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Sharing genealogical information online
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Joined: 5/10/2010
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Created By:Jean Powers
We've received a lot of feedback on our recent TWG article on online sharing of genealogical information. I thought it might be interesting to get a discussion started here!

User Rank: Contributor
Joined: 8/9/2010
Posts: 38

Created By:Dale H. Cook

Sharing information online is a worthy endeavor - I have done so with part of my 20+ years of research on the early generations of the Samuel and Elizabeth (___) Packard family of Hingham, Weymouth and Bridgewater, MA. Putting the information online is a major project which is still ongoing.


It seems to me that there are two obstacles to effective sharing of genealogical research online. One concerns the posters and the other the visitors.


There is no link to the website in the Trib story mentioned in the blog, so I do not know how well documented it is. I have always tried to encourage amateur genealogists to document their shared information so that visitors can see what ground has been covered, and evaluate the reliability of that information in light of the types of sources used. This encouragement sometimes falls upon deaf ears, such as those of one woman whose online family tree was derived from her database of 50,000+ individuals. Because she did not use documentation in her database her tree was similarly undocumented, and so of questionably utility. She seemed interested only in having lots of people in her database and tree, and not concerned with the validity of what she posted.


Although I have 10,000+ names in the database which I have built over the last 25 years, only a very small part (a few hundred individuals) of that information is online, as I try to present information clearly, succinctly, and with documentation. Converting information from my database to the type of presentation which I prefer takes time and effort. I would rather not dump the whole database online in a format which might be difficult to follow, confusing, or poorly documented. Some areas in that database are currently speculative and the subject of ongoing research, and that might confuse some visitors if it was posted online.


That leads to one topic for discussion - how can we encourage documentation of online information, and in what ways do NEHGS members document information posted online?


The obstacle concerning visitors is that many of them seem unfamiliar with the modern (i.e., Jacobus school and later) standards of genealogy, and so are at a loss when trying to evaluate the reliability of what they find online. Those of us who have read major journals such as the Register for many years and have used professionaly prepared works such as the Great Migration series are accustomed to modern standards of evidence.


That leads to a second topic for discussion - how can we encourage the critical faculty in those seeking genealogical information online?

Dale H. Cook, Member, NEHGS and MA Society of Mayflower Descendants;
Plymouth Co. MA Coordinator for the USGenWeb Project
Administrator of

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Joined: 9/29/2011
Posts: 21

Created By:Donna Goodwin

 Dear Dale,


 Truly enjoyed your comment.  I have had a lot of erroneous information from other Trees.  It did not take long to realize no one seems to think documentation is necessary.  As a retired nurse, we were always told, " if it is not documented, it was never done".

  I would like to see more people concerned with their family history to make it an accurate account of their lives and stop worrying about how many people are on their tree.

  I found that my husband and I have family who came over on the Mayflower and I was thrilled - enough to make sure my efforts were accurate.  This is a legacy for my grandsons.

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Joined: 2/15/2012
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Created By:lisa taisey
Donna..excellent response!  I rely on kindess of others & helpful sharing of info from strangers.  I don't know if I would be here today writing a response if not for them.  Folks sharing their info with others who need help is something I will PAY FORWARD to others who are in need.  I think we all can agree that BIG BROTHER is a LARGE nuisance already on the internet and we do not need more 'HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATIONS RIDING AROUND IN GOLF CARTS" to patrol who is sharing what information!!!
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Created By:Darlene Burbine

 Sharing Information

       I've recently found a second and fourth cousin through my research and I've shared some finds with them and learned from them too. I shared some finds also with a cousin and a sister. I've found by talking to others even those not researching I have found other information out. It was also nice to share. Most discussions were private. I'm hoping that I'll find more when Massachusetts 1940 census is indexed, because of those who have moved. I wonder if a spouse died in some cases. I found my grandfather, his brother, and their step- brother living very close together. I shared some censuses online and my first cousin could also see friend our mothers knew. It initially saw my uncle(her father) with his parents when I was looking for my great uncle's family.

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Created By:Lenora

I'm afraid I was one of those folks who did not document sources in my on-line family trees.  While I had the source documents (or at least copies) in my files, I simply did not show my sources.  I subscribe to Ancestry, and am in the process of adding a story to my ancestors that includes lists of source materials.  I have had discussions with other genealogists (family historians) who don't like to share their sources.  They feel others should have to do some work on their own.  My feeling is that I don't want to leave a legacy of undocumented material, regardless of where it is posted.  

With so much material on the internet, it is always desirable to be able to validate the information we see.  We need to be able to tell the serious researcher from someone who simply copies what they see.    

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Created By:Jim Collins 1
I guess I'm enough of an egotist that I want the world to see my site, butI spent some time to set it up in such a way that it would be easy to useand difficult to copy in large pieces: one person per page, bulleted "timeline" entries, no pretty sentences telling a story, etc. If someone wantsto spend the time to copy all those individual pieces, then good luck tothem.Meanwhile its out there where anybody can find it, and extract the infothey are looking for, and hopefully help in their research. But I feelfairly confident no one can copy the whole thing and distribute it astheir own work.I believe in "telling it all", that is, providing source images when andwhere ever I can find them, and making my source citations as full andcomplete as possible.I realize I am probably in the minority of researchers who feel this way.They might share info on a one to one basis, but certainly not share itwith the world where you loose control of where it goes, and worst of all(God forbid) they would not receive any credit for coming up with it inthe first place. I know that people are visiting my site. It averagesthree hits per day. That, for me, is sufficient reward for putting itout there. After all, what good is the best research if it is kept hiddenunder a bushel, and passes into oblivion after you join the ranks of yourdatabase?

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Created By:Linda Massey
I started the same way as Lenora. I think we have all been there, and only after getting knee deep into it, do people realize the importance of checking and sourcing the information. I think the lack of it is indicative of the lack of teaching of proper research and source citations in school. So many kids come into college without having any clue how to do this on a simple paper, never mind thinking about it when putting together family information. For new visitors I think it is critical to start presenting these simple concepts in genealogical research up front, and engaging them in the process, giving relevant examples to illustrate at the basic level (ex. in order to get a passport or license you need to present documentation that proves to the government your place and date of birth - same is true for doing or sharing family research, you need some document to know the information is accurate), and working from there. Education is really the only way to change things in this respect. People have to first know how to do something before they will begin doing it.

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