Sharing Information in the Digital Age a Story of Frustration

The first few months of this year have proved challenging for me with regards to family history information that I have shared with others. There was the tree on Ancestry that has my information linked to a family that is not related to mine in any way. I can prove this with documentation but there is nothing to be done.

Photographs that were shared with another researcher showed up on Ancestry without my knowledge. The photographs were shared with someone who was directly connected to the people in the photographs. They did not ask my permission to put my photographs online. One was attached to the wrong person. I respectfully requested that they be removed. They were and it was appreciated.

Then the photos showed up on other trees in Ancestry. They were probably copied to other researcher’s files before they were taken down. Now the problem of the photograph being attached to the wrong person is rampant throughout Ancestry’s family tree database and probably will continue throughout the internet.

Another family line was connected to a family tree where the link was minute. The two families married into the same family generations apart and were not direct lines. Still they had the family tree four generations down connected to their family tree.

When I requested the pictures to be taken down from the family trees some of the people could not understand why I would not share my information. One person said it should be online for all to find. Some got rather hostile.

If someone is found who shares a direct line I share my research. Now I only share information from the shared generation back and not forward. Sometimes I wish I knew back in the 1990s what I know now but as Maya Angelou says “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”

While all this was going on Marian Pierre-Louis of Marian’s Roots and Rambles had a blog posting called “The Digital Age Discourages Sharing.” Marian discusses the fact that the internet encourages too much sharing and that if it is found on the internet then people feel that copyright does not apply. The sub topics were photos, writing, genealogy and the future. Go and read Marian’s blog posting as it is very informative and provides food for thought on the subject.

Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers has come out with a chart to help people decide whether or not to post an image. The blog post is called “Infographic – Should I Post This Image?”

The frustration for me is that it feels like people are collecting names to add to their tree to make it as big as possible. People are finding information on the internet and not examining it closely enough to make sure there really is a connection. They are not researching the records for themselves in order to prove the connection that was found on the internet really exists.

I understand the elation of finding information on the internet that seems to relate to your family. The excitement of finding distant cousins and family connections not previously known can be exhilarating. Gathering names from family trees posted on the internet is not doing family history research. In my opinion you are missing out on the best part of the research process by only focusing on the internet.

New information is being put on the internet everyday but at the same time less than 2% of all genealogical information is found online. At some point you will have to go to libraries and archives as well as purchase birth, marriage and death certificates to further your research.

The internet is a great tool, I use it everyday, but it is just a tool. To further my research I need to go to the brick and mortar repositories to find more information. Most of my brick walls are broken down with research in libraries and archives.

When I started my research in the 1970s you had to mail a letter of request and wait for a response. If payment was required you mailed that in a return letter. Then you had to wait for a response and hope that the search was successful. Finding distant relatives was not part of the process as they were difficult to locate.

In the 1980s there was the Genealogical Research Directory. You would pay to put in your names, dates and places of interest and a large book would come out each year. If you found a connection in the book you would write the person a letter and hopefully share some information.

I could not wait for the book to come out each year and went through it several times with a highlighter to make sure nothing was missed. Writing paper, envelopes and lots of stamps were purchased, not to mention International Reply Coupons. It was exciting to find a variety of envelopes in the mail box. I got quite a collection of stamps from around the world. A distant cousin in South Africa was found through this book. The family had not been in contact since both our Great Great Grandmother’s wrote to each other in the late 1800s.

In the 1990s when I started online you could use mailing lists to find people and share information but you still had to mail the information to them. It was at this time that it took one year from the time a family tree was sent to a distant cousin and another distant cousin was found who sent my own tree back to me. They did not know it had come from me in the first place. A little research showed it had been through four different people.

Now in the 2010s you can contact someone online and it is feasible that within 10 minutes or less you can have confirmation and information shared. You do not even have to contact anyone you can just download their tree from their website or the online database they are using. People are still sharing information with me that originated with me and they do not know it.

Now this will not stop me from sharing my information but it will curtail what and how much I share in the future. People need to understand the power the internet has and the effect it can have on your privacy. Maybe the pendulum will start to swing the other way and privacy will be in vogue again.

There also has to be a certain respect for the work and effort of the person who did the research on the family in the first place. There are notes in my family tree that tell me where the information came from originally. It includes a person’s name and contact information.

Two questions keep coming to mind – How can you be sure that the family tree you find online is really yours? How valid is the research that was done on the family tree that you have found?

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

Please Support Family History Societies

Supporting the family history societies in the areas where my family originated has been important to me. As a result I am a member of the Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society, Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society and the Genealogical Society of Ireland. I also support the Ontario Genealogical Society including the Halton-Peel Branch and the Ireland Special Interest Group. There are no family connections to these areas I just feel it is important to support their activities for future generations.

Being a member of the societies in Ireland, England and Scotland has helped with my research. There is a journal that comes out every quarter or once a year filled with articles about current record releases, research stories, publication lists and sometimes there are indexes to some records that are small and relate to the area. You can find a synopsis of lectures given at the society. I have written articles for the GWSFHS and GSI journals and have found distant family members who are also members. By being in contact with these groups I keep up to date of what is available for those areas. If I have a question then the chances are that sending them an email may result in an answer.

Occasionally the records that would help me with my research are not available in any form on this side of the Atlantic. You can sometimes find local members of the society who are happy to help you with your research for a small fee and/or a reimbursement of expenses. Some societies offer a research service. If they can not help you they can recommend someone who can.

