Who Owns Your Genealogy Data?

Overheard at a genealogy conference recently (repeated from memory so the wording might not be exact):

Person #1: “I won’t put my genealogy information online because I am afraid someone might steal it.”

Person #2: “Where did you obtain all that information?”

Person #1: “From freely available public records, including census records, birth and death records, newspapers, and such.”

OK, now let me add my own comments and questions: All of those records are always available to everyone else. What is person #1 trying to hide?

You may refer to the information you collect as “my ancestry” or “my records,” but that doesn’t mean that you own the information. In fact, most genealogy information in the U.S. and Canada is freely available to everyone in the public domain. Nobody can claim that data as their own.

Yes, there are exceptions for new interpretations or for any analysis that you create, but the names, places, and dates are always public domain and typically are already available elsewhere to anyone who cares to take the time to look. Since it is already freely available elsewhere, I see no reason to try to hide the information. You certainly cannot claim ownership of names, dates, and places. It isn’t “your” information!

I won’t publish names or other information about living individuals for several reasons, but I have freely published information online about my deceased ancestors. Anyone who wants the information is free to copy it. The concept of “protecting my genealogy information” strikes me as laughable, as long as we are not talking about living persons. If anyone wants to learn about my ancestry, or yours, they can do so in the same manner that I did: one record at a time. In fact, I hope they do so and, if they find anything I overlooked, I hope they tell me!

Information about one’s ancestry is freely available everywhere in books, microfilms, old records in various archives, and sometimes online. “Protecting” it from others strikes me as a waste of time.

98 Comments

Dick, I hear what you’re saying, but “freely available” might be an overstretch. I think what people are protecting is their time, money and expertise in digging all this stuff up. But in the same breath, we hear the same people lamenting the poor quality and unsourced material that many people just grab from the internet and think it is all true–and then copy it all over again in perpetuity. We had quite a debate on this when we created the Northern Neck of Virginia Families Tree on ancestry.com. Our majority decision was to stop complaining about all the garbage out there, and provide an open-sourced (invitation required) project where people could put their research–with sources–on line in hopes that ultimately a researcher will be able to sort the wheat from the chaffe. Overall, it’s been a very worthwhile endeavor.

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I often wonder why living names are kept private, they are readily available from many sources, social media, Obituaries, newspapers just to mention a few. Just a thought.

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    —> I often wonder why living names are kept private, they are readily available from many sources, social media, Obituaries, newspapers just to mention a few.

    For reasons that have nothing to do with copyrights or ownership.

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    It’s not the names. It’s the other information – dates of birth, mother’s maiden names, etc. that can be used to steal identities and do other Bad Things. After all, we don’t know if someone is being stalked or a homicidal former spouse.

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    Several issues I can think of – identity theft using dates and places of birth and maiden names of living people; stalkers and homicidal former spouses trying to find living people.

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I don’t believe in protecting genealogy data, but documents and photos are another matter. I keep my active trees offline because I have mass amounts of media attached to them that are from repositories that prohibit sharing or from others that do not want them online. When I started using FTM, there was no option to keep specific media private, so syncing my tree would have violated the TOS on multiple sites. At this point, I’m not going to go through all of my media to figure out which is which just so I can put up a public tree.

I would also argue that the photos that many people have are not freely available. I’m not unwilling to share mine, but I like to connect with the cousin personally (online) first. I’ve met many cousins that way and we have shared both directions, but that doesn’t mean I am going to put all my photos out there for anyone to attach to their tree, and most of the cousins that I have met feel the same way. There are too many instances of people that attach anything and everything to the wrong person. I don’t want photos of my grandparents & great grandparents attached to some stranger, and I have heard too many stories of that happening when photos are shared on sites with an “attach to my tree” button.

I love interacting and sharing with other genealogists researching the same person, but prefer to keep my trees offline except for specific parts that I am comfortable sharing.

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    I feel exactly the same, as so much misinformation has been attached to some of my family data by those who do not follow a practice of proving their statements. The result being, a family I do not recognize, it is so jumbled.

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    I agree with Patricia (below) — & “Collecting Cousins” (above). I love to share, but PLEASE don’t change things, especially incorrectly, and attribute it to me! Patti/Trish/Pat/I answer to most anything.

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    I agree. I have tons of photos going back to 1850 or 1860. Being descended from portrait photographers, I freely share with people I have contacted on line. At the same time on Ancestry, I have found close relatives attached to the wrong parents.

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    “Freely available” sort of irks me. I have long been more than an armchair genealogist.Some records simply are not available on the internet.

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By “steal” I suspect that Person #1 is less concerned about any legal rights in respect of data than s/he is about someone copying (without acknowledgement) the product of the time and money that s/he has invested. Ultimately I think the advantages of publishing one’s research outweigh the disadvantages: I have made many connections that would not have been possible if I had chosen to keep my research private.

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I agree with you Dick. I don’t believe that anyone not related would want pictures of my long deceased relatives. And what if they do end up posted with the wrong nme some place. I would not know and they sure don’t care. In the meantime, no have received lots of gratitude from distant relatives. You can call hiding trees by any logical argument you wish, but to me it is an ego trip. You get what you give and I choose to share. Thanks for voicing your opinion.

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    Peggy D. Woodward March 21, 2015 at 1:50 am

    I agree with Midge. And for some it may be an ego trip. If my cousin (whom I had never met) would not have shared my Grandparents wedding picture with me online I would not have had the honor of seeing a picture of my Grandmother who died 5 years before I was born! She made my day! I was so overcome with emotion that I just bawled! And I make my trees Public because I have nothing to hide! And I love to share. I was raised that way! Thank you Mr. Eastman for your expertise. I appreciate all that you do!

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    I’m on an EGO TRIP because I don’t wish to post my family trees online? WHAT? Are you serious? That’s about the most absurd thing I’ve read in this entire thread of comments.

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I retreated to making my great-grandparents the home person. I feel no personal violation when that data is inaccurately or without reason copied into a tree merely to add numbers.

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I’m prepared to put my tree and my research out at a time of my own choosing, when I’m quite sure all my conclusions are correct and verifiable. Then I can take proper responsibility for my research, and hopefully also get the credit for the trouble I’ve taken to assemble the facts.

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I agree with your position for the most part BUT providing DNA is another matter entirely. There are mountains of court rulings & precedents indicating that the government does NOT have a legal right to a persons DNA. Even the common criminal (if there is such a thing) is guaranteed the right to privacy by the constitution and the 4th amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. A court order is required before DNA can be collected. When you get genetic DNA testing through a third party, that information becomes subject to government access much in the same manner as phone records are today. No matter how much I want to learn my origin I will NEVER provide my DNA to a third party for testing because of the potential of government abuse of my rights.

