Public Trees and Sharing Research

Image of Hamilton Lewis O'Donnell and Annie Brown

Hamilton Lewis O’Donnell and Annie Brown – supplied by a previously unknown cousin!

Over at Gathering Dust, Sharon asks some questions about cousin-baiting and public trees.

I think the first thing you have to realise and come to terms with when doing any research, but especially genealogy research is that you only have control over the quality of your own research. Yes, some people on Ancestry are ancestor collectors or have some sloppy research. But I don’t think that means they are lazy. They might just not know any better!! I’m also trained as an historian and I even have a post grad degree in family history research, but I also deeply respect many of the “amateur” genealogists out there who know waaaay more than me, and they don’t have any formal qualifications at all.

I’ve found some crap research on Ancestry but I’ve also found some good stuff. As with ALL research, I take none of it as “fact” until I’ve done my own research and found evidence to back it up. It is only ever a starting point.

I’ve made some great contacts with distant relatives via Ancestry. Sometimes their trees aren’t great, but often they provide more of the “colour” than just straight facts. For that reason I’ve put my tree in as many places as I can find. It’s not like the information will ever be out of date!! And I’ve had contact from people years after I’ve put info up on a site.

My methodology for using Ancestry is this. I have a scaled back version of my tree. My main lines and only those of close cousins. I only have the bare bones because I don’t want to be going through hundreds of hints for my thirds cousins sister-in-laws great aunts husband by marriage!! But what I put up is still backed by heaps of evidence.

I then copy this to my “real” tree on FTM which has alot more people and more periferal lines. Only verified info goes into the real tree while stuff I believe is true but needs verification sometimes resides in my public Ancestry tree. The underlying assumption of my research is that unless backed by evidence, it’s only a theory to be followed up.

But one thing I do hate, is people who copy stuff from public trees into private trees. It’s not the copying I mind (but that’s another topic – if it’s on the internet, people will copy it!!!), but that they seem willing to use other peoples research but not share their own. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people with private trees copy my stuff but completely ignore me when I try to contact them to see if they have more detail on the person whose information they copied.

My general theory in all things is that information wants to be free. By that I mean it wants to be out there, flying free with the birds!! I know alot of people don’t want to share their research because they worked hard for it and spent money for it. But what’s the point of doing it all if no one sees it? How many people have had years of research chucked in the bin because their kids didn’t care and they were unwilling to share it with those who hadn’t worked hard enough to earn it?

Even more than normal research, genealogy relies on a community of people who are willing to share not just their research but their skills and knowledge on how to research. I feel privileged to be a recipient of that tradition and I feel a duty to reciprocate by sharing what I’ve learned – both data and skills.