Sunday, October 20, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Sharing my tree online brought me
my only photo of ancestor Catherine Molloy
Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware is a phrase I often use in relation to genealogy. If I was a Latin scholar I could come up with a phrase that when translated said "Let the genealogist beware."

I am  talking about taking information from online trees on face value without checking the veracity of the claims contained therein.

I was challenged by Bookbook's recent post in which she said "We're encouraged to upload our family trees to the web and make them open to the public. The idea is that distant relatives will make contact and information can be shared, that images and documents can be easily shared and that information from other trees can be merged into your own.


I just had to put my thoughts on this issue out in the blogisphere. My message regarding publishing family information on the web is "Do it" - Be generous and share.

In defence of public trees Boobook goes on to say "It's not all bad. There are some gems among the dross. I have made contact with relatives to our mutual benefit. I have found some wonderful photos and documents. I have even been able to extend some branches of the tree back a generation or two and add a few twigs. But I've learnt to be very, very wary." 

She states "there are thousands of public family trees and they are chockers with errors". I certainly agree with that BUT these trees can be useful. 

We can use the information found in them as hints to check sources and verify or disprove the assertions made. I have found many links to family members from unsourced trees that appear on Ancestry and other sites. These hints have given me leads which have helped me conquer my brick walls, and as Boobook says distant relatives have made contact and information has been shared. I am most grateful for the corrections my contacts have suggested to the data in my online tree (we all make mistakes). 

Because I have shared my research online I have received copies of certificates and photographs including precious photos of direct ancestors for whom we had no photos whatsoever. I particularly treasure the only photo I have of my great-grandmother, Catherine Molloy, that my second cousin once removed, Tony Molloy, sent me. 

So, please share your information and use online trees as resources but as Boobook says "be very, very wary."

"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Galatians VI)


Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

I agree that in principle sharing is good, but what I object to is when someone vacuums up all your information and disappears into the night without a word.

You know the ones "oh I'm so pleased to hear from you, I've got lots of photos I can share. Do you have one of xxx?" So you send that off, and repeated emails garner you no responses. Aaagh!

Reciprocity is good, a one-way street is not. I don't respond well when people I've been very generous with, who give me little in return, keep snapping their fingers and demanding more.

Selfish or otherwise I've chosen to not put my information on the web. I'm happy to share but that involves a two-way process (or at least courtesy).

I love the idea of you reap what you sow, but it just doesn't always work that way and that can do my head in.

HoolaHoops said...

I could not agree with you more. I could get frustrated when I see a family tree with no sources on it, or one which is clearly wrong in its conclusions, but actually at the end of the day, so what?

I am smart enough to know that without a source being quoted (and I do not include other public family trees here), it is not to be relied upon. But I do consider these to be clues, as you said.

I post all my data online, including sources, because I want people to have faith in what I have posted. I could not care if someone "copies" it. And, like you, I have found some very wonderful information on the online family trees, documents and records I would not have otherwise, if it were not for the generosity of others.

Thanks for your post and your blog.

GeniAus said...

Pauleen, I have been bitten too but the generosity of the givers makes up for the takers. Once I gave someone my whole gedcom and he published it on the internet with no attribution - I've learnt from that experience. Similarly I started putting photos on my tree only to find them on Ancestry with incorrect names attached. I should take a leaf out of your book and put a watermark on them.

GeniAus said...

Great to hear from you HulaHoops and flattered that I haave a reader in The Netherlands.

Maria said...

I agree that the risk of giving info is worth it, with a huge dose of caution. My recent "pet hate" are the people who gobble up everything on my online Ancestry tree, and then keep their trees private. That's definitely a one-way street. Aghh! The idea of a watermark on the photos is a clever idea.


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