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    I am so screwed then. Drat! That did not occur to me when I had a service process my DNA. I was looking for a genealogy past ( which I got – sort of) but did not think Big Brother would be interested in a super-subatomic person like me. Can’t think of what I could possibly offer to them.

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Keeping family trees private is something that I fully understand.
The privacy has nothing to do with the names and dates it has to do with the photos and stories of family information that has been misused and misnamed by others.
I have had people tell me that I don’t know the vital information of my grandparents.
Personally I am sick and tired of what I call genealogy thieves. People trying to attach themselves wrongly to your family
just to be able to make their own family trees larger.
You are right Dick the information does come from public records but the most precious thing a person has is their life and family.
To me it’s like identity theft of ones family living or dead. I am not about to make their actions easier.
If a person can prove to me that they are truly family then I am very kind and willing to help, otherwise the answer is no.
Our family has been part of family theft using ones family information for their own gain even if it is just to make their tree larger.
You can choose to do as you seek fit with your family information and I will do what I see fit.
With all that said you do as you please and I will do the same

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    Well said. I agree completely. I’m tired of people putting my parents in their trees. It does feel like a personal violation. I don’t put my trees online. I find that about 95% of the world doesn’t do genealogical research, they just copy other people’s trees and take offense when you let them know they have cobbled together the wrong families. Others are just trying to collect as many names as they can in their trees for some sort of bragging rights.

    I don’t find I’ve needed to put everything out there hoping to find others researching the same lines, because I find most people have not done nearly the amount and kind of research that I have.

    I completely disagree with “it’s all public record” as a justification for violating someone’s privacy. Just because someone is a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th cousin doesn’t mean you have a, shall I say, “moral” right to put them in your public tree online. Private is fine, and collaborating with other proven family members, but not in public.

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Linda in Lancaster March 21, 2015 at 6:41 am

I kept my family tree off of Ancestry.com for a lot of reasons. I have just recently added it so I could connect with cousins. HOWEVER! I have put just the obtainable facts on this tree. I have found word for word pages from a website I created years ago on other peoples Ancestry sites. When I say years ago, I mean in the 1990’s. So much has changed since then and I feel responsible for my information, but I can’t contact each and every person who has or might have seen it on other’s pages and copied it, etc. I can only change my information and hope they see mine. I have asked people to take down photos that are exclusively mine (family photos, etc.) some have complied others have been reminded of copyrights, etc.
Public facts that I’ve traveled for and spent time researching for, I don’t mind sharing, but please, share your information with me. Isn’t that what community is, after all? Family photos and documents are another matter and should be dealt with accordingly.

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I totally disagree. Those who write books, speeches etc. use material freely accessible at libraries ,on the internet and so on. You are saying that because the information was free the material belongs to everyone, so why acknowledge anything? Plagiarism is using another person’s ideas as one’s own without acknowledgement which is what Ancestry and others are doing and then charging for that information. We have been researching our genealogy for decades, making decisions, paying for records etc. I feel I have a right to be credited for my effort. If not, it is pure plagiarism.

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    Not such a great idea when you’re the one doing all the work and it shows up later on the Internet with someone else taking all the credit. If someone wants help I have never been one to turn them down but to upload 40 yrs. of genealogy to the internet is not something I would do. I can always tell though which were researched and which were copied. The copied trees always have the same errors. One of my pet peeves are those who post living persons online.
    I don’t think they realize the danger they are putting those people in. Identity theft is not pretty.

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Using the information is one thing. On that I agree. I use information from online sources all the time. The problem comes when people copy entire narratives and past them into their online genealogy programs. I spent many hours combining and editing to end up with a life narrative that reads well and that tells the story as I am able to determine it. To have my work then copied and used without change is not only a violation it is plain wrong. Thus I maintain an open page with birth, death, census, burial, and occupation. The remainder of my work which includes extensive narratives and photographs is located in online data pages I limit through password to relatives only. It really is a shame that a few people with little respect drove the bulk of my work behind closed doors. I simply got tired of doing ancestry searches only to find entire narratives without change in others data.
TC

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    Please explain about setting up a private site

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    I once found my narrative of information about one of my ancestors (taken from a mailing list at Rootsweb back in the day) on someone else’s website, but bless ’em, they gave me a full and exact citation. Some folks at least do know how to publish their genealogy with proper sourcing and make the effort to do so.

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I’ve posted my family tree online. Places where I “make a leap of faith” [ lack of birth certificate, etc., but other supporting records ] I clearly mark as not proven. I post my supporting information for the edification of others. I solicit others with better information to contact me and we can combine what we know.

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Julia French Wood March 21, 2015 at 9:06 am

I have lines that took years to prove using many documents that were not free. It took me seven years to prove one line using documents that I had to order, back when everything wasn’t online and much of it isn’t today. Proof for that line was contained in four Rev. War pensions that cost $50 each, not to mention having to travel to MO to search for Probate records and purchase Wills from VA and NC for $65 each. The only “free” documensts were on microfilm from the LDS and it cost $5.00 per roll without even knowing if I would find my family on the rolls or if what I found would help in my search. At one time I had 115 rolls in the drawer at the LDS and “renewed” many of them for another $5. I own a library of over 500 genealogy books as well.

Not free.

I do post my tree since I am the only person on earth who knows my ancestors. My only gripe is that people who take my work add children, siblings or wives that don’t belong and, then, others copy the trees that are not correct.

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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Several have copied my public tree. But what about updates? I correct and enhance my sources but do they keep up?

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When I started putting research on line, I decided to truncate the family trees at the next to last generation which contained no living members. I had already shared all my research with everyone whose parents or grandparents were not going to appear on-line, and I didn’t see any reason to help idle busybodies or identity thieves collect data. I felt the information most real genealogists were going to be interested in were the numerous ties of blood and marriage between a number of families who settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the late 18th Century, so I included a lot of sources and analysis, along with links to the public websites of other researchers in the area. Someone, instead of linking to my site, copied the entire thing (including the analysis and all the design elements — colors, fonts, layout, etc.) to her own. Not only did she refuse to take it down, she also refused to update it when I made some subsequent corrections to my own site. This individual did the same to many others, with the end result that a number of researchers in the area pulled their own materials off the web and stopped sharing with people they didn’t know.

More recently, my cousin was contacted by someone interested in some of our research who offered to share. She happily furnished him with a substantial amount detailed research on a previously unpublished line she had spent a lot of time and effort to unravel. Not only did she never hear from him again. She discovered he had published a book on this family, including all of the information and analysis she had shared with him, without attribution, and without even a thank you mention in the foreword. She no longer shares her research with people she doesn’t know.

