyone else.  His rule of thumb for acquisition is that if staff members can not make sense of the material’s organization fairly quickly, then patrons will probably have the same problem.  This is why Mr. Rutherford decided not to accept the Mulvihill family history binders.

     In essence, Mr. Rutherford believes that family history materials can not be useful to Newberry patrons unless they are presented in a published manner such as that which is often family or privately published.  The “Donations” portion of the Newberry web site states that they collect “published genealogies, indexes, and local histories.”

     Mr. Rutherford additionally pointed out that some of the material in the binders contains family information such as birth certificates and photographs of living descendants.  He pointed out that the Newberry does not want to deal with materials concerning living family members without the permission of those living individuals.  He said that having such material without such permissions can cause legal and privacy problems which the Newberry does not want to deal with.

     Mr. Rutherford also mentioned that the Newberry would rather NOT accept donations of family history material in an electronic format (i.e., Disks and CDs) unless they are accompanied by a PAPER version of the same material.  He cited the example of some family trees which were donated to the Newberry on 5.25” floppies 15 or so years ago and are not usable now!

     Beyond the Newberry Library, I was informed by the Chicago History Museum that they do not accept such material for the same reasons which Mr. Rutherford gave.  They would rather that the Newberry Library be the repository for family genealogies.  Further, the Chicago History Museum is, in fact, not now accepting any new acquisitions at all unless the material is an addition to a collection already at the History Museum’s archives.

     Up to the time of this writing, the Irish-American Heritage Center has not responded to requests for donation information concerning the Mulvihill material.

     Your Corresponding Secretary accepts and respects Mr. Rutherford’s contention that acceptance of “raw” family history material collections also poses an economic problem for the Newberry and the Chicago History Museum.  Archival space is at a premium.  Additionally, there is a monetary cost involved in the maintenance of collections. This cost is a serious problem for many historical and genealogical archives in these difficult economic times.

     Thus, what can we do to protect our life work of family history research?  Your Corresponding Secretary strongly believes that we must sit down and write family histories rather than just keep the raw data on some computer program on or paper.  Home publishing can be done.  Writing is certainly difficult but the loss of one’s research efforts for use by future researchers and interested related family historians would be a greater hardship.

     Keep an eye out for Mulvihill family information in a future issue of our CGS Quarterly.  We certainly solicit your responses to the above.


After reading the above, you certainly have to consider your own strategies in thinking you can easily pass down your “raw” data somewhere and to someone after you are no longer here.

Yes you can, but only if you plan on converting your “raw” data to some form of a published family history!

I want to thank the Chicago Genealogical Society and Craig Pfannkuche for giving me permission to present Craig’s article in its full text as it appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Newsletter of the Chicago Genealogical Society.

I am so glad that readers of this blog can take note of the importance of the article.  Take that information and re-strategize your plans for your own family history work.  You do not want all of your hard genealogical work to become an “orphan” amount of “raw data” that has no place to go like the Mulvihill Family History that was presented to the Chicago Genealogical Society.

Take action now!

Convert your “raw” Family History to some version of a published work that can some day reside on the shelf of some organization and help other researchers.

Tony Kierna
Genealogy Coordinator
Schaumburg Township District Library

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