Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Book Review: Marian Burk Wood's Planning a Future for Your Family's Past

Disclaimer:  While I was given this book for free in exchange for a review, I was under no obligation to like it. The opinions expressed are my honest views. I will not be receiving any commission on sales of books by this author.

When our parents died and it was time to clean out their house, my sister and I struggled with what to keep, what to throw away, and how to divide everything fairly. Keeping the family heirlooms was especially important to both of us, but often we could not remember if something had been our mother’s or our grandmother’s and whether it had previously belonged to a great-grandmother or grandaunt and whose side of the family it came from. We vowed not to put our own children through that.

However, I can’t seem to think about the future of all the family heirlooms and my research for any length of time. Who gets what? What if they don’t like it? Will they appreciate its significance? Where do I begin? It’s just too complicated. “What to do with this stuff after I’m gone” is something every genealogist and family historian must consider eventually. The Internet is filled with ideas about future-proofing one’s research. Here’s an idea. There’s an idea. Everywhere an idea. That is why I am grateful that Marian Burk Wood has stepped up to save the day.

In her book Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past Marian provides a PROCESS for making sure our years of hard work and treasures from our ancestors don’t end up in a landfill. I emphasize PROCESS because the book is not a collection of handy-dandy tips and tricks. With what Marian calls “the PASS system,” the overwhelming job of getting our “stuff” ready to pass on is made logical and manageable.

The book is divided into four sections outlining the steps of the PASS system: PREPARE by organizing, ALLOCATE ownership, SET UP a genealogical will, and SHARE with heirs. Each chapter is filled with resources as well as personal examples of her successes and even failures in preserving her family’s history. Even though the chapters are short enough to reread as necessary, she includes a bullet-list of key points at the end of each chapter. I love this feature.

If Marian ever plans a revised edition, I hope she will include MORE photos to illustrate the various storage systems with the accompanying inventories and index. The templates are clear enough, but I do not understand the need for both an inventory and index. That said, Marian writes with such authority that I must believe they both serve a purpose. Perhaps photos showing a “finished product” will be more convincing for readers like me.

Marian’s PASS system makes a great deal of sense if we want our heirs to be able to FIND and UNDERSTAND what we are leaving behind. Family historians who care about what happens to those old photos, wedding certificates, and Granddad’s war medals will want to refer often to Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past.

Marian’s book is available at Amazon in both print and Kindle format.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Interesting book and I like the concept of it. When hubby's parents passed, they really didn't delegate who got what. Hubby and brother went through each item literally and decided if they wanted it or if it would get sold or donated. They didn't have any disagreements about any items either, but I know in some families it causes great rifts when it is time to divide up the parents' things. My sister's husband came from a family of five siblings. A few years ago his mom started going through things and delegating who got what (she asked them if they wanted it). They have it written down when the time comes.

    Good review!


  2. This is great and something I need! At this point in time, my kids don't seem all that interested in "things" and I'm hoping that they change their minds.

    When my parents died my siblings and I just kept reminding ourselves that when we were done cleaning out the house they had lived in for 55 years, we still wanted to love each other. And I'm happy to say that we accomplished our goal.

  3. She really did have some interesting points to consider and I liked how she organized the book. Good review Wendy.