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    By private site I mean password protected pages. I use hosting service provided by John Cardinal and also use his program for building a website from my TMG data set. I build one site with minimal data and build a second with full data and sources. A front page then gives access to each of the sites with user name and password required for the full sites. Take a peak at http://www.tcottrell.com to see what I mean. TC

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In former times courtesy and respect would not have been overlooked. There is an added element to consider. I have researched and considered lines we may or may not be related to and to support my decision I have paid for DNA kits. I have not only used them to analyze my research, but have used the DNA to help link others together. Utilizing DNA and genealogical research to make decisions is an entirely new aspect of genealogy completely out of the realm of the cut and paste genealogy which is being promoted as “genealogical research”. I am happy to share my research but I think I am due credit for my findings. BAM

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I published a family genealogy book that I spent 20 years and many dollars researching and publishing. I never put any parts of this book or photos or documents from it on Ancestry or any other Internet site. I continue to sell it today. I was very distressed to find that many people had copied whole generations from my book and put them on Ancestry, exactly as I had compiled them along with all my analysis of ages, and names, photos and even documents. I contacted Ancestry several times along with proofs of copyright infringement and never heard from them. I feel that this has really cut into my sales as why would people now pay for something that they can get for free on Ancestry. Not one of these family trees has sited my book as their source.

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    Please contact the Ancestry legal department, I think they should be interested in this. I got them to remove my name and date of birth from their public volumes, as well as my mother’s obituary. I would like to see more people make formal complaints to Ancestry. They might then take notice. I think you have an excellent case and it sounds like you didn’t get through the layers of defense to their legal dept. Good luck, and please keep persuing this. It’s important to help protect information for all of us who care about this kind of theft.

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    Ancestry cares about one person. ANCESTRY and nobody else. We do the work and they bring in the bucks. As for copyright they don”t give 2 shags about it. I found that out also a few years ago with many of the pictures I have in my collection that are all marked copyright. I’m beginning to think that copyright is a joke to be honest.

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I agree with many. I don’t mind sharing with others the facts of my families, but my problem is when I think I found a bit on a family and start to read it and someone has copied what I wrote word for word and never asked if they could or given credit. I waste a lot of time. Also I did a one month Ancestry membership just to see if I could really find much there. Alas I did not find much on any of my people. What frustrated me though was thinking I may find a picture and 99% of the time it was a picture I had attached to Find A Grave. My photos were everywhere with no credit on most. (and yes as one person mentioned attached to the wrong people as well) A waste of time for me to go through. I did find a couple of pictures I wished to have, but I wrote to the person who originally posted it (sometimes hard to backtrack) and asked if I could copy it for myself. And yes we did end up sharing some as a result.

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I have a number of reasons that I keep my online tree private.
Some of those reasons have already been mentioned by other people.

On important reason is that I see in the public trees at ancestry.com is the large number of errors.

I have seen trees that seem to have some of my relatives mixed in with other unrelated families. In one case, I saw my grandfather Jacob Behrman listed as “Joseph” with a source of a 1940 Census record for “Jacob”. I tried to message the owner with a obvious correction. But, I never heard back from them even though ancestry said they had been online recently.

I don’t want my research taken by unrelated or distantly related people and then see it applied to the wrong people and families.

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    I did that once entirely by accident, not realizing I was following the wrong family trail because of people from Sweden with the same names. A very nice man saw that I’d added the wrong people to my tree and messaged me to tell me. I was very grateful!

    It appears to me, reading all of these comments, that there are too many negative judgments and too much pejorative language regarding the intent of others. Why not give people the benefit of the doubt? Especially after posting work to websites, it seems unnecessarily petty and negative to assume ill-intent on the part of strangers merely because they think that information was posted and made public in order to share it, or because they made an honest mistake.

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Looking over all the comments, it appears to me that when someone uses the excuse, “It’s public information so I have as much right to it as anyone else,” to justify publishing information received from another researcher wholesale, they are indeed committing a form of theft.

What they are stealing is not information itself, but the credit for *compiling* that public information into an organized form that makes it useful to others. The compiling and organizing was done by someone else, and is the result of the creative processes that went on in that other person’s brain as he or she decided which resources to search, which records to rely on, which pieces of evidence were relevant, and how all those bits and pieces of “public information” fit together into a related family tree. In publishing the end result as his or her own, without attribution, the thief has stolen the credit that is due to the person who put the whole package together, and that is indeed the researcher’s personal belonging, not simple “public information.”

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    Nicely put as to what people feel they’re losing. Re: identity thieves: The Bad Guys don’t have to *look* at Ancestry. Ancestry’s data can be ‘harvested’ automatically, just as other records are hacked or robotically downloaded. And stalkers – well, we know the lengths they’ll go to.

    I agree – if you’ve done the work and made the connections, people should give you attribution. That’s what most nice, informed people will do. As for the rest who take it to show off ‘their’ tree, or to be ‘the’ expert in the ‘X’ family – why let a few jerks spoil it for the rest of us? And the people who tie things together wrong, who are they hurting?

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Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dick. There is nothing more frustrating to those of us who share freely to find these private trees or no trees, especially when we have strong DNA matches. Of course, the other person can always USE my information to solve his or her brick walls while preventing me from solving mine. Is there any question why I should feel resentful and USED?

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    Absolutely Doris! DNA research could be so much more useful if we all shared and solved these puzzles together. I can understand adoptees not sharing their very iffy trees but most others have no good reason IMHO.
    I feel that sharing my genealogy brings good karma. I have had so many wonderful people share with me and I have tried to return the gifts. If I waited until every single probable was absolutely proven, I have long been on Find a Grave myself.

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    Spot on. I share all my info.

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    This debate on-line has been helpful. I’m new to the game of on-line family history. I started by trying the LDS Family Search and after putting only my deceased parents and one set of grandparents, another researcher posted my name, address and contact information to his website on Ancestry.com. I was not happy, contacted the individual and ask him to please show me the courtesy he himself choose to us – my working name only. He did so.
    That said, I wanted to try DNA, as I had been studying quite a bit about it, so I ordered the Ancestry kit and had wonderful results from some close family members who had done the same. At the moment, I have my tree as “private” because it is still a work in progress. I’ve been debating at what point to make it public.
    However, I’ve had the same experience as some of your other repliers; people on the LDS site change data. I don’t know how that happens. My sources are original VR purchased appropriately (nothing in life is really free, but some people don’t seem to know that). By changing the information the tree there is no longer correct. I’ve changed it back a couple of times, but finally just gave up.
    I’ve spent all this time and money to create the tree as a legacy to those family members who don’t have the time, energy or money to do this research. I do source my data, but will not post excepts for currently copyrighted material. If they want the data, they’ll have to order it from the original source.
    I think the idea of posting a warning that no current evidence exists and the data should be used with utmost caution is the best I can do to prevent as many incorrect data sharing as possible.
    As I learn more, I may change my opinion, but I’m happy that my tree is private for the time being. Please can still see something to peak their interest (according to Ancestry.com), but if they want anything, they have to “ask nicely” by contacting me anonymously.
    That works for me. JD

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I no longer share my work. I have spent years and a fair amount of money on books and subscriptions while researching. A family member I thought I knew well enough asked for a GEDCOM and I thought we would collaborate. I received nothing in return but a couple months later all my data was posted to his new website with his copyright. He didn’t bother asking if I planned to publish it myself or if I minded if he published.

