Monday, February 3, 2014

Public Tree or Private Tree? I Choose Public.

The question is whether I should have my tree public - so anyone who wants to can see it (no one can see the living members unless I send an invitation AND grant the invitee that ability) or set to private so no one but me can see it (unless I send them an invitation). I know I've gone back and forth on this question. Initially I had it set Public because I thought that history belongs to everyone (simplistic thought, yes, but I was a rank amateur). Then after reading a bunch of blogs by more experienced genealogists and professional genealogists on this debate who were incensed by mistakes made in public trees being passed on as if they were fact, I made it private (& issued invitations to family although Ancestry is inconsistent about actually sending them) so as not to perpetuate any mistakes I'd make.

I've thought about this more as time has passed and I recently put my tree back to public for a more conscious reason than "history is free", lol. I know that by doing so I will appall a large portion of the genea-blogging community, since the tree is my working tree at the moment, even though I also have genealogy software, and yes, mistakes will creep in even though documentation is very important to me (any mistake will be taken down as soon as I'm sure that it is a mistake).  I've put the tree public to increase the likelihood that I might find someone I'm distantly related to me-- or they might find me --and that by sharing information we can improve both our trees/research -- and I might make a friend.

Since one of my current discovery methods is to put up the connections I think (based on prior research and/or family notes or legends) are there and then see what hint leaves pop up to see if I can confirm or deny the hypothesis, I've thought about the hazards of passing on possible hypotheses as historical fact. Therefore, I've taken steps to try to put people on notice that they need to check their own sources and do their own research rather than relying on mine: 1) My tree is named "Ancestors of Jo Henn (a work in progress)"; and 2) on any connection I am not sure of and/or which I'm trying out to see if it flies, the main picture (the one that shows on the person box) is the 'question mark in a puzzle piece', that I headed this blog post with, with the picture title "Is this connection correct?" This ought to put a reader on notice that they should not attach this alleged fact to their tree willy-nilly, without further research of their own. And, frankly, if they use it anyway without doing their own research, it's not my problem  -- it's theirs. The only person's work I can truly control is mine and I do what I can to make sure everything is eventually documented. If I can't document it, it comes down. If I can document it, the puzzle piece picture comes down and it stays. The length of the between period is up to me, and varies.

As to the question of people "stealing" my research or pictures or such from my tree, that's where my "history belongs to everybody" mindset comes in. It doesn't bother me. If it would bother me if someone would "steal" or use something, then I don't put that something up on the public tree, ...or on the blog, ...or on Facebook, etc.  You get the idea.

[I am aware of copyright issues and ask before I use anyone else's stuff which is subject to copyright (particularly on the blog).]


  1. Jo, this is a very well thought out post... I'm also a public tree person... that way, I can, and do, have others point out any misconceptions ( commonly known as errors). If and when they do, I don't jump in and think well, they said so, so I must change my tree... rather it sends me off on another trail of checking, rechecking, etc. It's only when I am totally satisfied that there has been an error will I go and change it.
    I don't mind what people use/copy from what I have posted as I'm always grateful for those who share. If I want to keep something private, I simply don't post in public.I do respect copyright and I do ask before copying a photo, etc. Good manners count everywhere... thank you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your take on this subject. It's always nice to have someone agree with me. ; ) I, too, am very grateful when someone shares a document or picture with me. And when they help point me in a helpful research direction. I've found most genea-folks to be very nice. For which I'm deeply appreciative.

  2. Thanks for the comment on my post. You mentioned your view being simplistic but mine is even more so. The person who said your public tree contradicted theirs should have been ignored. It's your tree period! You don't owe anyone an explanation.

    Great post with great points. It's nice to get positive feedback and know we are not alone. For everyone who makes a point of saying our trees are wrong, there are nine more out there trading and sharing information. We rock!

    1. Thanks, Ann, for the comment and the support!


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