"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 27 February 2012

On sharing your family history information

Today I have decided to share with you an edited-for-blog version of my (rather long) response to a LinkedIn discussion:
In fact, the conversation went far beyond how to deal with such people, considering in more depth the pros and cons of sharing, how to tackle those who have misused information you have provided them with, and the merits of public or private trees on Ancestry on other websites. Many of those commenting were far more experienced genealogists, and in many cases they were professionals.
The conversation was extremely interesting and thought-provoking. I would certainly see I will be rethinking my attitudes to sharing information with others, and how I use the information others have given me. Here is my response in full, with minor edits:
I am always happy to share information – I would rather feel that I was giving someone what I knew to be correct than have them propagate something that I knew to be wrong. And I would never provide anyone with information I felt to be sensitive in nature.
But, I have never really thought much about my use of other people's information - obviously I wouldn't purposely 'misuse' it, but I didn't think that anyone would tell me something that they weren't happy for me to share elsewhere. I've also never credited someone's work, simply because it never occurred to me. Had they requested that I did, I would have done so.
In terms of making information public on Ancestry, I am quite open about it. However, I have never assumed that someone else's information is 100% correct and would always verify it myself. Apart from anything else, I find the process of checking out facts for myself better helps me to get a handle on the information. If I don't go through the process of checking it I can't get to grips with it.
I have never thought of the information in my family tree as 'published' - it's a work in progress and I know that there are probably errors in it, because I do use it to store 'unverified' information. Often I do add notes into it where I say what needs checking, but then sometimes I just keep this info elsewhere. I prefer to have my 'best guess' info in my tree because it makes searching easier - you can just strip it out rather than having to input everything.
I think it's quite unfair to assume that just because someone has incorrect information in their tree they don't care about doing diligent research. They may just be still working on something, or not have found the correct information yet. And we do have to remember that many newcomers are still learning.
It hadn't really thought about those ancestry users who might be taking my information as gospel when I know it isn't. (On balance though, it does serve them right for being lazy.) I intend, after reading this thread, to add this caveat to my tree in the hope that people will proceed with caution, but I suspect only those who care enough to do the research themselves will take much notice.
After five years of research, I am still a relative newcomer myself and have no pretensions to being the perfect researcher that many of you seem to expect every genealogist to be at all levels. It's a learning curve, and all of you would do well to remember that you probably made similar mistakes when you were starting out!
Overall, I think we all probably have different thresholds of what we feel comfortable sharing, and you shouldn't do anything you don't want to do, so a polite but firm no should suffice. But I would caution against being unduly harsh – you may be able to help people's attitudes more by working with them than by blocking them. I was always extremely grateful for help received when I was a true beginner, and for the time people took to explain how they had come by things, or why I should be careful about a certain source. Without this help I might not have improved as a researcher and my tree would be considerably poorer for it!
L x

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