google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: July 2010
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?
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.

Open Thread: What Are You Working On?

I'm always interested to hear about other family historians and their journey. Of course, non-genealogists would find our topic of conversation on the boring side; I however am always open to hear what others are working on. I know its summer, and perhaps many of you are taking a much-needed break. While some of you may find summer the perfect opportunity to carve out some time for your genealogy hobby. Possibly, you are taking a genealogy vacation then I would really love to hear about that, maybe you are trucking through some cemeteries or perhaps starting that book, you have been putting off. Maybe, you’re just picking away at some brick walls. Regardless, this is your opportunity to share your priorities as this summer meanders at about the halfway point.

For me, well the first part was busy with a family reunion and the release of my family history book. The second half is looking a little lighter. I'm switching up sides for a while and now working on my mother's family. I have another family reunion in Northern Ontario in August, so I am currently assembling my information on that side of the family in the hopes of seeking out some missing pieces while I'm there. The reunion is very near to where my Mother grew up, so we are planning a stop to her hometown, the local cemetery where her grandparents and many relatives are buried. I expect to come back re-juvenated and ready to get to work again.

What are you working on?

Top 10 Favourite Genealogy Websites- Here's Mine, What's Yours?

Randy over at Genea-Musings is taking a reader survey on your top 10 favourite genealogy websites. Here are my favourites based on my own particular research needs.

1. - can’t live without them

2. Ship’s List – great for seeking out passenger lists, new info added monthly

3. Irish Family History Foundation- for my hard to find Irish ancestors

4. Irish Origins- my second stop on my search for my Irish ancestors

5. Ontario Archives – for ordering microfilms on Inter-library loan

6. Google – can’t live without them for general searches, maps, books and gadgets

7. – keeping on top of Ontario records

8. – my mailing lists and forums

9. – just in case they have something ancestry doesn’t. I also used them for ordering microfilms from other countries.

10. Find-a-grave – check in every so often in search of a few graves I haven’t been able to locate.

These are in no particular order as it would depend on which branch and ancestor I am searching on any given day.  Feel free to weigh in, stop at Genea-Musing with your favourites.

My Family History Book - A Successful Debut

After 3 years of writing, creating and designing, we have released our family history book, The Waters of My Ancestors, The Kowalsky-Vogel Story by Lynn Kowalsky Palermo and Danette Rossi Taylor.  We pre-sold 75 copies of the book in advance and since its release have started a list for a second printing with a goal of selling another 20 books.

The book was received with rave reviews. I would like to share some of those reviews with you, not to brag (well maybe a little) but to demonstrate that your family history book does not need to be a boring, dry rendition of facts and that despite the work involved your family will appreciate it. Incase you haven't noticed, I'm on a mission to encourage all family historians to preserve their family history in a book.

Our goal besides providing a vehicle for educating our family on their history, and leaving a legacy for future generations was to create a book that everyone would read and enjoy. In that respect, I believe we were successful.

One of the first comments we received, concerning the book came from We used the My Canvas software to create and print this book. Ancestry actually proofed the book page by page and then called us to a make a few minor adjustments (they do not edit, or change content for you) they only pointed out a software problem and wanted our permission to fix it before going to print.

Their words to us “this is the most comprehensive and extensive family history book we have printed to date.” That was our first indication we had something special.

Once the book was released and my relatives had time to digest the 200 pages of history, the emails started flowing. Here is what some of my relatives had to say:

“Reads like a novel” .... Judy

“Truly a gift for generations to come, Thank You so much Lynn and Danette.” .....Marie

“This book is amazing” ......Lindsay

“What a treasure.” ........Donna

“It has made me laugh, pulled at my heart, and brought back many great memories. It was done with class and turned out beautifully. Definitely a keeper for generations to come.” ......Denice

“It is amazing, an emotional read. I can honestly say I feel Mom and Dad’s presence just reading this book.”.......Ron

“Wow!! Truly amazing. I can’t imagine the work involved, and just wanted to say Thank You for giving us the legacy in print to share for generations to come, priceless.”.......Dolores

“You did a masterful job.” ......Doug

“Great Job!” ....Rick K.

“Fantastic job on The Book....I think we should send a copy to Oprah!” ......Rik

Their comments quickly blurred my memory of the hard work and long days and nights we invested. I think my favourite moment was when my father opened it for the first time and started to cry. That mean't everything.

If you are interested in writing your own family history book , then read my collection of posts designed to help you create your own book..... The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Family History Book , I will continue to expand this collection with further information and knowledge learned including future experiences as I move on to the next book.

Tuesday's Tip - Citing Genealogy Sources, The Life of the Party?