Lately I have been catching up with my reading and while reading The Manchester Genealogist the journal for the Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society I came across an article about the future of Clayton House where the society has been housed for about twenty years. I had the privilege to visit Clayton House in 2003 and while there I did some research, picked up a few interesting publications and got some advice.

The Society has been considering a move because the rent has become too much for the society and their membership has dropped by over one thousand in recent years. This is very sad news indeed.

Family history societies are the backbone of the genealogical community. The people who began and continue these groups have a true passion for family history research. They have spent countless hours transcribing, indexing, creating and typing many of the databases we take for granted today. The latter members have worked diligently in getting some these databases published and put online.

It can not be said enough that you will NOT find everything for your family history online. At some point you will have to go to the area where your family originated and the family history society for the area would be a true asset to your research. If you do not support them now they will not be there when you need them.

Another consideration is that not everyone is online and they could be members of these societies who read the journals. Are you missing out on finding someone who has a wealth of family history information relating to your family simply because you are only looking online for information?

The closure of family history societies due to lack of membership would be an enormous loss to the genealogical community. Please join your local family history society today and at least one in the homeland of your ancestors.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

Have You Noticed Genealogy Has Gone Mainstream in the Media?

While watching television I have noticed that genealogy is appearing in pop culture. There is a commercial for a vitamin C product and above the bed of the cartoon character is a copy of his family tree. In the television show “Brothers and Sisters” there is now a theme involving family history that is bringing in a new story line regarding the past of one character and the parentage of another. In the movie “Little Fockers” the Focker grandparents, played by Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, research the genealogy of the character Jack Byrnes played by Robert De Niro. Ancestry.com is broadcasting commercials in mainstream media. I wonder where genealogy references will appear next. Have you seen references to family history in mainstream media? Where? Let me know by leaving a comment to this post.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

Everything Old is New Again

Nowadays everyone who has an opinion is blogging, texting or tweeting that opinion to the world. Where can you find a lot of these people? They are in the coffee shop. They are using the free wi-fi to upload blog posts and their hand held devices to send their 140 character thoughts through the airwaves while having a coffee. Since you can only use 140 characters a new form of writing has become necessary. The coffee shop has become a place of business for a lot of people.

So let’s rewind about three or four hundred years. What were people doing? Oh yes, they were voicing opinions but the way those opinions were sent out into the world was a printed pamphlet. Oh, but these were very expensive so they had to develop a new form of writing to use less characters to get their message across. Hmmm

The coffee house was the hub of the community, next to the public house. Coffee was all the rage and coffee houses were the place to see and be seen. Samuel Pepys and Samuel Johnston frequented them. Business was also conducted in the coffee house.

Everything old is new again. What are you doing now that your ancestors might have been doing three or four hundred years ago? If you did not have any of the currently available technology is your life really all that different from your ancestors?

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

Sharing Family History Research, Privacy and the Internet

Everyone who researches their family history ends up sharing their data at one point or another. It is the nature of family history research. I do it myself particularly when I first started out.

Twenty years ago the problem of identity theft was not as big as it is today. We still had to use the mail to share our family history information so you always had a mailing address for the person on the receiving end.

People did not have their entire family trees online. No concern was given to the information relating to the living members of the family.

Today you have an email address that can be as fleeting as sunshine on an overcast day. The personal contact information for the people you are sharing your information with is not freely given either.

I knew things were moving very quickly in the world of family history when my own information came back to me within one year. I had sent out a descendents chart to someone in Australia, they sent it to someone in Florida who sent it to someone in Alabama and then to Texas. Texas sent it back to me and they did not know that the information had originated with me in the first place. Everyone passed it along without informing anyone about the name of the data’s originator.

I then started putting my address stamp on every page of information I sent out.

Next I started shortening the information being shared. I would try to figure out which branch the enquirer came from and send only the information that would relate to them. They would ask for the other branches of the family which would not be given out, especially if our shared ancestor was six generations back.

Sometimes I wish that I knew twenty years ago what I know now and maybe my data would not be floating around the world unidentified. The other thing is that I have improved my research practices. Sources are cited in more detail and even if it is a tiny bit of information from someone they become my source reference.

Hind sight is always twenty twenty and we can only do better when we know better. Everyone is on a learning curve. Not many of us knew how to actually research our family history when we started we just jumped in and went for it.

Lately my own personal data has been found online which came from descendents charts that had been sent to “new cousins” years ago. I had already started making notes of who received what so the trail could be followed. A little piece of innocuous information would be imbedded that could identify who had received it. These people were contacted and nicely asked to remove my data. They very kindly did so right away.

The only problem was with Ancestry who said there was nothing they could do and would not take the information down. I was especially cross when one tree attached my family to another family that was not connected in anyway. This research was wrong and Ancestry would not remove it.

I will admit that these experiences have made me think twice before sharing my family history data. It bothers me to think that way but my research data is a result of my hard work. I am the one who put in all the hours and a little credit for the work would not go awry.

The need people have for the instantaneous fix has permeated family history research and sometimes not in a good way. Not everything can be found online.

I feel sorry for them in a way because they are missing out on a great adventure. There is nothing like planning a genealogy research trip and going to see actual records. Putting your hands on the documents that your ancestors held or being in the same place where they walked down the hall to register a land transaction or birth. Or to be in a Family History Centre reading microfilms and sharing information with the community that gathers there.

In my opinion to miss these kinds of activities in your research is to miss out on a lot. It becomes a gathering data race rather than a personal journey of discovery.

You can not be in touch with your ancestors only through a computer. They did not have one.

And remember to please ask the living members of your family for their permission before you put any data relating to them online. Or better yet do not put any data relating to living relatives online at all. They will thank you in the end.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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