Everything was there for anyone to see: names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, mother’s maiden name, SS numbers, even stories about my minor children. It was a totally unrestricted website and he didn’t even bother to privatize any of it. Apparently he has also posted this on Ancestry so I have to see if my personal memories about my parents and children are there too.

I have since done my periodic error checking (I always find some errors) and made some corrections to my tree. He was very slow to make any changes to the information he got from me so his site still has inaccuracies which, unfortunately, will probably be repeated. It’s sad that some people don’t respect the effort expended by others and that many mistakes are being propagated this way.

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My family tree is on-line with Ancestry and is there for anyone to see. WHY? Because I have not spent the last 20 years of my life, and yes, a lot of money, researching so that it will all remain a SECRET! In my opinion, the point of genealogy is to record the lives of human beings who are, or will someday be, gone. I don’t want these people to be forgotten! I record sources for my information as accurately as possible, but if someone “takes” something from my tree and posts it to someone in their tree incorrectly, that is their problem. If a future researcher follows that wrong lead, it is up to them to do the research all over again to find the correct information. Again…not my problem. I put the correct information out there and I’m glad that I do. I feel the same way about photographs. I recently had contact from a cousin I met only once, when I was about 7 years old. How did he find me after all these years? Because he found his Mom’s information on my tree, along with a photo of her as a child that my parents had in their collection. That photograph had been taken by my grandfather and was the only print in existence. If I had not posted that photo as part of my tree, he never would have seen it. He had no photos of her when she was young, so he was thrilled to find I had more photos of her that I had not yet posted to my on-line tree. Now, HIS children have a photo of their grandmother when she was little. I also want the information out there about people who died as babies and young children. In my family, as I imagine in most families if you go back a generation or two, there are several examples of babies who died, who have no grave marker or were never photographed. If I don’t post their information, future generations would never know these kids even existed. This information also tells you a lot about the parents of those kids…to have eight children and go through the agony of five of them dying as babies. Future generations would probably have a hard time imagining what that would be like. The bottom line is…I am not doing all this research just so that my immediate family knows how much time and effort I’ve put into this “hobby”. I’m doing it for people who come long after me and want to know about the people who preceded them. As far as “identity thieves” are concerned…I doubt they would expend the time to search through billions of records on Ancestry to look for a likely “target” when there are far easier ways already out there in public records, credit card hacks, etc. So, for all of the people who don’t want to post anything on-line…why are you keeping your hard-earned research a secret? Who are you saving it for?

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My purpose of a family tree is for future generations to know where we have been and they can add as they proceed.

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I’ve left my family tree available as well as my ID. They’re welcome to use what they find, I just hope they’d contact me and share, as they more-than-likely will have some data I don’t have.
BUT – when the cousin of a cousin grabbed my entire tree AND added his ‘guessed at’ dates where I had “unknown”, I was more than annoyed. His specious claim that he ‘needed’ more ‘accuracy’ will cause errors.
I’ve learned that there are, like FACEBOOK or LINKEDIN friend/connection collectors, there are genealogy name collectors that crow about the number of (pseudo) entries they have in their ‘tree’

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    It’s for this reason amongst others Bob that a lot of us serious genealogists prefer to keep our trees offline. Making up dates? That’s tacky!

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I have answered this same argument here before with this same statement: my trees on Ancestry.com are private BUT searchable. If someone finds what they think is a connection, they are free to contact me and explain. If indeed they are correct, I will give them access. I have done this several times and have connected with several distant cousins. It wasn’t always like this. I started out with a public tree. I made it private when I found pieces of it incorrectly inserted into other people’s trees, and when I notified the owner of their error, nothing was changed. Then the errors got propagated over and over. It doesn’t matter if the sources for my tree cost me money or not. What matter is CORRECTNESS! I’ve spent 40 years working in my lineage and I will not allow it to be copied willy-nilly and incorrectly into the trees of “name collectors”. If that makes me a bad person, I can live with that.

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    I never contact people who require private contacting to ask for information because I am too shy to do so.

    Why do you assume everyone with the wrong info in their trees are “name collectors” instead of just mistaken?

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    Because if they were “just mistaken”, they’d fix the error when I notify them of it. As for being shy, I can appreciate that, but you shouldn’t be. I work on the motto “you never know what you’re going to get unless you ask”. If you think there’s a connection to someone’s tree, email and ask them! What’s the worst that can happen…you don’t hear from them and you are no worse off than you were if you didn’t email.

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    Thanks for the encouragement Maria. Unfortunately, shyness is an innate personality trait so it isn’t so easily overcome, but I’ll try harder and use what you wrote as my self-talk. (< :

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Sorry Dick, but freely available is a joke and I agree with Julia and Maria above.
You have 8 Great Great Grandparents and each has at least a birth, a marriage, and a death record. Some have multiple marriages. To be sure you have names, dates and places correct you need to buy those certificates and they are expensive, particularly here in Australia. There is often information on certificates that is not available anywhere else, and there are extra people mentioned on each certificate. In addition each of those people have siblings and children, each with at least 3 events. It costs a lot of money just for those records alone and that is only going back 4 generations.

In addition there are access fees for looking at records on most sites (once again not cheap), magazines, membership fees , DNA expences for those who get that; and many other costs. The only information out there that is free is skeletal unless of course, you steal it from someone else’s tree.

I have spent just over $A5,000 on certificates alone and I am sick of people just copying the tree, so now it’s private. I am happy to share information with anyone who contacts me and they are given information they need, but not the whole tree.
Cynthia

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    Dick did not say “free”; he said “freely available”. There’s a difference.

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    Many jurisdictions do not make recent B/D/M records available to the general public out of concern for the privacy of the people named in the records. Access is frequently restricted for up to 50-100 years after the events occurred. Under the circumstances, I consider the copies of B/D/M certificates which have come into my possession either through inheritance, or as a result of my genealogical work in connection with settling estate and inheritance matters, to be private and the information contained in them to be confidential. This is another reason why I never include information on recent generations (cutoff date is circa 1900) on my public family trees.

    I believe serious genealogists should make a concerted effort to teach beginners and hobbyists a code of genealogical ethics and general courtesy, along with standards of proof and evidence, and proper citation of sources.

