I’ve found the opportunity recently to spend some time actually working on my own research and it’s led me to revisit the old debate: to have or not to have a public family tree?
Many of the websites offer the opportunity to upload or create a family tree. There are many reasons you may want to do this. Some use this service simply as a repository for their research.
Some use the “hints” or “matches” with record sets on the websites to expand their family tree. The most well known of these are the “shaking green leaves” on Ancestry. These come with their own inaccuracies and do not take away the need for thorough and proper research (a blog post in its own right).
Another reason you might want your family tree online is to share your research or provide the ability for others researching the same families as you to get in touch.
Most websites offer “private” or “public” versions for your family tree. A typical public tree entry in search results is shown below (tree owner information removed):
Some “private” trees let names appear in searches but require contact with you to get access to your full family tree:
What’s your preference?
When I first started out, long before thoughts of “going professional”, I happily uploaded everything I’d found to Ancestry in the hope of making contact with distant cousins (many other websites now offer this facility).
However, I look back and wonder at my naivety. I made contact with people, who confirmed a connection. In most cases we would share information and hopefully add to each other’s research. However, some people, who’d done very little for themselves, just helped themselves to everything I’d done! I still see examples of this now in others’ public family trees, the wording from our family Bible gives it away. I was most put out; it was ME who’d spent hours on that research and ME who’d spent lots of money on certificates proving things and it was just being taken. Was I wrong to feel hard done by? Was I not entering the spirit of sharing? What threw me the most was that my whole tree was being copied, not just the part related by blood to the individual of interest. Surely, that’s not quite right? Was I being too precious? Is family history not a collaborative affair? Should we not be thinking in terms of free and fair exchange of information?
For years since then I’ve only had the “partially private” option. I like to have something out there, so the names of my ancestors appear in searches, but I await contact before sharing any more detail.
I can’t talk about about online family trees without mentioning accuracy. Let’s be frank: there are a LOT of mistakes! I recently found the same couple, who were born in Cambridgeshire, originating from both Cornwall and Yorkshire, popping to Cambridgeshire to have one child and then returning to their place of origin to have the rest of their family. I’ve Birmingham family in the back to backs who apparently popped to the US to get married WHILST having children in Brum. I’m sure you have similar tales. So then it occurred to me, wouldn’t it be better if all the “right” trees were public too, to increase the likelihood of it being the correct information that was copied from tree to tree to tree? Is that not what we should be doing?
The key to my recent dilemma however, is DNA testing. This is potentially fantastic tool for genealogist, but can only perform to its true potential with collaboration and sharing of data. So now I’m finding myself looking at DNA matches who, for whatever reason, have chosen to keep their tree private. The shoe is most definitely on the other foot now.
Do I go public?
What do you think?