Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings had a very interesting post, The Online Family Tree Conundrum. Go read what he had to say, along with the comments and then use your back button.
To start, I saw it as an article about the creation of "One Big Monster Family Tree." After reading the comments I see that what most people seem to be taking from is article is that there are family trees online with incorrect information, no sources and that it sucks when someone simply takes the information you worked hard to obtain and claims it as their own. So today I'll address that and save my thoughts on OBMFT for tomorrow.
I agree with all three points! I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you don't want anyone to take your work DO NOT put it online to begin with, either on your blog or an online tree.
Mistakes, I've Made a Few
Let's face it, for some people genealogy is merely a hobby and often one that they quickly lose interest in. I'm sure there are some people that know that taking your research and adding it to their own file without attribution is wrong but they are in the minority. Most people simply do not know any better. I know when I first started out online I didn't. I did have enough sense to record the name and location of where I found a tree but I honestly thought if they put the information online they wanted to share it. I also didn't know better than to import other trees into my own. The version of FTM that I started out with came with several CD's full of gedcoms that I could very simply down load to my tree with a couple of clicks of my mouse. I also have added unproven relationships as a working theory, along with a note that it is just a theory, but who reads notes? After adding thousands of names in this fashion my main file is a mess and probably always will be.
My Abominable Tree
After I had worked on my tree for a couple of years I got the urge to share it. I put it online at Rootsweb for all the world to see. I also didn't know much about the internet so back in 2002 I used an email account that was provided by my internet provider. I ended up having to cancel my cable service and go back to dial up and I lost the email account. Without access to the email account I cannot delete my abominable tree. When Ancestry.com took over hosting Rootsweb that tree became part of Ancestry's World Tree Project. If you find something interesting there and try to contact me you will never receive a reply.
So far I have not found any of my pictures or documents that I did not share freely elsewhere on the internet . Should I run across something of that nature I will simply assume the person didn't know better and contact them and ask them to correct their error. I can always look at pilfered pictures and documents as an additional form of back up ;~)
One of the consistent complaints I read about is Ancestry's "Shaky Leaves." I love this feature! Often the suggestions that I get do not apply to the person that I am researching but I have found documents this way that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. And with new documents being added all of the time I do not have to keep repeating searches. I do know that I won't find all there is this way and I do spend time searching page by page, hunting through the catalog and doing creative searches.
The leaves do lead to other online trees. I look over a suggested tree and I do often "link" my tree to another. I do not automatically take and import any and all information that another tree has and often I have more information than they do. So why link, you ask? To take advantage of the Member Connect feature that will let me know when the owner of that other tree finds and adds a new record. I have previously written about Member Connect, why I like it and how to use it.
Public or Private
With so much of my incorrect information floating around cyberspace I am now more cautious about placing my trees online. I took my huge, corrupt master file and broke it down into much smaller and more manageable files that I now have as private trees at Ancestry. If you search for a person in my file they will show up in the search results but you'll have to contact me for the details. I ignore requests that start, "send me your gedcom" but I love ones that start "I think you have this wrong and this is why." It's rare that I do not share whatever I have and most of the time I'll send an invitation to the person to view the tree.
The Big Question
Randy says, "But the big question remains: What about ALL those millions of family trees on Ancestry.com, Rootsweb WorldConnect, MyHeritage, GeneaNet, Geni, etc. that stand alone, and are full of errors and inconsistencies?"
Abominable trees will always be out there. There will always be people that are just starting out or just want to see where they come from quickly. Most online tree platforms have a $bottom line$ and need to make it easy to keep the hobbyist interested. I'll point out also that there are plenty of published genealogies out there that have incorrect information and they will remain on library shelves for years to come. Faulty trees have been around as long as people have been recording their genealogy. Ignore them! We can not correct all of the errors out there but we can work to make our personal trees the best they can be. I expect to spend the rest of my life working at it.
Tomorrow my thoughts on One Big Monster Tree.