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    —> Sorry Dick, but freely available is a joke and …

    The statement was “most genealogy information in the U.S. and Canada is freely available to everyone in the public domain.” The word “free” means that it is free of legal restrictions. You are free to republish it as you wish. The statement had nothing to do with expenses and nothing to do with the difficulty of finding the information. Those are different topics. “Freely available to everyone in the public domain.” referred only to legalities; it is free of legal restrictions.

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This question of the ownership of information has made me think of misinformation on the internet. If I use Pythagoras Theorem to work out the distance between the corners of a square, I don’t want to have to prove it first – I know it’s reliable. But the year of my g-grandmother’s birth is still in doubt. If someone quotes the wrong date, which I’ve put out, my credibility on other much more important matters may also be in doubt. Isn’t it a matter of being able to trust what you read? And to be able to rely on your sources.

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Protecting from what? I can get a phone number and address from a phone book, take a look at your home with Google Earth (including a ground level view), for a few bucks can obtain a rundown of court cases filed, both criminal and civil (many jurisdictions are online and this information, including probable cause affidavits, which are public records), along with a lot of other information……….and my deceased ancestors and relatives, I have a feeling they could care less. Identifiers such as DOBs, SSNs, ect. are not revealed thru some of these mentioned sources, but who you are where you live, perhaps even your employment will all be out there somewhere. If you a hoarding your information and not wanting to share, shame on you. One of the satisfactions I get in all of this is sharing with others.

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    Most of us never said we wouldn’t share. I wouldn’t have met my wonderful cousin Susan is I wasn’t willing to share. What we are saying is we won’t allow our well researched CORRECT information to be propagated INCORRECTLY over and over and over again. There’s a big difference.

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    Many people (teachers, doctors, law enforcement personnel, victims of stalkers, etc.) have “unlisted” phone numbers. These do not appear in the phone directory. Sharing these without permission may out someone’s life in danger.

    A lot of the background information you can obtain “for a few dollars” is so riddled with errors as to be worthless. The data aggregators who supply it are notorious for combining data relating to several different, totally unrelated people with similar sounding names into one misleading report. The report you get is likely to include addresses where the person has never lived, court cases in which they were never involved, somebody else’s arrest records, and names of purported business partners and family members the person has never heard of. A properly done background report requires a lot of research, double-checking and verification, and will cost way more than “a few dollars” because of the man hours of work required to get the “facts” right.

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I always enjoy reading the responses when this topic is brought up. Everyone is entitled to their own passionate opinions. Personally, I believe in sharing everything I have. Yes, I have spent a lot of money for certified documents and subscriptions. So what? The personal pleasure I receive with each discovery is “priceless”! And if I can help someone else, whose research skills may not be as good, so much the better. In the 19 years that I’ve been sharing my research online, I’ve been contacted by numerous persons, thanking me for helping them break down a wall. I’ve received a beautiful wedding photo of my GG Grandparents on their wedding day. No one in our family had ever seen this photo! Precious documents from a long lost family trunk were returned because the person who found it was able to find someone online to contact. I now have a digital copy of a 1790’s era bible that just happened to have a GG Grandmother’s previously unknown birth date in it… getting it from someone across the country who was ecstatic to locate my public tree online… just at the same time I was preparing to order a new grave marker with a guesstimate for the birth date. So, I could have kept my tree private and missed out on a lot of new ”family friends”. I wouldn’t have the joy of looking at the twinkle in my GG Grandfather’s eye every time I pass the wedding photo. I do get a bit irked when I look at my “Member Connect Activity” and discover someone with a private tree has attached something from my tree with no reciprocation or message to say “Hey! We may be connected.” But their’s is the greater loss. Thank you to all who have ever shared with me! It has made the last 19 years a wonderful journey!

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I like others have not put my family tree information on Ancestry.com. Other people have asked for a copy of certain families and I thought it was for their own personal use. They have all taken the information that I emailed to them and put the family trees in Ancestry.com. No credit to me and never told me they were going to add it to Ancestry.
One tree I laughed when I saw it,, she did not get the names of wife or husbands parents and she has added parents she thought fit, which were wrong ones . I love to share but it hurts when you see what others do to you with your information, which you worked years and spent your money to gather. I recently spent $300 for Danish records,, but have not given the names & dates out on Ancestry. This is for my family only. Maybe I am selfish.

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This has been an interesting discussion. And has caused me to consider a couple of thoughts to pass one. First all are welcome to my information, most of which I have gathered through other people before Ancestry.com came on line. I consider all of them friends. I have added a caveat and acknowledgements to my home person (me). I am oh so carefully of what I import to my family file from other family files and when I do I will drop them a short message saying I did so and thank them. I also offer any information that might help them. And finally, I recheck my work both on line and on my computer to make sure the changes I thought I made, were what I wanted thereby not “resyncing” bad info. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts.

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I think that some people may feel that if they publish their family tree…what they mean by stealing is — maybe they have worked on their tree meticulously documenting every person, every step of the way for ten long years or more. After all those years of work, with one quick, click of a button, someone can copy the entire tree & call it their own. I have posted many personal family photos of my parents or grandparents and I know that I own the only copy of the photo. I see them show up on other family trees, without a credit to me or my family. The person will “right click” on it, save it to a folder on their computer, then reload it to their family tree. By doing it that way, it looks like they are the owner of the original photo & it is not credited to anyone else.

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    I don’t understand why “ownership” of photos is important. What difference does it make to other descendents who actually owns photos? Why not let other descendents see and have photos?

    I share everything I can, because in my view, anyone with the same DNA, even if more distant than I, is entitled to the information.

    I also don’t think people are “stealing” when they use information on Ancestry. The entire point of the site for anyone with public trees is to share, so I think most people do not even realize or understand they are taking something from someone they must credit. And when people do it directly through the Ancestry linking system, who originally posted it is right there for all to see.

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    If you embed some words or your name C.K. anyone seeing it will know it was yours. Let me show you what I mean.
    https://picasaweb.google.com/104471486781893864633/CoOpBuildingWellesleyStEast#5634926208651723410

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I haven’t enough of my research organized [through lack of time and sickness] to enter a tree on line, but the thought of a public tree is a worry. I looked for my father on Ancestry and found him – correct birth date and location. The death date is correct but in the USA when he has never even lived there. The worst part was finding that I am listed as his sister even though I am 24 years younger and I am also listed as being deceased. I contacted the tree owner but he said he couldn’t change anything as his was correct from someone else and it would change the number of people in his tree – ??? My children keep wondering why my will hasn’t been probated and occasionally call me a ghost, but it’s not funny to me that I’m listed on Ancestry as DEAD. The jokes I can understand, the worry of people who don’t care what they post I just can’t understand at all.

