I feel like things are out of control, particularly when it comes to online family trees.
I am not sure when online researchers made the jump from posting their trees online in hopes of drawing out distant cousins who they then could connect with and share information, to family trees being offered up as data.
Today, we have family trees being accessed alongside birth certificates, census records and death records as sources for family history data. We have the major genealogy companies marketing them as a major part of their offerings. In fact, you are paying a subscription to these companies to upload your tree so they can in turn market your tree as part of their database.
Ancestry professes to have “the world’s largest collection of family trees with more than 1.7 billion profiles from over 100 countries in 17 million trees.” That is a whole lot of family trees.
The entire idea of online trees is great on the surface but seems to have become a real quagmire of wrong information. I am tempted to make up a story attach it to an ancestor and watch it travel and see how many trees latch hold of it. It is chaos. I can’t even modify that with the adjective controlled, because it is not.
You really need to think about the entire online tree situation and how you plan to participate. The big companies certainly want you to upload your tree. Besides paying hundreds of dollars a year to them to view documents, I am also uploading other documents, stories, pictures and trees all for them to pad their database. It certainly got me wondering whether an online tree is in my best interest. I want to share with other family historians but I now conclude I would prefer a more controlled environment. Supplying Ancestry with my data so they can charge others to view it was not what I thought I was getting into. I also did not anticipate the immense amount of inaccurate information that would be past about.
Of course, you have a choice, a public tree, a private tree, or keep your tree off the internet.
It pains me to say that. Genealogy works best when family historians share. However, I don’t believe online family trees were meant to be a source of data but as a manner in which to connect with fellow genealogists. Now they have taken on a life of their own, people feel entitled to have access to them.
I believe many family historians like myself; use their Ancestry online tree as a “working tree.” I often find records that I speculate could belong to an ancestor. I save it in hopes of confirming or denying this information later. Next thing I know, it’s being saved to other trees.
In some cases I have searched hundreds of hours for documents, purchased documents posted them and minutes later found them saved to another person’s tree, with not even so much as a introduction from that person. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound bitter. When I posted my tree online several years ago, I had a very naive view of how this would all work. I was all about sharing, I still am, I just had no idea I would lose so much control to how, what and who would “lift” my family history.
Have I taken from other trees, absolutely, but if I can’t source it then it remains in my working tree until I can. If someone’s tree perplexes me, I contact him or her; ask them for their source or how they are related to my tree. I have made some great connections this way. I have also uncovered some connections that had the wrong family. Sometimes I get and answer, sometimes not. Do I believe everyone else online is doing the same? NO.
Should I be concerned about other trees, and whether they are saving misguided information? Do I need to be the family tree police? Of course not. However, most genealogists have an overwhelming desire to produce accurate information and it goes against our very nature to see inaccurate information being copied. However, whatever information I do post I want to control who gets it, and if it should come with a disclaimer.
In recent months, it has appeared as chaos to me. Remember the game we use to play as kids where you whisper a secret to someone, who in turns whispers it to the next and by the time you get to the 10th person, it doesn’t resemble anything like the original message. I can only equate it to this same premise. Sadly, this past week I changed my tree from public to private in order to stop this game at least on my end.
If you haven’t decided to put your tree online, if you haven’t decided whether you want to go public or private, if you’re thinking about changing your tree settings then tomorrow’s Tuesday Tip will break down the pros and cons of public vs. private trees. I hope from a less jaded position.