My two sessions at the California Family History Expo were filled with interested and enthusiastic genealogists who asked excellent questions. Questions about deeds of gift for donating family heirlooms, scanning and file names, file structure, copyright, and access to archives deserved more time than I could give in a session, so I offer expanded answers here.
Top Ten Considerations for Donating Your Family Papers
1. Make sure you are ready emotionally to give your materials away. A donation is a legal transaction that conveys all rights to the materials to the recipient.
2. Be prepared to donate your original materials. Few archives welcome photocopies or printouts.
3. Find the right institution. If you have a obvious choice of institution because of geography or subject matter or other natural connection, contact the institution directly to determine their interest.
4. If you’re not sure where your family collection should go, contact the Special Collections at the nearest university. Describe your collection and ask for their assistance in locating an archives that would welcome your collection.
5. Never bundle your materials up and send them without contacting the institution first.
6. Most archives do not have budgets for acquisitions. The archives, by accepting your collection, is agreeing to preserve, house, arrange, and provide researcher access – actions that require a significant ongoing financial commitment on their part. In exchange, you (generally) are donating your family materials rather than selling them.
7. If the recipient is a non-profit institution, you should be able to take a charitable donation. It is a conflict of interest to have the recipient provide an appraisal or valuation of your gift, however. A qualified appraiser is the best choice. (Please consult a professional tax advisor about your gift as IRS reporting regulations have tightened recently. Indiana University has an excellent guide to valuation, appraisals and and substantiation here.)
8. Ask to see a copy of the standard Deed of Gift at the institution and talk to the archivist about the terms that are important to you before you sign.
9. Look for clauses that deal with succession, or what becomes of your collection if the recipient can no longer maintain it.
10. Discuss with the archivist any materials that may need to be sealed, but do not expect to have the materials withheld for a long period of time without legal justification.