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    In this situation, I would contact Ancestry.com directly and demand that they “fix” it, one way or another. The tree owner’s excuse is ridiculous and unacceptable!

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Very interesting discussion, and I can see both sides. One reason that I have not posted a tree publicly is that I have a long-dead relative who spent time in jail and he has a living relative who does not want that information known; out of respect to my living relative I have held off sharing. On the other hand, I do want to eventually post my work and photos of my relatives on my father’s side of the family because I have no children and am the end of our little branch of the family. I hope that by posting the photos, I will preserve the images from destruction by fire, etc. or their loss when I die and someone thoughtlessly tosses the documents. Also, I have benefited from the work that others have posted on Ancestry (no, I don’t steal it), so I feel like it is only fair that I share mine.

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Dick, haven’t you written about compilation copyright before? You can look up and use a phone number and address from a phone book, but you can’t republish the entire phone book. I think genealogy is the same thing. You can find information on a single child tied to his/her parents, but finding all of the children of those parents, and tying those parents to their parents, … and so on – you’re compiling the information, and that compilation should be copyrighted. You’ve added value to those individual facts which are public information. And then there is the copyrighted text that you’ve added which provides in your words the reason for the conclusion that this family is the right family.

I’m willing to share, though, because i don’t want all my hard work to go to waste, but it would be nice to receive some attribution. I do ask when I share information that no information on living people be shared with non-relatives or published on the internet, even as “living” surname. I try to attribute work that I’ve used, but may have missed some, so I don’t object to someone who might ask that I add their name as the source.

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    —> You can look up and use a phone number and address from a phone book, but you can’t republish the entire phone book.

    Actually, you can legally republish an entire phone book. That was a landmark case that was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Go to Google and search for “Feist Publications, Inc. V. Rural Telephone Service Co.” to find hundreds of references about the case. A shorter, and more readable, explanation can also be found in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications,_Inc.,_v._Rural_Telephone_Service_Co.

    The decision was that information alone without a minimum of original creativity cannot be protected by copyright. That also applies to many other things besides telephone books, including a lot of genealogy facts.

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    The articles the Feist case (the telephone book lawsuit) indicated that among the factors mentioned by the US Supreme Court in its decision was that the company which produced the original phone book did so because the contract which gave them the right to install phone service in the community also required the company to publish the names, addresses and phone numbers of its customers as part of the deal. The only creativity on the part of the phone company was to present the data in alphabetical order.

    The articles also indicated that the law in several other countries takes the opposite view from the USA on the phone book question.

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I usually stay out of these discussions, but this one was begun by an uncharacteristically superficial post written by someone whose hard work, dedication, and contributions to the genealogy community I have always admired — and then came the “shame on you” comment. I can no longer resist the temptation to add my thoughts.

The material casually dismissed as exceptions in this post are the rule, not the exception, in my research. In answer to the title question, I own this genealogy data: every word in every narrative, record analysis, proof argument, and concluding statement I’ve ever written; every chart, graph and table I’ve created; every tombstone photograph I’ve ever taken. Unless I expressly give up that right, I, alone, have the right to publish this information. Whether I publish online, in a journal, or in a lecture, or choose never to publish, copyright law protects my exclusive right to use this information as I see fit. To those who have lifted pages from my work in toto and published them on your website or family tree, you have broken the law. It’s unlikely that I would ever expend the time and money needed to prosecute you, but that doesn’t make your actions any less illegal.

I think the words, “freely available,” are an overstatement. Setting aside the monetary costs already mentioned – and in fairness, freely available and free are not identical concepts, access to records that contain genealogy factoids can be restricted by laws, by terms of use, or may
be privately owned. Repositories may dictate what manuscripts may or may not be published, and what permissions are required. When I have agreed to an individual or repository’s terms of use, I will respect that agreement. Those who freely copy online material and republish it should also be aware that record types not protected by copyright in this country might be protected in the country where they were published. And then there’s attribution. Where is the mention of citing one’s sources?

Just as there are many reasons for doing genealogy, there are many reasons for not publishing family trees online. Whether you agree with someone’s reasons or not, whether you think their reasons are unjustified or silly, is immaterial. Unless you have hired someone to work for you, you are not entitled to the fruits of his or her labors – but you are entitled to do that labor yourself, and you are entitled to improve on it and share it as you choose.

Finally, this post should have directed everyone on both sides of this discussion to the National Genealogical Society’s
Standards for Sharing Information with Others.”
I sometimes think this should have been titled, “Standards for Taking Information from Others.”

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I too agree with many posting on here that I do OWN my research, analysis, and my tree. When I started this quest in 1957, there was no such thing online. Most genealogy libraries were in large cities, and unless you lived in one of these, you had to travel, spend money and time. Same with acquiring documents. I too have been stung by those I shared with and now I see my own analysis online and even my personal notes with no credit of where they came from. The newer genealogist have no clue what it is to search a census microfilm looking for a family, as there are indexes today! I share with those who share with me. When I am dead, my family has instructions on my preferences.,

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    You know, as an historian who finds masses of incorrect and incorrectly labeled documents and images across the web, I have to agree with you that from a professional point-of-view attributing materials to the sources is important. Unfortunately, the “intertubes” are rightly available to everyone equally and most people are not professionals or arm chair self-taught experts so they are not aware. They don’t even know they are doing anything wrong. Therefore, I think it would be a good idea for all of the genealogy sites, or any historical documentation site for that matter, to have very clear short tutorials about how to attribute sources and why it is necessary, and to have them on the very first page people land on formatted in an eye-catching way they can’t miss. That wouldn’t prevent all of the problem, but it would probably cut down on a lot of it.

    Personally, I don’t like to use the shared family trees on Ancestry because so many of them are merely copies of someone else’s and wrong. I don’t think people intend to do that, but rather, are just inexperienced. Plus Ancestry is expensive so a lot of people join up, do the fast and easy attaching trees they think apply to their own, and then they leave and don’t return. Also, because Ancestry is designed to share and attach trees to each other with the click of a button, people think nothing else is required of them.

    As an aside, once when I was searching for a photo via Pinterest, I found one that was attributed to the wrong year by 40-50 years, so I politely added a comment with the correction. The woman who posted it in the first place did not correct it, but angrily blocked me from being able to share or comment on her photos again! That stubborn continuing to spread information annoys me to no end.

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When I first started with genealogy, there was no online information available. So I put in the hours at the library, the Family History Center, the Georgia Archives and the National Archives Southeast Region facilities looking at microfilm. I used countless quarters making copies of documents. Who knows how many reams of paper I used……how many trees I killed!
Today, almost every bit of the information I collected is available online somewhere. Do I clutch my old files to my bosom and mutter (“It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)? Well maybe sometimes. So all of the information that is “freely available” on Ancestry is attached to my online family trees; the same for my online tree at FamilySearch. Names-dates-sources. What do I care if someone uses that information in their tree? My online trees are not literary masterpiece! No matter how you look at it, using anything from my online trees would not constitute wrongful appropriation, stealing and/or plagiarism.

