This is just a portion of the tree I created years ago on Ancestry.com
Right now in Salt Lake City, Utah, thousands of genealogists have gathered for RootsTech, one of the biggest genealogy conferences this country has to offer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join them in person this year, but I have been tuning in to the live stream available on their site.
Though we’re only just beginning the third day of the conference, I have already gleaned so much inspiring and enlightening information about all aspects of genealogy. However, there has been a clear theme to much of what has been said, and that is the importance of sharing our research with each other. It’s a topic I have long held as an important aspect of family history research. That’s why I am taking this opportunity to create this PSA of sorts in an effort to remind and encourage all of you to get your research published online.
I know many people shudder at the idea of sharing your personal research with the world. After all, you have worked hard to find the documents and evidence needed to grow your tree, and much of that information feels incredibly personal to you. You may be concerned about privacy or be worried that others may corrupt the work that you’ve done. And while your concerns may be valid, I strongly encourage you to consider the following reasons to publish your family tree before dismissing the idea entirely.
I am always amazed by how many people consider family history research to be a solitary hobby. After all, you are researching a family, a group with many, many members who share a unique set of commonalities. By allowing yourself to work in collaboration with other people who share a common ancestry, you open the doors to finding so much more than you would ever be able to discover on your own. Think of it this way: most of your history is unpublished. It will never be found in a library or an archive. Instead it sits in a box or a drawer in some distant relative’s home, or in the memories of a yet-to-be-discovered cousin. If you close yourself off to these people, you may find all of the relevant names and dates, but you will never learn the full story of your ancestors’ lives. Which leads me to my next point…
Sharing your work online is THE BEST way to grow your family tree. How do you find those distant relatives who possess the information you’re looking for? Well, you may be able to find a tree or website they’ve published. But what if they haven’t shared their information either? By sharing your own research you may find that they will come to you. And if you have never felt the excitement of discovering a new cousin and sharing memories and photos with that person, then you are missing out on one of my favorite aspects of genealogy.
Although you may feel protective of the work you’ve done, it’s important to remember that your research would not have been possible without the work of many other genealogists. If you have ever used a published tree online, a family file or collection of personal papers at a library or archive, or a published book to further your research, then you have relied on the work of others – people who were willing to share their personal research in order to help others who share an interest in the same family. Yes, it is your family, but it is also the family of hundreds or even thousands of other people. Remember my very first post here and the WISH-TV appearance Tiffany and I did? We talked about how connected we all are and how likely it is that we have at least one common ancestor. We are a community of people, and we can accomplish so much more together than we will ever do on our own.
Finally, I want to address the issue of privacy. I know the web can be scary. It’s sometimes dangerous to share too much in the wrong place. However, all of the major family-tree building sites have extensive privacy measure in place. For instance, all information about people who are still living, including their names, is blocked and cannot be seen by the public. Beyond that, little of the information relative to family history is going to be of any use to someone who seeks to do harm to others. Of course, it’s important to use your head and be careful whenever you’re using the web, but the idea that sharing your family history online somehow opens you up and makes you vulnerable in any way is unfounded.
Have I convinced you yet?
I hope so.
Now that you’re ready to get your research published, here’s a quick list of my three favorite places to do so.
There may be plenty of reasons to dislike this mega-player in the genealogy field, but that does not negate the fact that they are the biggest provider of genealogy information online, and that means more users. The whole point of publishing is to make your research available to as many people as possible, and uploading your tree to Ancestry.com will accomplish that. It does not cost anything to create a tree on their website, and you don’t have to use their software or any of their other services to do so. Make sure your tree is public, not private, in order to optimize your ability to collaborate.
FamilySearch recently launched a new and much-improved version of their online family tree. I have only just begun to add my own family to this new service, but already I am impressed by the degree of collaboration available through doing so. Like Ancestry.com, there are an impressive number of users on the site, which allows for maximum exposure of your research. Also here is no cost for creating or maintaining a tree on their site.
Before I list the last place to share your tree, I want to issue a small word of warning about the first two. Because all of the trees on both sites are user-created, there is no guarantee of their accuracy. In other words, just because you find a name or date listed there doesn’t mean it’s correct. Always do your best to verify information before you post it to avoid spreading erroneous research. Also, both sites do allow you to add source information for everything you include on your tree, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of that feature. It will make it much easier for others to verify the accuracy of your work.
3. Blogs & Websites
More and more genealogists are choosing to publish their work via personal blog or website. It is the best way to have full control of what and how you publish. Your site will be able to be discovered by other researchers through searching the web. Just make sure you provide a way for them to contact you. This method is definitely not as simple or straight forward as the first two, but blogging sites like WordPress and Blogger have made it easier than you may think.
These are only a few of the many ways in which you can publish your research online. Hopefully, you’ll consider doing so in the future, and if you do, I’d love to hear which method you’ve chosen!
I agree wholeheartedly with your recommendation to publish. I have had my family tree database posted on RootsWeb WorldConnect for more than a decade. I chose RootsWeb to be the repository, because at the time I decided to share my information, RootsWeb was one of the oldest of the genealogy websites around, and because there was no charge to access any of RootsWeb’s data. I felt posting my research there was a way for me to make a statement about my belief in the free exchange of information. Unfortunately, RootsWeb.com was subsequently acquired by Ancestry.com, and Ancestry.com has now taken all of the information originally posted on RootsWeb and copied it over to Ancestry, as well. As you know, there is a subscription fee to get into many of Ancestry.com’s records.
Although I suspected there could be flaws in my information when I first uploaded my family tree files to RootsWeb WorldConnect, I also knew that I had made an honest effort to research the people in it. I include anyone who had any relationship whatsoever with my known relatives, so my database is quite large. Naturally, the individuals who are more closely related to me have been more exhaustively researched than the more distantly connected folks. Often the mistakes in my database are not mine, but mistakes in the records themselves. If, for example, a census taker misspelled a person’s name, and it was the only record I ever found for that person, then the person’s name is probably misspelled in my files. If, for example, a woman intentionally fudged on her year of birth on her marriage application, and it was the only record I ever found on her, then her age is probably wrong in my files. Even though such mistakes were honest errors, I have occasionally had to suffer the consequences of having posted wrong information. Most people are polite and provide me with the correct details, which I revise immediately, but I’ve had a few people contact me over the years who were not very nice about it.
Nonetheless, I can’t say enough about the value of posting one’s research online. Even after all of these years, I still receive e-mails from people, thanking me profusely for doing so and (the best part) offering me revised or brand new information. I continue to research the people in my database myself, whenever I have a chance, and I continue to receive a correction or addition every week or two from someone who has seen my family tree online. This means my information is constantly becoming more accurate. Having researched my ancestors and their extended families has provided me with a much greater understanding of the places from which they came and the places in which they settled. In particular, I have benefitted by gaining a better understanding of the history of the place that I call home, Indianapolis. Since my father’s ancestors arrived in Indianapolis early in the city’s existence, I’ve learned that I am related to a lot of people who were part of Indianapolis’ evolution (albeit often only through a series of marriages).
If you — or anyone else reading this comment — would like to check out my family tree database, here’s the link: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=connections. Corrections and additions are always welcome!