 If you are lucky enough to find information about your family in an online website or database, then you have faced the task of deciding how to record your sources. The excitement of finding a missing piece of the puzzle can quickly start the celebrations. However, you must put your party on hold and take a moment to record where this important information originated. Regardless of whether it is a primary source or not, citing your source is imperative.

I suspect like myself, the majority of family historians researching online, come by this knowledge through the back door. We start our research, the information starts flowing, we haphazardly record a few sources, sometimes too late, we soon realize we don’t know where all our information has come from. We are often learning and researching at the same time and perhaps have come to the citation party a little too late.

Websites disappear, information on them are removed or edited. Primarily, always print a copy of  the page, and secondly, cite the source if your adding it to your family tree software or online tree. Citing a source is like leaving a trail of peanuts back to it's origin not only for others, but yourself as well.

If you were like me and late to the party, I quickly began learning  how to cite my online sources after the fact.  I started reading. Now I could continue giving you the whole rundown on how to cite for a website, or a database or an online book, a little dry if you ask me. Lets face it citing sources is not the most exciting party in town. I would rather be at the party hosted by a long lost relative telling me his story.

Then, it occurred to me during my own learning process, there must be a tool to bring some life to this soiree. Presto. A smart little company called ImagineEasy Solutions is going to save you some work. I'm merely going to share with you their very cool tool: a bibliography and citation marker that is free and easy (two terms I love to see especially together)  at  This company has managed to turn citing sources into fun.

Simply create an account, sign in, and start. Simple to use. I would suggest adding it to your favourite’s toolbar for easy access when you find some online history you want to cite. This website quickly converts the information into a properly formatted citation. You can keep a list on the website or you can copy and paste your citation or save it into a word document or Google documents.

If you don’t want to create an account, you can login via Facebook, Google, Yahoo and AOL. offers a simple video tutorial that shows you how to create a bibliography in 48 seconds. Although this site is big for students, it makes a perfect tool for genealogists. It is also recommended by the experts in by the book genealogy.

If you want to learn more about citing your online sources, I would recommend the following reads

Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Or online check out ProGenealogists article

Internet Citation Guide for Genealogists

but if you would rather join the party at , stop by and play with this nifty tool.

Palermo, Lynn. "Tuesday's Tip: Citing Your Genealogy Sources, The Life of the Party?" The Armchair Genealogist. 13 July 2010. Web. 13 July 2010.

Tuesday's Tip - Search While You Sleep

 Time Saving Tools for Genealogy Research

Life is busy. No one is exempt. Daily we are faced with the juggling of life’s many responsibilities all while trying to find a little time for our passion, genealogy. Researching your family history online can be time consuming. However, there continues to grow a list of new timesaving tools available to the family historian that can not only free up your time but also search for your family while you sleep.

Gone are the days of bookmarking your favourite websites and remembering to check back to see if there is anything new. There are plenty of options available to the family historian in bringing updates, news and information right to your desktop on a daily basis.
RSS Feeds, email subscriptions, newsletters are all great ways to keep on top of the latest information from your favourite websites.

RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication) is tops on my list. Find a website that you like and subscribe to an RSS Feed. You can have that websites latest information delivered to your inbox or Google Reader. RSS Feeds are great for websites that offer blogs.

Personally, I keep an igoogle page. Igoogle is great concept from Google that allows you to create your own home page. When you sign in, your home page loads with your favourite website links, gadgets, to do lists all customized with your personal choices. On it I keep feeds of my favourite websites and blogs that I read daily, I also keep my google reader on my igoogle page. All my RSS feeds go to this Google Reader. They are all together on my home page where I can quickly and easily access them on a daily basis. As I find time to do some reading, they are conveniently available.

Other websites that offer less frequent updates in the form of monthly newsletters I have delivered to my inbox. Often I found in bookmarking a site, I would go months without checking on them. Out of sight, out of mind. A newsletter in my inbox makes me visit them on regular basis. Great for sites like Ancestry or Irish History Foundation, any of your favourite databases, online cemeteries etc. where information doesn’t necessarily change daily.

Another way I keep my most essentials sites top of mind is with the favourite’s toolbar. If you don’t have Explorer 8, I suggest you get the free download online. This download will give you a handy toolbar where you can keep a dozen or more links of your top sites readily available at the top of your screen. This is a great place to keep sites that you may visit daily or several times a week. You can arrive to your favourite site in one click, check for news and move on before you’ve had your first sip of morning coffee.