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    That’s a real sense of community spirit. It is because of people like you that I was encourage to go beyond wonk historical researching of complete strangers to focusing on my own origins and I discovered so many fascinating, entertaining, and tragic things about my own ancestors I’d never known. Especially European-Americans whose ancestors came to this continent 200 or more years ago, as a class of people, were cut off from our origins because our preceding relatives were more future oriented and were working to become assimilated Americans, and they often suffered tragedies they wanted to forget, as well as keeping family scandals hushed up due to their desire to conform and be accepted. That is why so many of us never heard our grandparents talking about their histories much.

    It’s been such a delight to learn what I never knew, and it also helped me understand my elders and ancestors, as well as myself, better to learn about histories that shaped my families. I’ve also discovered distant blood relations I never knew about. So, thank you to you and everyone like you for your generosity!

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If a person takes information from my tree and adds it to their own, they haven’t changed my tree and the information doesn’t transfer me with it so that their tree is mine or the information on it is inherently mine.

If the other person makes mistakes, my tree has not been mucked up and my family is still recognizable because I still have my tree. What is on the other person’s tree is not mine, it is theirs because it is their tree. If they are wrong, they have the mucked up tree, not me. No skin off my nose because I don’t feel ownership of their tree or of our shared ancestors.

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Susan Johnston, Leonard. Absolutely agree!
It seems a lot of people confuse basic data that can be found on public docs with the work of a researcher in interpreting, analyzing, and writing reports on such finds to say nothing of fully documenting same….coupled with the personal time and money spent in doing research. The mass marketing and commercializations of genealogy is not helpful toward fostering good genealogical research methods and standards…or for that matter, an understanding of research process!
Thank you for your comments and clarification. It is so important to do so.

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My daughter discovered a photo of my great grandmother in her 1890’s nursing uniform, who lived all of her life and died in New York State attached to a family tree of a person in California whose ancestor had the same married name as my ancestor’s birth name. The lady worked in the Auto Industry; none of her relatives have any connection to anyone in our family. A request asking the person to take down the photo was met with indignation stating that she/he is a professional genealogist! The photo in question came from my great aunt’s attic along with other documentation and family photographs and was given to me by my cousin. We offered to provide proof that the photo is our family member but all attempts were rebuffed. Ancestry.com said there was nothing they could do since it wasn’t a criminal matter. It’s a minor annoyance to us but somebody is getting duped and misinformation will continue to be perpetuated. My daughter did not post this photograph; she shared it with someone doing genealogy on one side of the family; the California “genealogist” got it from that person’s site. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…well, you know the rest.

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I don’t mind people using my FT but I do object to them making money out of my research. I was looking for a new, FT programme as I was feeling fed up with the one I had bought. I found Ancestory offering me one and to put mine online at no cost. I handed mine over but when I looked for it online I found that there were only 250 names included while I had sent over 1000 names. A message came from Ancestory saying they had matches for some on the names in my FT but to see them I would have to pay them a fee. I presume they also charge a fee to anyone else who wants to see names on my tree.

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I always find it pretty laughable when I run across trees that have certain people marked as living in order to keep info about them private even though they’d been dead 100 years. There are some folks I have run across over the years, related to me quite distantly, that have less than stellar histories, but there are a lot of trees out there with info about them…so why folks related to these people are marking their files private just seems laughable to me. The info is out there, people can find it-so trying to hide info on a long gone ancestor is just a waste of time.

I always try to protect any info about living people as damage can be done with some of it. Once I found a record on ancestry.com from that not only had my husbands name & birthdate but also his mothers maiden name. This is especially dangerous info to have out on the net, so I jumped through the hoops to get ancestry to remove that document. SO–if you run across something like that on ancestry-it can be removed and SHOULD be removed for the safety of the people living. Is it available elsewhere? Sure, but someone would have to be specifically looking to compromise him to get it, and know where to look…but I was not comfortable with that just hanging out on ancestry.com where anyone could run across it.

I have run into people who keep their trees private as they don’t want relatives they are arguing with to get the info from their tree…their attitude being “we found this info, they can go find it themselves”…I suppose if they have paid for info and want to keep that private so other relatives cannot get it that is their prerogative.

I know of another person who will share her private tree, but made it private as when she had it public, distant relations would use HER info but never share info about their branches with her. Sharing info IS a two way street. If you want folks to share with you then at least share YOUR info with them.

I keep my tree public so other people can find information I have gathered that might help them in their work in genealogy. I find sharing has helped others and also me, as I often find they have found information in resources I had not considered looking at–MY feeling is we all should help each other so that VALID info gets out there for people hunting. It helps to combat the errors we see all over the place in trees. Good documentation goes a long way in validating your tree and I document my tree “to death”. Many folks don’t document anything at all, and when i see a tree like that I will look at their info, but not use ANY of it unless I have verified it is correct.

Unfortunately there are many trees out there with incorrect information…that probably is never going to change, but when I do spot a tree with incorrect info, or even a database with incorrect info, I make an effort to correct it by telling the tree owner what I know about the person they have an error on, or submitting corrections to ancestry.com on poorly transcribed names etc or other incorrect info.

I wish more people would make file corrections when they run across them as there are a lot of transcription errors out there, and getting the proper info in the file helps us all. I wish more folks would attempt to email folks when they find tree errors. NO tree is going to be 100% perfect, no matter how hard one tries–and I know when people have emailed ME about errors they have found on MY tree I have appreciated their help and fixed my tree.

I have run across someone purposely sabotaging family information once though, and wrote ancestry with very specific information about what this person was doing…what was going on was VERY obvious, he was copying tree info from other people and then also adding every single person with the same name to those trees, thus corrupting the ancestry database and hint system. Ancestry.com refused to do anything about it…this person’s tree had 20,000 names on it, he added about 1,000 a week. I did a story and attached it to every person in my tree that I saw him messing with so that they would know his information was not correct.

Some time later I went back and checked his tree and saw that 20,000 names had gotten whittled down to 200. I suspect perhaps his account had previously been hijacked. What bothered me though is that ancestry.com refused to make ANY attempt to get this person to stop doing this. Corrupting the database purposely is against their “rules” but they refused to take any action. I am glad that somehow the tree owner found out what had happened with his tree and fixed it. I removed the story I had plastered all over MY tree attached to the people he had been messing with.

