A friend called me last week and wanted to know again and exactly, why I didn’t put my genealogy on the web in one of the many linked genealogical options available, specifically Ancestry. I explained the issue as many sided, six came to mind pretty quickly.
- Identity Theft
- Sloppy Attribution
Linked Genealogical Research on the Web
I love my brothers, sister, in-laws, nieces, nephews, husband, child, etc. I am lucky, we don’t have any big ole huge family fights over who made the best turkey. I am genuinely thrilled when I get to see them. I like to see them at family meals with so many conversations going on, I can’t keep track, a cause for huge fights in other families. Some people think and say “oh my sister-in-law doesn’t appreciate my brother… etc.” The women who married my brothers bring out the best in them. Like I said, I’m lucky. I guard their genealogical information as much as my own. I suggest they don’t put their birthdays up on Facebook. I don’t have mine up, people may wish me happy birthday if they know me, but in the data banks of Facebook, should someone break in, mine won’t match. I don’t have my family’s personal data set out on Ancestry, Family Search, Kindred Konnection or any other linked genealogical site. My relationships with my family are too important and certainly not worth the frustration they might feel and the angst they should feel, if I had invaded their privacy and thrown their personal data up on the Internet for everyone to see.
Thirty years ago, I used to share from my great grandparents on back, the reasoning being, everyone else was still alive. I could share more now, but still haven’t. Though I collect all this data, I treat it as personally as my own. Would I publish some of it in a book vs. on the Internet? Probably.
Even if someone used the “LIVING” category to override the names and dates, sometimes I can work out who they are. If I can, someone else could too. I think you should leave out living folks entirely, why risk it. Keep the data on your computer at home, just don’t put it on the linked site.
Why would it be OK in a book and not on the Internet? If I were looking to steal someone’s identity, I would look for “low hanging fruit.” How much easier on the world wide web than going to a library and reading a book?
If you have things on the Internet, which under reflection should perhaps not be there, the first thing to do is to change it. Personally, I would invent the Peter Quincy Robert Smith family, wife Penelope Quinn Robinson Smith, children, Peter Quincy Robert Jr., Paul Quilla Ross, Pamela Queenie Rachel, Paula Quinn Roxanne and Patrick Quintus Rex, from Polktown, Quinn Twp., Rexall Co., South Dakota. Give them all birthdays that make you smile, 3 March 1933 comes to mind and so on and so forth with all 3s until Patrick the baby and his could end in 4. Or maybe Peter would end in 3, Penelope in 4, Peter Jr. in 5, etc. Replace all the names, dates and places with imaginary data. Leave that data on the Internet for a while, until it becomes the last cached data set in all the major search engines. This won’t solve the problem of the permanent page archives, but it will help deter the cache searchers. After a month or so, the PQRS family and its data should be deleted. Instead of finding your family on the cached page, researchers will find the PQRS family. Remember PQRS is a cache cleaning family only, by selecting their names for the override position, the real family is out and the PQRS family is in. Hopefully then your family won’t show up on either the real page or the cached page. Let’s hope no one appropriates that PQRS family or maybe they should!
If hackers can break into banks and other financial organizations, how hard would it be to hit the Ancestry, FamilySearch or Facebook web sites? Why make it easy?
Like anyone searching through records two hundred years past, I have made my share of genealogical mistakes. Once I had a line descending from a second wife who was purely not old enough to be a parent, (she was ten or eleven). I had that woman connected as the mother of a child and mother-in-law or a relative for more than a decade until I retyped that paragraph and hit the key that made her ten years older than her oldest child and thought what the heck! I stopped, researched it and sure enough buried in some church record was evidnece of a previous marriage. I had taken information from a first cousin once removed and checked it briefly, did the census work on the surname, the time, the place, the geography all fit. But I was WRONG. The in-laws at all family gatherings, the putative maternal grandparents were in fact step grandparents. If that information had been on the Internet, my gosh how many people would have copied it, thinking it was correct and heaven knows it would have looked good, lots of footnotes with census, church, and personal references, proving the wrong answer.
Sometimes when I am researching I hit a motherlode of information and go too fast. This can lead to sloppy attribution. Again, once data is on the Internet, it takes on the appearance of information, not data. It’s good to have a work space that is a staging area and consider the Internet your final compiltation rather than the repository of new raw data. If you share by mail or email, you can contact those who might have taken your work at absolute face value and let them know, you had a typo, the record was on Book F, p. 43 instead of Book E, p. 34. You can not tell who might or might not have read/used/appropriated your work on the Internet, so you can’t notify them of issues. You have to hope they look at your site again and see the one change. Yikes.
When gedcoms were first created and identified as parallel works, it was obvious a meld could take place and sometimes to the betterment of your data. Adding data upon data upon generations was so easy, except when it was wrong and overwrote the right stuff. Anyone who has read and used the linked genealogies on Ancestry, Family Search, Rootsweb, WorldConnect, etc. knows of an instance where two men or two women have been melded into one and the previous data was whitewashed. Ugh. Untangling that information means running two concurrent research investigations into both men or women and discerning which answers best complete your research question. And then you need to research the other one to be certain your answers to your question are just as easily perceived as the answers to the other person’s questions. It’s a long expensive process and when you’re done, you have a ton of information about a family group that isn’t even yours. From then on, you are the one trying to keep that information off the Internet and from spreading to other innocent family members. Until that happens, you are apt to spread poor information because you don’t really get how bad it could be.
If someone writes or offers a different explanation to a family history quandry/or question, and sends you solid supporting data, you should certainly investigate it. If you come to the same conclusion as you previously did, you can discount it, but perhaps mention it. If you come to a new and different conclusion, or especially the conclusion the writer found, you should thank the author, change your information, offer attribution and move on.
If someone asks you to remove information from a web site you control on the Internet about his or herself, parents, children, nuclear family or someone close and still living, do it. It’s that simple. It is the polite thing to do. Consider it the same as stepping on someone’s foot while waiting in line at the grocery. You got too close, you inadvertantly invaded someone’s personal space, apologize and get off his foot. It’s that simple, really. You don’t have to take it out of your personal research, just don’t put it out there on the Internet.