tombstonesMy wife has been a student of genealogy for many years. Originally she learned how to find government archives and write off to them for copies of records and spent days in the special genecology library in Houston. After much work she discovered that she had an ancestor who was at the battle of San Jacinto and found his name engraved on the monument at the battlefield site. She has drug me to far flung meadows at the end of dirt roads where live ancient graveyards where she found a relative’s name chiseled on a weather worn stone. The activity combines scholarly research with detective work.

Then, one day she got a computer program, Family Tree Maker, that helped to organize the information into family trees. This was a big, digital step forward.

Now, has made genealogy research a social media extravaganza. Via the Internet she can now search 1000’s of government databases for family records and reach out to the world to find other people with similar names who may be distant relatives with valuable bits of family lore.

The end result of this process is a huge archive of family information, trees of descendants, photos, digital documents and links to resources.

A question comes to mind: What happens to this trove of specialized information when we die?

Digital assets has become a complicated issue. Linshi (1) says, “Several state legislatures have debated the question of whether families can access someone’s digital assets after they die. Most large Internet companies, citing federal privacy laws, will not allow your family to access your account after death. Though some states — including Delaware and Virginia — allow parents or guardians to manage their deceased children’s accounts, in most areas, families must seek a court order to obtain the rights, which can take months or years.”

Similar questions arise about social media sites, like Flicker or Facebook, and what about the “cloud?” What happens to all those songs, books and photos I’ve uploaded to the iCloud? What about Google Drive or Drop Box?

A pretty good and recent (given that this stuff changes all the time) article that looks at all these areas is by Stewart & Cross (2). It was written by a lawyer and since it appeared in a Texas magazine considers Texas laws.


  1. Linshi, J. Here’s What Happens to Your Facebook Account After You Die. Time Magazine, Feb. 12, 2015.
  2. Stewart, C & Cross, B. What Happens to Your Digital Assets When You Die? Amarillo Magazine, Feb. 20, 2015.

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