Keeping info private on people who are deceased doesn’t help anyone, but many people want to do that–it is their right. I guess it just comes down to different philosophies about sharing info. Keeping info private on living people is a MUST. I only share living people information with people I know. If they are truly researchers, most the time that info can be found in other ways. What can’t be found will have to wait for the next generation of researchers to find.

I don’t think it necessary for me to hunt down every living person on my tree. I just don’t need to know that info. I put as much info on deceased folks on my tree so the next generation (or the current generation) can find info on them.

Privacy for living people, in my opinion, over rides our desire to know the living people on every branch. If you find info great–if not–oh well. I have tracked down living people when it was necessary to get info on dead people closely related to me, but not very often. People have a right to privacy. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to keep info on living people private.

There is too much ID theft going on these days and if people want to keep their family names off tree documents that is their right. Not everyone is as careful about sharing living info on folks as I am. I have been VERY surprised when I asked a few people for invites to their trees they automatically sent me living people access without even knowing who I was.

That is scary to me…that is why no one gets access to living people on MY tree unless I know them personally and also know they will be careful with the info they have access to… I give them strict warnings that info is NOT to be shared with anyone. I have only shared my living people information with 2 cousins. MOST people in my family could give a hoot about genealogy anyway. Unless someone asks for it, I never volunteer it, and if someone asks that I don’t know well enough to trust, then my answer is always “No I am sorry but i have too much information on living people on my tree to share it”-and I do–I have info on hundreds of living people, and sharing that haphazardly could cause them harm.

THAT is my biggest concern with people sharing living people info. Is it likely ID theft of something like that could occur? Maybe not, but I am not taking chances with anyone else’s personal info being compromised.

Anybody can get an ancestry.com account (or other type of family tree account). Just because they research genealogy doesn’t always mean they should be trusted with private information. I highly recommend people be VERY careful with sharing info on living people. A name is one thing, but dates of birth, where they live etc etc should NEVER be done (JMHO) unless you know that person personally and know for certain they will be good stewards of the info.

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Most of what I have is family info. A lot of info was purchased from England. A lot was from where my great uncle paid for a room at a college so some of our family information is their. I have spend a lot of money to buy the info in England. My cousin lives in England and has helped me with some info. I had it all set up to start a book from 1400 to today. What can I do?

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I can’t help but think that when some of the above researchers die, there is going to be lots of research and photos that are lost forever, simply because they didn’t want to share it with anyone and their own immediate family wasn’t interested either.

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I post almost everything online (except for living people of course). I have no children, and no nieces and nephews. My first cousins are not interested at all. I am not sure what will happen to my records when I am gone. It seems that over the years families have a poor track record for preserving information. That is why we have to rely on government and church records so much for many things a few generations back. I have worked very hard on my information, and I want it to be preserved in the future. There are some reckless people who make a mess of their own trees on Ancestry and other sites, but my copy of my tree is untouched by their mistakes, and if a careful researcher looks around, they can tell my tree has more sources, original photos, stories, etc., and is better researched. I also put my name all over the place in my research, for example “researched by Garth Woodward” ( I noticed that on Ancestry, if someone links to a photo uploaded by someone else, and then they sync to FTM on their own computer, the photo is then copied to their own computer , however the identity of the Ancestry member who originally uploaded the photo is not copied to the other person’s FTM. This almost seems like Ancestry is deliberately causing source info to be lost. Therefore in the description of every photo I upload to Ancestry, I also type “uploaded by Garth Woodward”) There are some small genealogy trees I have seen that were done on paper years ago, and the person who did the work did not add their name anywhere, and you can’t even tell who did the work. Likewise, on Ancestry, there are a lot of trees where the contributor has some unusual nickname / user I.D., and you cant tell the real name of the researcher either. Seems so strange, especially since so many people want to get credit for their work, and then they use these nicknames and their real name is impossible to figure out.

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Haven’t financial institutions quit depending on mother’s maiden name and birth dates for identification purposes, since that info is too easy to find online ?

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    They still ask for your mother’s maiden name, but there is nothing to prevent you from giving them any name you like, as long as you can remember what you told them when they ask for it again.

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Quite an interesting discussion about private versus public trees on Ancestry. I believe in making the information public on deceased ancestors and relatives. Like others have said much of the information is publicly available anyway and many people want to publicize their research so the information is available for relatives upon their demise, and so their effort to collect and organize it has not been in vain. I don’t blame them. I feel the same. A valid point as another poster pointed out is : Who are they saving the information for. I thoroughly agree that people with private trees will be the cause of a lot of unnecessary lost family information in the future; which is a shame. By sharing information I went to the effort and expense of collecting years ago with newly discovered family members I have gotten information and photos of family members that I otherwise never would have had, for which I am extremely grateful. It has been very fulfilling experience for me. Unfortunately, I found many members on Ancestry are not open to sharing much of anything with others at all, information, pictures, or anything else, believing that they have some kind of ownership of their “private” information and that’s a shame.

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    Sharing is one thing – “adopting” or “stealing” is another. Think how you might feel to find yourself and your father listed [names correct] as siblings. While my father is listed with the correct male parent he is said to be born in another country where he never lived. I am his sister with correct name and birth date & place but died in another country. When I contacted the person with the tree, he asked me for my certificates!!! I have found these errors on a number of other trees and there is absolutely no connections on them with any of my family. Apparently the owner of the tree and others only count the number of people in the tree – they aren’t interested in any sort of confirmation of what is actually correct.
    I’ve often wished I’d thought to send him a fake death certificate of his own!!

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I find myself in agreement with Mary Holland. When I found myself appearing in an on-line tree, married to someone who is most definitely not my wife of nearly forty years, with 50% more children than I actually have and with at least one generation missing between my father and a speculative connection to a rather well-documented tree, I decided to contact the perpetrator and offer revised data more representative of the true situation. All I got in response was abuse and the accusation that I was guilty of harrassment and should desist!

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    I know what you mean. I offered to send my father’s real parents and his siblings info [all deceased] and the reply was that it would ruin the numbers of people in his tree!!

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Not interested in the subject except when I discovered my full records complete with my date of death listed as 2004. If someone makes an error and creates records available to the public, showing that a person is dead,[ when they are not], this could then effect the ” reputation” of the person. This is Defamation. Phillip.

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I have no problem sharing my information on my family tree. I do have a problem with seeing my personal photos of my parents, siblings, childern and other recent family members copied and pasted to another one’s tree. This makes it look like the photo is owned or was placed by another. Is there anyway to protect certain photos from being “stolen” and used in this way. I just want documentation that the photo is mine. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind sharing my photos, I would just like to have photos credited with the actual owners information. Older photo I am not so worried about, just the close personal ones.
Is there anyway to make some of my photos private while leaving others public. Also how do I copywrite information/photos.
Thank you.
My parents and one sister recently pasted away and this is why the copy/paste is bothering me so much.

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