Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Worthless Message Boards and Mailing Lists

I have gotten fed up with the Rootsweb mailing list and Genforum message board for a certain county in which a lot of my ancestors lived. Why? Because there are some resident data collectors there. Now, I know that they are trying to be helpful; however, they are causing more harm than good. How is that? It's because the data that they are collecting is not documented. They can't tell you where they got it. Sometimes it came from an undocumented GEDCOM file. Is the data they are collecting correct? According to local experts, they have connected wrong individuals with the wrong families in at least half, if not 60% of the cases. Here's how these data collectors operate. Someone posts a query to the county. Instead of waiting on someone who is really researching that family to post a reply based on their research (which is documented), these data collectors go to their database, find an individual that matches at least part of the query and report back with a family group sheet or short descendants report with names, dates, spouses, and SSNs from the SSDI. These data collectors are people who've never grown to appreciate true family research. The "head data collector" lives all the way across the country from the county in question. As far as the people with the historical society and the persons who have worked in the county courthouse for years know, he has never set foot in the county. Why is he even collecting the info? What does he really plan to do with it?

If that isn't enough, there is one guy who posts current obituaries all the time to the message boards. The bad thing here is that the privacy of living individuals is being compromised. Some would argue that they are already online at the papers; however, most newspapers only keep that info available online for a short period of time after which it is either removed or after which it is moved to the paid archives. There's a reason for this. If I am really interested in an obituary, I'll pay the $3 to get it if I missed it during it's free period. I've done that very thing. Furthermore, there is a potential copyright issue here. Some newspapers claim copyright to obituaries; others don't. The reason some don't is because the info in them comes from family members so they actually say that the family owns the copyright or that it is based on facts which can't be copyrighted. The problem here is that there are some things which are more creative in an obituary which are not necessarily common knowledge so it's not necessarily free of copyright. There is widespread copyright infringement on this message board. Genforum was contacted a few years ago about the problem but refused to do anything about it. Now their message board is totally useless. All that is there are undocumented family group sheets and current obituaries. People who are truly looking for real help will not find it through those channels because all they'll receive is poor research. The true researchers quit visiting years ago. In fact, when the true researchers visit the county, they often comment on the worthlessness of Genforum for that county. It's truly a sad state of affairs.

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