Alerts are fundamental in saving yourself surfing time. In Google Alerts, you can enter some of your most frequent research queries and ask Google to send you an alert when anything new is posted to the internet pertaining to your query. You can have queries sent to your inbox as it happens, daily or weekly basis. You customize alerts to your own particular needs. In terms of your genealogy research, you can use alerts to monitor information posted on a particular relative or surname you are following. As well , if you interested in Irish history or German history and want to know about new websites or articles or information just save a search query in Google Alerts. You make your alert as specific or general as you like. It is all in your control.

Don’t forget alerts to forums. Many sites offer forums where you can follow a thread of a particular surname or geographical area of your ancestors. Ancestry for example has many family forums where you can follow a family surname. I have alerts set up for not only my family surnames but also the specific areas they lived. When someone posts an inquiry to the forums I am quickly alerted, I can scan to see if it pertains to my particular family and decide whether it is worth further investigation.

By combining all of these timesaving techniques, you can easily reduce your searching time and bring the internet and information to you. I look forward to getting up in the morning signing on to my email and igoogle page and finding what the internet has delivered to my desktop with my morning coffee. I can then go on with my day knowing I’m on top of my research and I’m not missing a thing.

What Genealogy Taught Me about Being a Canadian

Thirty-three years ago, I wrote an essay for the Kinsmen Club Heritage Essay Contest. The topic; what it means to be a Canadian. As a young teen, with a limited knowledge of history, genealogy, and Canada, I can’t imagine the depths of my words and thoughts. I’m sure they were the heartfelt words of a 13 year old. Motivated to enter a writing contest, clearly, I had a sense of national pride even then. I would dearly love to see that essay today, I would probably cringe, however curious to read my 13 year old point of view.

I'm the short dorky looking one.
Growing up, when someone asked about my nationality, I always said Canadian; however, I quickly qualified it by explaining my Polish, German and French heritage. With a surname like Kowalsky, my Polish roots were always very clear. Our Polish heritage and tale of arrival was a story we all knew.

In taking up genealogy, I learned very quickly just how much of a Canadian I really am. Although my great-grandfather Adam Kowalsky arrived from Poland in the early 1900’s, he was in fact the last of my immigrant family to arrive in Canada.

My German roots had been well established in this country since the mid 1800’s, my Irish heritage, even earlier. The Phelan’s and Stapleton’s were some of the first pioneers in the dense bush of Upper Canada in the early 19th century; both families arrived long before Canada was Canada.

My French Canadian branch really dates my family to the very beginnings of this country. In the early days when this country was creating a foundation, communities and stumbling through its infancy, my mother’s family, the Desmarais and Vaillancourt family both arrived to a land known as New France in the early 17th century.

For the better part of my life, I was defined by my Polish immigrant great-grandfather, who spoke broken English, was a loyal Canadian, and shared no memories of his native Poland with us. He always said, Canada gave him everything and he never looked back. Back to his peasant life in a war-torn country with no rights or freedoms, he came to Canada, worked hard, raised a large family, owned land, and died knowing he had brought the Kowalsky family name to a better place in the world. His sacrifice, he never saw his parents again. He was not alone; his was the story of many Canadian immigrants.

However, what I’ve learned more than anything from my family history, I am very much a Canadian, born from the descendants of some of the most selfless, hard-working, inspirational ancestors, who sacrificed, laboured, and built a country. They came here as farmers, peasants, oppressed, they fought class restrictions, religious persecution, war, disease and great personal and financial losses. They arrived to a land, covered in dense bush, severe weather, no laws, no government, no churches and no education system. They built a country, one of the finest in the world.

A country is not just land and lakes, cities and skyscrapers, it is the love, the desire and the hard work of all those who dared to dream. Generations of ancestors who courageously took up the cause to create a country that could be all things to all people.

On this July 1st, this Canada Day, I reflect and write once again on what it means to be a Canadian. No less proud, but certainly far more educated, on the incredible people who made it happen.

From my genealogy journey, I learned “I am a Canadian.”

Not a Polish Canadian, not an Irish Canadian not even a French Canadian, but a Canadian, I no longer feel the need to qualify my nationality by my ancestor’s roots.

Still very proud of my ancestor’s stories, I understand that their ultimate goal was to be a Canadian. My  great-grandfather was not ashamed of his Polish heritage, but proud of his Canadian nationality, and wanted his family to think of themselves as Canadian first. Poland was his past, but Canada was our future.

Genealogy remains important in the telling of these stories, keeping alive the memories of the men and women who dared to dream of a Canada. Genealogy is important in educating our children and the generations to come that the Canada that offers them so many privileges today, came on the backs of thousands of immigrants. It was their sweat, their sacrifices, and their vision that shaped this country, so that we can proudly stand up and call ourselves Canadian.

Therefore, with a glowing heart, I celebrate July 1st, and respectfully call myself a Canadian.