Monday, 28 January 2008


An important question has arisen from correspondence that was addressed to me, privately. A member of the family owns several papers and important Greeff memorabilia, but has no-one in his immediate family to whom to bequeath these things. The writer was worried that these things would simply be thrown away in the event of his death.

Quite frankly, I sit in exactly the same position myself. My grandfather Greeff married Pat Boyd, whose mother was Joey McGregor, and her father was William Kearns McGregor. My gran, Pat Boyd, had no-one to whom she could leave the medal that William Kearns McGregor was awarded in 1860, so she gave it to me. I know of no-one who wants his medal - my own children have no significant interest in genealogy.

A significant factor in the preservation of our cultural heritage is that we no longer have families with 14 children, who each have 14 kids who are our cousins. My father and grandfather had dozens of cousins, but all my cousins together are about a dozen. My children have even fewer cousins than I.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that my grandfather and his cousins all lived in the same town and went to the same schools and churches. They knew one another. I live in London, my brother is in Los Angeles and my mom's sister lives in Zurich. My father's half brother died in Maryland, USA, and left behind a whole tribe of American cousins whom I have spoken to on the phone, and in a few emails. All their cousins are in Africa. The people to whom I might have left William Kearns McGregor's medal are strangers to me now.

Essentially, the care and preservation of Historical Assets, in all families, is hampered by:
  • A shortage of descendants, and many people today have no children.
  • Lack of contact between family members 3. Vast geographical distances between family members.
  • The only people who are interested in inheriting my Family Assets are already old people themselves, and they do not know to whom to pass their assets.
  • Family Assets end up in families with different surnames (The McGregor medal went to the Boyd family, then to the Greeff family. Who next?)
The heritage we pass on to posterity has two main elements:
  • Knowledge of facts and
  • Possession of things.
In the Greeff family the preservation of the knowledge of facts has been helped greatly because many members of the family share the knowledge each of us had individually. We have pooled our knowledge into one big database in a family web site, and all the members of the family can copy the information. With some luck, when I - the webmaster - die, some member of the family will take my place and keep the web site alive, but this is by no means certain. We have no formal arrangement that deals with my death and it worries me.

Now is the time to formalise the line of descent. Now is the time to find the people who will keep our family web site alive when I am dead. I am the only person in all the world who holds the passwords to control our web site. I am the only person on the planet who has a backup copy of our vast database. I, alone, have the details of our web hosting and who to pay to keep our web site on the internet. It costs me seven Dollars a month, which is nothing, but who will pay it when I am dead? To whom will you pay it?

Those are the questions that trouble me about the preservation of knowledge.

Who else, in our family, will carry the baton for a short while?

Francois Greeff via Rootsweb

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