The Family Tree team were delighted to meet and chat with many family history enthusiasts at the recent Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in Birmingham earlier this month. One of the recurring questions I noticed when talking to visitors, both new and experienced, was how generous should we be when sharing our family tree data online?
Of course, most of us want to see family history thrive, both as a profession and a hobby. But it’s human nature to feel a bit of a pang when a complete stranger approaches you after being shown a ‘match’ on a family history website. Why should you hand over information about your ancestors to someone who might then take their resulting brand new, shiny family tree and show it with pride to all and sundry? After all, that was your hard work…
Let family history thrive!
But perhaps we’re looking at this the wrong way. Isn’t it great to think that someone’s new to the hobby and is inspired enough to try to find out more? A generous response in terms of sharing your online tree (or part of it) and maybe even answering some questions about your ancestors could lead not only to helping someone develop their passion for family history, but maybe even putting you in touch with living relatives you never knew you had.
And of course, because you’ve taken such a pride in building your tree, researching your ancestors and double-checking all your information (of course you have!) you can feel the satisfaction of knowing that your rock-solid research is helping others – and maybe helping to counteract some of those hastily drawn up and scantily researched family trees that we’ve all come across online.
Sharing your information need not all be one-sided either. Not only might the person requesting your family tree be a distant relative, they may have access to family stories, documents or photographs which you haven’t yet seen.
The reason many of us love family history is because we never stop learning. So why not be open to sharing some of the information that you’ve gathered, in the hope that you might learn something new yourself – if not from the person who originally contacts you, but maybe further down the line? Once your tree has been shared, it’ll potentially match with other visitors to the website in question, putting you in the path of some useful contacts.
So let family history thrive! Despite my natural instinct to guard ‘my’ information (and the all-important rule of not giving out information on people who are still alive) I’m going to be generous with my ancestry. After all, if my grandparents hadn’t spent their time telling me family stories, I wouldn’t be enjoying family history as both a hobby and a job today; my forebears took the time to share their tales with me and I want to repay their kindness by being generous with the next generation of family history enthusiasts.
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(image copyright Christiaandup – Creative Commons Licence)