Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sharing Genealogy Information

Lisa Alzo recently posted a story on her blog The Accidental Genealogist about sharing genealogy information titled "To Give or Not to Give: What Would You Do?" This is an issue that each genealogy researcher faces during their career - first as a requester of information and later as a provider of information.

Lisa's contact told her that someone had contacted him asking "for information about a family line, and he sent some information from his descendancy chart - not everything, but what he felt was fair to share. The person published the information without so much as an acknowledgment to him and after that the correspondence ceased..."

I recall that, back when I started, I wrote several letters to other researchers with my surnames and I asked for "everything you have." Some kind researchers provided it, mostly on paper. I dutifully put all of this information into my genealogy database (on Personal Ancestral File at the time). Publishing a journal article or a book was far from my mind. I wouldn't think of asking for "everything you have" now, of course!

It's a lot easier now to provide "everything you have" than it was back in the 1990 time frame. Now you can attach a database (or a GEDCOM) to an email and another person has all of your database in a flash. I don't know many people who do that, frankly, because of the real concern that their hard-earned data will be further distributed or even put into a book and a profit will be made from it.

What really turned me against sending databases to another researcher was a situation similar to what happened to Lisa's contact. I have a fairly large Seaver/Sever surname database. Over time, I have collected the published works on the Seaver/Sever surname, collected New England vital records, land records, probate records, military records, census records, etc. The information from these resources are included in my Seaver/Sever database. I had a fellow contact me asking for help on his Seaver line, and I sent him a GEDCOM of my database. He thanked me for it, and over time asked questions via email about certain families. After several years, I saw a notice in one of the magazines about a new book about the Seaver/Sever families by this fellow, and I had an opportunity to read the book at the FHC (he had submitted it for microfilming). There was material in that book that had come directly from my own research notes - including my source citations (not all that great, but I recognized them!), probate information, etc. Needless to say, I was highly perturbed...I sent an email complaining, but I didn't hear back from this fellow.

I am now a lot more protective of information and genealogy data that I have found through my own research. I know how long and how hard I have researched for almost 20 years and I am willing to share that data, but only on my own terms.

The bad experience led to my policy about "what to give and when." It is:

1) I post on the Internet only genealogy reports generated by my software program, but I don't include my notes or sources in those reports. The hope is that somebody will find my report and email me asking for more information. This works pretty well! I get several queries each month from the genealogy data posted at http://www.genealogy.com/users/s/e/a/Randy-Seaver/

2) When I receive email asking for genealogy data, I will send information from my notes or sources about a particular family or line in a genealogy report format. I don't, and won't, send my entire database. Actually, I made one exception: I sent my Vaux database to two cousins who are writing a book about the family in England and America and I had added lots of census data to the database. They were going to credit me for my contributions.

3) I request genealogy data and information from my correspondents to add to my database - typically the names, dates and places of the spouses or children and grandchildren of the siblings of my ancestors. It's their choice whether to send it to me. I tell them it is going into my database, and I will put their name and email address in my database so that if someone else contacts me about the same family, I can "recall" my earlier contacts and hopefully hook up some cousins with a common research interest. I tell them that I will not post or publish anything about living people. This has worked out pretty well - I get family information to add to the database and they get some ancestral data.

4) What will happen when I'm just a memory to my kids? I've left instructions for someone (my kids, their spouses, or their kids, or hire someone to do it) to distribute my genealogy research to:

a) The LDS Family History Library for inclusion in their microfilm collection - in the form of specific books (e.g. "Descendants of Robert Seaver for 9 Generations," etc.) that include my notes and sources (such as they are - that is another ongoing project here at the Genea-Cave).

b) To the Rootsweb WorldConnect database (or its successor) - GEDCOM files with notes and sources.

c) Create genealogy books, self-publish them and make enough copies for distribution to family members and to certain public libraries (at present, Chula Vista, San Diego, Carlsbad, Sutro in San Francisco, Library of Congress, NEHGS, etc.).

Obviously, I am not done with my research. There is still A LOT to do! Finding ALL records for each of my ancestral families is a major challenge because there are so many that go back into colonial times. I'm working on the sourcing, and finding more data. Frankly, it is not as much FUN as I want to have. The process is going slowly now as my attention has been diverted to blogging, working with CVGS and helping other researchers.

