tree – Public or Private?

Ancestry website has brought a wave of keen genealogists out into the open. It is easy to use, there is lots of information available. You get so excited that with each shaky leaf reviewed  and each click of a record saved. A five minute search may reveal a whole family that you never knew about. But there seems to be much debate over whether to keep your family tree public or private. Not everyone agrees and everyone has different experiences. I am putting forward my own ideas; you have the freedom to agree or not.

Firstly, I do consider that there is a need for some families to keep their trees private. Many stories and facts can be unravelled through doing family history research. Some that can be very hurtful, second families not known about, family members wanting their distance from past family problems, cheating that has broken apart families revealed. I agree that there is legitimate reasons for a family tree to remain private.

I can also see the point about keeping a tree private, so that people actually contact you. Instead of a person just taking the information they have to make contact. However I know this may not always work. When I come across a private tree I instantly feel like that person doesn’t really want to be contact. It feels like a locked door and I only ask to open it, if it will unlock information that is valuable. It can be time consuming and sometimes fruitless. Also I find that many of the private trees have over 1000 people on their trees and have no idea of who I am talking about.

For myself though, I keep my trees public. I like to share.  It’s these public trees that I make a connection to. I see them come up time and again and I know that I am closely related and they are on the same lines as me. Those are the trees that I contact. If it wasn’t for the trees, I don’t think that would have come so far. They have created a community. I contact people more if they have a public tree. I know that they are willing to share and I am willing to share with them.  I also find that they are more able to understand how I relate to them.  I have found Aunts, Uncles and cousins galore, all interested in trying to figure out the next step in our family history puzzle.

I know that many people feel like they have been robbed when they find that there tree has been copied. I don’t feel robbed, I feel happy that they haven’t had to spend a whole day searching for that piece that I found. I paid around $80 for two probate packets recently for two of my ancestors. I posted what I got onto my public tree. I also photocopied pages of interest to my father and aunt. I wanted to share my latest find with them. I don’t think of it as stealing, I think of it as passing on to my family our history. Opening up Aladdin’s cave to share with the world.

The other reason for keeping a tree private is the idea of the wrong information spreading. However I am confident in my own ability to research. If other people are keeping their trees, it really is their responsibility to keep checking their information. When I was at university, everyone did their own research and handed in their own assignments. It really didn’t bother me whether my classmates got it wrong.  Not everyone is going to do the best job. But if you stopped kids from learning how to count because they don’t do it well straight away, they would never learn. It’s the same with many people who want to enjoy genealogy and don’t know where to start. I think that in all hobbies there will be “drive by genealogy hobbyists”, simply enjoying the scenery and taking pictures as they sweep past.  It’s the purists that put many hours and dollars into their research that can truly enjoy the rewards of truth. I can’t paint, but I don’t think that if I displayed a truly terrible painting that being vilified for it would be helpful.  Everyone should enjoy their hobby in their own way.

I still do have a rule of only putting deceased people in my family tree. This goes for my Family Treemaker program too. With privacy such a big issue in this technological age, it’s important. But family history is actually about family. All the people that are related to your ancestors have the urge to know about their family also. Just because they may not have the right technique for doing it right from the beginning shouldn’t mean that we shut them out. Supporting each other in a community to help us all learn is the way of building a family and a family history.

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