Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Abominable Online Tree

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 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 ;~)

Shaky Leaves

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, 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.


Jasia said...

Good post, Apple. I may have to weigh in on this topic on my blog. Like you, I have more to say than would be practical in comment ;-)

Betty said...

Excellent post, very thought provoking. However, I must say that having my family trees published online on Rootsweb has been highly rewarding for me--through them I have met many "cousins" who have shared priceless information & clues. I do cite sources & documentation on my trees. Most "borrowers" list me as their source, and I have never had a problem with someone "stealing" my information. I frequently go through my own trees to correct errors, and if I see a mistake on someone else's Rootsweb tree, I leave a post-em. I will never again use for my family trees because when I uploaded to their new format a couple of years ago, half the individuals and all the notes were missing (eight years of work). I know my Rootsweb trees show up on Ancestry, and that's fine with me.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Jasia - Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

Betty - I've had trouble with Rootsweb and you've had trouble with Ancestry. Neither system is perfect but we're both making connections!

Greta Koehl said...

Apple - great post. I may also have to add my 2 cents on this in a post. My big problem with the mistake-laden trees has been convincing distant cousins that they are wrong - "But there are 24 trees with this information - it must be right!" I have definitely found uses for Member Connect. I use my blog to share information because that way I can publicly correct mistakes I have made. Thanks for posting this.

Barbara Poole said...

I've been thinking about this, and low and behold, Betty wrote exactly what I would have said. Ancestry does have my tree, but I don't update it, and when people write via A., I reply telling them to email me directly. I will not go through A. I am a long-time fan of RW, and have shared much of my info. to others, but I don't use it much for information. Also, I submitted my tree to FTM, it is in disk #16. And I feel sorry for those who spent big bucks for those disks, and they can't use them any more.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Greta - I've never run into ""But there are 24 trees with this information - it must be right!" I can see where that would be hard to explain to someone who is either new or just stubborn!

Barbara - Your's was one of the few on those disks that wasn't full of mistakes!

FranE said...

Congratualations on being listed among's top 100 blogs. Enjoyed the post.

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Well, now I feel better about not having posted my abominable tree for all the world to see. I use other trees as a stepping stone to deeper research but I see so much junk out there that it's crazy. I am always correcting things in my own work and thank God I have not put it out there for replicating. I can't fix it once it is in someone elses tree!

Ginger Smith said...

Good point about the printed materials that are full of errors! I haven't found a single printed family history that has contained the correct information about my family in it!

Claudia said...

I biggest problem with Ancestry is that when I first started my research three years ago I had started a tree for each line I was investigating.

I contacted Ancestry because now I wanted to merge them together in one large tree. Actually one for my side and one for my husbands. They told me it could not be done. What I get with those Shaky Leaves is Ancestry telling me that they have found matches and the are all my trees.

I am at my wits end with that and about to manually move them or delete them....