I have not intentionally contributed my genealogy work to any online database yet - such as WorldConnect, Ancestry or Family Tree Maker. My main reason is that I'm not done with it, it is not adequately sourced and I'm embarrassed by that.

Am I selfish in protecting my own research the way I choose? Yep - I think I am. But it's my choice. I think that my methods described above allow me to share my research data with other researchers, but on my terms and conditions.

What are your ideas on this issue? How do you share your data?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Randy,

I'm up late so I thought I would reply to this post of yours, which I read earlier.

I have been debating this issue as well, since I have been more active lately on working on my family tree. As yet all I have posted on the net is a partial tree on Ancestry as one of their public trees, which isn't viewable through the rootsweb interface. However the problem is that unless I post through World Connect on rootsweb, I likely won't get nearly as many viewers and potential correpsondents with whom to collaborate.

Also I simply *hate* the idea of posting information without sources, as I dislike that from others (glad we aren't related to my knowledge :) ). Sure it makes it easy for someone to rip the common part of my tree that we share and pass it off as their own, maybe even commercially. But as you say, genealogy is usually a work in progress, especially the further back one goes, so they run the risk of having incomplete or wrong information.

This issue also goes hand in hand IMO with the one of genealogy societies that you have been discussing. Ideally, one could publish over time bits of one's research to share and leave for when one is gone, and invite contact and collaboration as well, and in a published print form that is loosely protected by copyright (as to the presentation but not facts), and which documents who had it first. But with the dwindling membership in the societies, as well as the proclivity noted by yourself and George Morgan for members not to read articles that don't directly relate to their own families, then the internet is the only viable choice for publication unless one can get a state level society to publish it.

What I have been thinking about doing is to publish most of my tree on rootsweb and also request one of their free webpages which I can link to on the tree, for posting research extracts and sources and inviting collaboration. Sure I would kind of be giving away the store as it were, and not necessarily getting anything in exchange when I give first. But really I am thinking about distant relatives after I am gone, to insure my work is preserved for them.

Unlike the past 20 years when I was somewhat disorganized, I am trying to be much better organized now. I have always taken fairly good notes compared to the average "tree climber" out there with decent but not full source citations, but have been lazy about using research calendars to note negative searches to help not doing the same search again later. I have purchased and read many times the standards manual of the BCG and ProGen, and hope to publish and share my research according to the higher standards required of professionals and peer reviewed publications. And that simply means always listing sources in anything one publishes, print or internet.

To be honest, my biggest worry is not so much other persons stealing my work without giving credit, but in the thought that they will just repost the same info on rootsweb, which already is so clogged with duplicate information that adds nothing to the information they got from someone else.

As you say, it is a matter of personal preference and one can choose to share in the manner one wishes. And it is very true as well that those "tree climbers" mostly just search the internet, or maybe even subscribe to one or two commercial providers like Ancestry, but don't actually do any further original research in county records that involves reading microfilm or old paper case files and ledgers. All their work except census information, is mainly in derivative sources like abstracts that they can't be sure are accurate or extensive.

One thing though I probably won't share on the internet, at least for a good while, is any kind of involved proof arguments or the historical background of areas where my ancestors lived. This is the kind of stuff that really makes a printed narrative genealogy stand out and be more than just a bunch of begats, even when rigorously footnoted.

Having said all that, I am still not totally certain and share many of your concerns about unlimited sharing. What I really want, and have cultivated with only one other distant cousin, are collaborators who are as willing as I am to do an exhaustive search in original records so as to be able to reach the best genealogical conclusion. As one's tree grows arithmetically the further back one goes, it simply isn't possible without a 24/7 effort to do all the research on all lines by oneself. I'm younger than you, but I still don't think I could get it all done before my time is up. I've picked all the low hanging fruit years ago and am left with untangling difficult problems and scaling brick walls in the early 1800s and late 1700s in America, not to mention 1/4 of my ancestry which is in Germany before 1850.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but you invited discussion :).

Mike Ferguson