Sharing Family History Research, Privacy and the Internet

Everyone who researches their family history ends up sharing their data at one point or another. It is the nature of family history research. I do it myself particularly when I first started out.

Twenty years ago the problem of identity theft was not as big as it is today. We still had to use the mail to share our family history information so you always had a mailing address for the person on the receiving end.

People did not have their entire family trees online. No concern was given to the information relating to the living members of the family.

Today you have an email address that can be as fleeting as sunshine on an overcast day. The personal contact information for the people you are sharing your information with is not freely given either.

I knew things were moving very quickly in the world of family history when my own information came back to me within one year. I had sent out a descendents chart to someone in Australia, they sent it to someone in Florida who sent it to someone in Alabama and then to Texas. Texas sent it back to me and they did not know that the information had originated with me in the first place. Everyone passed it along without informing anyone about the name of the data’s originator.

I then started putting my address stamp on every page of information I sent out.

Next I started shortening the information being shared. I would try to figure out which branch the enquirer came from and send only the information that would relate to them. They would ask for the other branches of the family which would not be given out, especially if our shared ancestor was six generations back.

Sometimes I wish that I knew twenty years ago what I know now and maybe my data would not be floating around the world unidentified. The other thing is that I have improved my research practices. Sources are cited in more detail and even if it is a tiny bit of information from someone they become my source reference.

Hind sight is always twenty twenty and we can only do better when we know better. Everyone is on a learning curve. Not many of us knew how to actually research our family history when we started we just jumped in and went for it.

Lately my own personal data has been found online which came from descendents charts that had been sent to “new cousins” years ago. I had already started making notes of who received what so the trail could be followed. A little piece of innocuous information would be imbedded that could identify who had received it. These people were contacted and nicely asked to remove my data. They very kindly did so right away.

The only problem was with Ancestry who said there was nothing they could do and would not take the information down. I was especially cross when one tree attached my family to another family that was not connected in anyway. This research was wrong and Ancestry would not remove it.

I will admit that these experiences have made me think twice before sharing my family history data. It bothers me to think that way but my research data is a result of my hard work. I am the one who put in all the hours and a little credit for the work would not go awry.

The need people have for the instantaneous fix has permeated family history research and sometimes not in a good way. Not everything can be found online.

I feel sorry for them in a way because they are missing out on a great adventure. There is nothing like planning a genealogy research trip and going to see actual records. Putting your hands on the documents that your ancestors held or being in the same place where they walked down the hall to register a land transaction or birth. Or to be in a Family History Centre reading microfilms and sharing information with the community that gathers there.

In my opinion to miss these kinds of activities in your research is to miss out on a lot. It becomes a gathering data race rather than a personal journey of discovery.

You can not be in touch with your ancestors only through a computer. They did not have one.

And remember to please ask the living members of your family for their permission before you put any data relating to them online. Or better yet do not put any data relating to living relatives online at all. They will thank you in the end.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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