Formalizing Your Family Organization

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: September 5, 2003

You've organized a family reunion. A great time was had by all and everyone agrees that they want to do this again, and again. Someone has even volunteered to host the reunion next year. Things are off to a great start!

The information shared between the date hunters, the stories swapped and resources identified and sharing left you totally excited and determined to continue your research.

Things can continue on just as they are. But sooner or later, something is going to happen. It may be a personality conflict between a couple of individuals. It may derive from a disagreement over who someone's father is, or who actually arrived in the states first. Or it may be the recognition that Great Aunt So-and-so had just a terrific amount of information and research and has no one to leave it to. The fear is that all that great information will dissappear in an estate liquidation that hauls everything off to the land fill.

One method to insure that the family’s important items are preserved is the networking that goes on at the reunion. Sharing the information (See Sharing What You Know) is one way to protect the legacy. The other is to have people specify who is to get the information when they pass on.

Leveraging an existing historical society can be a valuable resource. Some of these organizations run libraries with storage facilities that can serve as a central location to preserve the papers and artifacts that are irreplaceable. By being an active participant in the organization, you can help with taking care of these items, as well as increasing your knowledge of the items and information.

Perhaps your group should consider incorporation. Some of the questions to consider when making the decision to formally create this organization:

Does the family have significant group assets? Has the slush fund to pay for the picnic been growing each year? Is the cigar box in Grandma’s bureau gotten too small to hold it? Does Uncle Joe want to donate the picnic area to the group so that it will always be available for the use of the family? Have you been collecting donations to put a new gravestone on your GGGGrandfather’s grave? Are you considering pooling some funds to hire a genealogist in the Old Country to do research on the family name?

A corporation can become the ongoing entity to be the focal point of the data and hold the property, as well as serve as a contracting entity for the obligations of the organization. Incorporation is relatively inexpensive and can be set up in most states for a few hundred dollars. An attorney is really not required to fill out the fairly simple forms. Most states have these available on line through the Attorney Generals Office or Secretary of State. A couple hours of reading and you will quickly understand the documents and information necessary to set up this legal fiction.

If you decide that you do want to incorporate, you may want to do so as a non-profit organization. By meeting the proper rules, you can even become a tax exempt group that will prevent you from incurring tax liabilities, and can even serve as a place to give tax deductible donations. This is a bit more complicated and requires registration with the Federal Government.

And along with forming a legal entity comes the requirement that records and minutes must be kept, officers elected and tax forms filed. It can be additional work to formalize the group, but these challenges need to be weighed against the need to have the organization. These benefits need to be determined by the group and a consensus reached.

Good Luck in finding and preserving the knowledge available about your ancestors.

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Updated on 10/25/2005