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The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Public Family Tree vs. a Private Family Tree


Before rushing into posting your family tree online, I caution you to step back and take a careful look at the options available. Depending on the website, you choose for posting your tree there are often options to consider. The largest one is whether you want your tree to be viewed by all (public) or would you like to retain control of who can view your tree (private).

For some historians they know exactly what they want, but for others the choice can be disconcerting. Many have personal reasons for their choices, and after hearing many opinions on the subject, here are a few pros and cons as to why some choose one over the other.

Public Family Trees

Pro: You allow everyone to see your tree, opening up endless opportunities to meet distance cousins.

Con: You allow everyone to see your tree, opening up endless opportunities for distant cousins to lift your information without making a personal connection with you.

Pro: You wish to enjoy the benefits of other researcher’s public trees then you should share as well.

Con: Not everyone’s tree is sourced and cited, some are working trees and not all information can be deemed credible. Not all trees are created equal.

Pro: You can share valuable information with others that they would not have obtained without you.

Con: You have invested long hours and money to share valuable information with those who have done little legwork for the reward.

Pro: Public trees provide quick and easy access to information that may otherwise take years to uncover.

Con: Public trees have turned genealogy into a lazy man’s hobby.



Private Family Trees

Pro: You can control who sees your information and what information you wish to release to them.

Con: Many distant cousins may feel intimidated by your private status and not contact you.

Pro: You can keep a public profile despite having a private tree, making yourself a little more accessible to those who wish to contact you.

Con: You may have to deal with many emails since others cannot view your tree and move on if they do not see what they are looking for.

Pro: Personal information on your living relatives is better protected in a private tree.

Con: Many fear hackers can still access this information and it is not safe, while some public trees also provide the same protection on living a relative’s information.

Pro: A private tree will weed out the casual researchers and only the serious connections will attempt to contact you.

Con: A private tree may weed out a casual researcher that could hold some valuable information on your family tree.

Pro: You don’t wish to spread unsourced information that may exist in your tree. You have control.

Con: Too much control may make feel like you are limiting yourself to possible new connections and new information.

Pro: You can control other researchers from spreading inaccurate information.

Con: You are not responsible for other researcher’s trees.

Pro: You have paid for this information in hard work, long hours and money why should you share it.

Con: You fear becoming too territorial over your information, sharing is important in genealogy.

Pro: You don’t want the Mormons to baptize your dead ancestors.

Con: They given so much to the genealogy community, genealogists should give back.

There are as many reasons as there are people on why or why not to choose a public tree vs. a private tree. However, one should carefully think through the options before jumping in. There are many family historians out there with stories to tell from both sides of the fence, listen up and then make the decision that you feel best suits your needs.

Related Reading: Is There Chaos Online?

4 comments:

  1. I have several online trees and some are public, others private. In general I'm happy to share whatever I have. I used to get upset when others just took my information but these days I figure better they take good information rather than bad and I can't take it with me in the end.

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  2. Good article. I've struggled with most of these pros and cons myself. I recently deleted a public tree at Ancestry over concerns about mistakes being perpetuated, etc. Yet so many genealogists have helped me, that I feel guilty. Will probably end up posting another public tree, though a more limited one at that.

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  3. From a Mormon--
    I'm kind of taken back that you would list hindering baptisms for the dead as a pro of private trees.

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  4. Hi Lynn. This public/private dilemma is what led me to create WikiTree.com. The focus of WikiTree, as a wiki, is sharing and collaboration. But it's not an open wiki and family trees aren't entirely public. All information is owned and controlled by contributors. You decide who to allow on the "Trusted List" for an individual ancestor that you add. Only the people on the Trusted List have full rights to access and edit the profile with you. Other people can still view certain information on the profile, depending on whether the person is living or directly related to someone living.

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