Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thoughts on Private Trees

Tree image used courtesy of ClipArt Panda.
Private trees generate much discussion in the genealogical community, particularly when it comes to DNA. Those with private trees provide a number of reasons for making their trees unavailable to others--adoptions and non-paternal events, work in progress, plagiarism or unauthorized use of their data and images in books or publications by others, the way they use their tree (such as to sort out multiple persons with the same name), and an admission of the tree's messiness.

I agree with the right to keep one's tree private, but I also believe many with private trees who took or manage DNA tests could benefit from a stripped-down public tree which would provide useful information for their matches. I used this option when I realized I wanted to use Ancestry to  review of older genealogical data and expand my tree. My main tree is private. I plan to make it public at some point, but not until I am far enough back in my review to make it useful.

Adoptees and persons with non-paternal events have valid reasons for keeping their trees private. It is absolutely the right thing to do when the situation demands privacy because of sensitive information regarding living individuals which might be revealed because their identity might be deduced through those who are no longer living.

All trees are a work in progress. If you are uncertain about a conclusion, find a work-around. Add notes and comments. I often do this in one of the viewable options such as the birth field. For instance, I might want to include a note to let others know the parents of an ancestor is a built case rather than one relying on documentation. Although no evidence located to date overturns the conclusion, it is a case which needs to be reviewed in light of DNA evidence. It is a conclusion I feel needs to be strengthened. A note in the birth field for the ancestor and a note somewhere on his parents' individual pages asking other descendants to contact me might actually be helpful.

Many persons are concerned with other individuals copying their work or using their images in books, blog posts, and other works. The typical reply to those persons is, "If you do not want your work or images used by others, do not post it online." For those of us who began our genealogical quest before the days of the Internet, we remember this was a concern even in the days of print media. Some persons who sent information to cousins always found "their work" showing up in other publications, usually without attribution. It even happened to me a few times. In the digital age, it is easier to do. If we make information available online, other people will look at it, and use it. Some will cite it; others will not. Is making the tree private the solution? I personally do not think so. I grew more discerning when others requested information. I simply did not offer to send "everything" to individuals. I asked what information they were seeking, offering an answer to their specific need. I might be able to help them through a brick wall so they could continue their own research. In fact, I sometimes asked them if they had looked at a specific set of records where I uncovered the answer rather than giving it to them. To me, the Ancestry default view is a presentation of facts. Facts must be documented and correlated. It is difficult to steal facts. Adding images from personal collections is completely optional. If a person posts these and makes the images publicly available, other people can and will benefit. I suspect all of us use scanned images of records others provided on their trees, particularly when a visit to a particular repository would be required to obtain them. Most of us just attach them to our own trees without downloading them since Ancestry offers the option, but some people download them. When downloading, it is good practice to add a citation to the image in your photo-editing software so you know the provenance of the image. If you are still concerned with plagiarim or with others using your work, utilize the private option, but also create a stripped-down public version of the the tree.

I often run across trees where identities of two or more persons with the same name are merged into one individual. In this morning's discussion, one person admitted to placing information on seven men of the same name and approximate same name in the same location in one individual to sort it out. While I think better tools for sorting exist, some researchers feel this works for them. I usually use Excel spreadsheets or Word tables, which are color-coded as I assign information to one of the individuals. The old-fashioned note card method also works. Why not have a second public tree which contains only proven information on direct lines?

If your tree is messy, would it be easier to begin a second tree containing only proven information and document it as you go rather than trying to sort through the mess? Would a third tree containing only proven direct line ancestors with stripped-down information help you and your DNA matches in the meantime?

I mentioned a stripped-down public version of a tree in several places. This tree needs to contain the full name of the person along with any nicknames. (For example, Salome Olive "Ollie" Lantz.) It also needs to include birth/marriage/death dates and locations. Sometimes geography is the key to locating the match or the line from which the match is likely to come. My stripped down tree only contains direct-line ancestors. I do, however, build out the tree to other relatives who tested so I can get by with only a single tree. I even build their direct lines back a few generations.

You have a right to keep your tree private, but please consider offering a stripped-down public version of your tree for DNA matching purposes.


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