So, it seems that there has been quite a bit of discussion on some blogs about posting your family trees online. Some debate whether you should have them private or public, some debate whether it is proper to trust the information in most of these trees as they are all taking information from other trees online and claiming it as their own.
So, where do I stand on this issue? Well, I’m not so vain as to think that my opinion will count for much and change the genealogical world! I do have a few opinions on this issue though and, strangely, I have had this on my mind before reading all these blog posts. Why? Because I find myself in the position of having to start over from scratch and I am trying to make sure I do it right this time!
First, I’ll make my confessions of how terrible I was when I first started my genealogy research in 2000. I started off by visiting my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side and trying to get as much information as possible from them. I was frustrated to find that they really didn’t have much to offer. Many of them didn’t even realize that their grandmother and grandfather were buried in Texas, not Wisconsin as they claimed. After realizing I was spinning my wheels, I decided to go on-line and see what I could find. I frequented the USGenWeb site and discovered Rootsweb, where I was surprised to find so many family trees posted online. When an aunt told me that she had heard from a cousin that our Forbes ancestors came from Wisconsin and were originally from New York, I started posting on Rootsweb and seeking information. I still couldn’t add anything as I didn’t have any information to start with. Then I hit a connection with a relative in Wisconsin. There it was, my start.
I then fell into the trap of searching every tree on Rootsweb and adding information to my database as I found it. I didn’t source anything. I was just a name collector. I figured I would eventually go back and source it when possible. Soon, I had over 2000 names in my tree and thought it was time to publish it! So, up to Rootsweb it went.
Did I go back and source it all? No! I had way too many names and was overwhelmed with all the information I had. To this day I still have that one huge database I use to go back and see if there is something I can add. Did I delete the tree I had uploaded. No! I figured it was too much trouble and didn’t give it another thought.
Did I ever learn the proper way to do this? Well, there really is no proper way that I have found. I actually gave up on posting my tree on all these sites as I had started a website with all my information posted there. No GEDCOM to download and I was willing to share sources with anyone who was interested but didn’t actually post them on my site.
I’ve had 10 years of researching, making mistakes and learning quite a bit from them, and then. oftentimes, making the same mistakes again. I have never really gotten all my research sourced even though I have been able to verify most of my information and have grown quite stubborn about adding new info without sources! Will I post my sourced tree online eventually? Probably, as it will be a way of generating contacts. I will choose to put it as private though. One thing I have learned about current genealogy research is that it is way too easy to just grab information without even asking or verifying any of it. It’s like everything else nowadays, everyone wants it fast and don’t have time to wait!
I miss my days of going to the libraries and history centers and looking at microfilms and old collections of books about local history! It seemed more rewarding when you were able to find something through some good, hard work! I know that there is a lot of information online and I am so thankful for all the people who have assisted me through sites such as RAOGK and Find-A-Grave! I just realize that I’ve finally learned that there is way too much disinformation out there also! I had one man write and tell me that he could connect my line back to the 1300s. It looked promising but upon further inspection, the one key point where my research ended and his picked up couldn’t really be confirmed. There was just too much that wasn’t able to be confirmed so I didn’t add it.
So, my opinion about online trees? For the most part I now ignore them. If I am doing a surname search and find a tree that looks interesting, I may bookmark it and try to find sources to make me feel better about adding that info to my database. I have found that public trees are usually not that reliable. On the other hand, private trees are sometimes impossible to find out about. Most of the time I get no response from the owner of that tree and, in the few cases where I did, their research seemed awfully similar to mine! I’ve come to the point where I just don’t rely heavily upon online databases. Is that hypocritical as I have a website that shares my information publicly? Well, I’ve grown to the point that I will not post it if I don’t have sources for it. I also haven’t found any trees that have anything to add to my tree! If I run across one that has information that I don’t have and it seems promising, I will bookmark it and try to find the sources for that information before adding it to my tree!
Good grief! I could probably go on forever as I have made so many mistakes in the past and learned from my mistakes. I still find myself falling into the same trap occasionally! I think I need to end this post by simply saying that I am not against online family trees, I simply suggest that you use caution when accepting the information they contain. If it isn’t sourced, don’t add it to your tree until you have taken the time to try to verify that information. If you add it with the “intent” to add a source later, you will soon find yourself so overwhelmed that you will be in the same boat I have been in for the last couple of years. Fortunately, my failure to pay my hosting fees on time and the resulting closure of my site, has led me to finally start a new database with everything sourced as I go! It may take me another 10 years to finally add everything but at least it will be something I will have no problem posting online. When I do, it will be a private file! I don’t like just giving stuff away to folks who sit in their bathrobes and do their genealogy!
Have a great day everyone!