Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ten Ways to be a Good Ancestor

Every month on the 10th I write a blog post with a top ten list...

Here are ten things you can do to make it easier for your descendants to research your life one hundred years from now.  Your kids or grandkids may not care, but down the road one of your descendants will someday thank you for doing any of these activities…

1.   Leave a paper trail. Keep a diary. Save those letters.  Print out important family email and texts.  Scrapbook news clippings.  Save receipts and ephemera.  Scan everything if you don’t like the paper mess.  Buy land or a home and be listed on the deeds.  Write a will and make sure your probate records are filed with the court. Pay your taxes.

2.  Join the military. There will be lots of good records for someone to dig up later.

3.  Lay down some roots.  Your descendants don’t appreciate running from state to state or across international borders to trace your vital records and censuses.  If you must move frequently, consider keeping a journal with all the addresses and stories behind each move. 

4.  Join a lineage society.  At least one line of your family tree will be preserved somewhere as a lineage application.  This application and its sources will help some future descendant fill in the rest of the branches with the good clues left behind on your lineage papers.

5.  Take lots of family photos and spread them around to all the family across the globe.  Don’t forget to label your photographs before you share them. Please.

6.  Get involved in your community.  Run for committees, local offices, clubs and societies. Be listed in the newspapers for volunteering or service.  Be listed in the town reports if you live in New England. Donate to projects. Register to vote. Serve on a few boards.  Join a house of worship.  Graduate from a few schools or institutes of higher education.  Have a lot of friends and neighbors (acquaintances might remember you, too, on paper or in records!). 

 7.  Learn to spell your name.  Consistently.  And pass this spelling on to your descendants. Never sign or register as “A. B. Smith”. Please spell it all out.  Never sign as “Mrs. John Smith” when you can sign as “Mrs. Mary Maiden-name Smith”, and this will please your descendants to no end.

8.  Get your name in the newspaper.  It doesn’t matter if you are up to something naughty or nice.  Just get involved in some activity that is covered by the local press.   Black sheep ancestors are interesting, too.

9.  .  If you must pass on family names (especially Jr. and III’s), please think of interesting and “different” middle names.  Six generations of Robert Wilsons in my family tree were difficult enough.  Four of them married women named Mary, too.  I love the ancestor who finally broke the boring string of names with a “Robert Southwick Wilson”. 

10.  Keep a family register.  Pass it on to someone who will appreciate it, and add to it, and preserve it for the future.   Whether or not this register [family tree/genealogy/chart/bible entry] is paper, electronic, artistic or carved in stone does not matter.  Just leaving the clues is the important bit.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Ten Ways to be a Good Ancestor", Nutfield Genealogy, posted September 10, 2016, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. Too bad there is no way to retro-actively post this by 150 years! sigh. I have 27 David Whitehills all living in western Pennsylvania within 50 years of each other! :) Nice post, by the way!

  2. Yes I agree with the Finding Grandma post how great it would be "to retro-actively post this by 150 years!" Maybe I can learn by using some of these suggestions. Maybe we should follow each other.

  3. I found it interesting you have a Robert Wilson - do do I.., Robert C. Wilson in Alexander Co., NC. I have quite a paper trail with letters and emails as I started a Letter Journal in publisher where I keep the letters and emails written with the senders name, email and address. I was finding that so many letters had other family info and stories in that I didn't want to loose or might need and that became a way of saving it in print. I find it interesting to read through them. Some of mine go back to the 90's from relatives who have since passed. I should put them in a private blog and prim in book form now. Another project! Thanks for all the new ideas!

  4. My comment is exactly the same as Finding Grandma's above. I was going to say, "Now, can we email this post into the past to all the ancestors so they can get with the program?"

  5. Amen. Simply by blogging you're already a fabulous ancestor! And simply by captioning you become a favorite ancestor. Thanks for the important reminders to "leave a paper trail" which also means "leave a digital trail" these days.

  6. You are so right to make leaving your legacy an intentional act. Give your future generations a chance to meet you and know what you're about. We are trying to do that very thing with Remembering a Lifetime. Another idea is to take your old photos, number them and make a voice recording so you can add as much information as possible about each. I have a bunch of photos with no story - regretfully.

  7. I love these tips! Sending to the inlaws! :) my mother in law is a Domines

  8. I love these tips! Sending to the inlaws! :) my mother in law is a Domines

  9. Maybe we could place our fingers on the keyboard and invite our ancestors to fill in all those gaps, eh? I promise I'd close my eyes if there are a few secrets...
    Great post, Heather!!

  10. A family register will be a part of my will so it can be recorded with the probate office.