Monday, June 04, 2007

To Give, or Not to Give: What Would You Do?

While speaking at the Ontario Genealogical Society's Seminar 2007 this weekend in Ottawa (which by the way was a great conference - kudos to the organizers!), I met a gentleman at one of the lunches and we were talking about the Internet and genealogy. In particular, we discussed the ability to find cousins and have them find you online. This gentleman told me a story about someone who contacted him asking him for information about a family line and how he sent some information from his descendancy chart - not everything, but what he felt was fair to share. The person published the information without so much as an acknowledgment to him and after that the correspondence ceased except for a few basic e-mails.

I have been thinking about this issue for some time. Why do we do genealogy? Shouldn't we be willing to share our research with others? But how much do we share with someone who just contacts us out of the blue? Is it fair that you spend years doing the work only to just give information away to someone who may not want to do any further work themselves or reciprocate?

I think this is an interesting question and I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer but that it truly is a personal decision. There needs to be a balance about being cautious with whom we share information and how much we do share. And we have to consider that situations such as the one I mentioned do happen. I tend to think "half full" - that the positive outcomes of connecting with newly found cousins and sharing information outweigh the negative.

I would like to hear what other genealogists think about this issue. So if you're reading this post and have thoughts about this topic or a story to share, I welcome your take on it.


Randy Seaver said...


Having been burned like this gentleman myself, I am not as quick to send the person "nearly everything." I wait and exchange a few emails with them to see what they have done already.

To me, it depends if the information is readily available or is "hard-earned." If the latter, then I will provide it only when I'm sure the person isn't just trolling for data but is serious about their research. If it is readily available, then I might provide it and tell the person my source so they can find it too.

I don't send out GEDCOMs any more. I do send out ahnentafel reports made by FamilyTreeMaker from my database when it will be helpful to my correspondent. In many case, I end up trading my ancestral data for some descendant data from the person they requested information about. This happens a lot with my Seaver database. I will send them the Seaver line (since it's online already) in a report, and ask for info on the children and grandchildren of the target person.

Cheers -- Randy

PS. This is a good blog toic - I will probably write on it osmeday soon! And link to your post for providing the spark.

Moultrie Creek said...

I think this is a good instance where collaborative platforms such as WeRelate can excel. Everyone can help build the knowledge base on individuals, families and places and get the credit for their efforts.

As I build more of my family research there - still getting comfortable with the platform - that is where I'll send queries in the future. If they add to the collective knowledge that's wonderful. If they don't, I haven't spent a lot of my time responding with nothing to show in return.

JLB said...

It's a quandary and I have to go by my own instincts with each person to feel what their intentions are. I go at my own speed with my research and ignore pressure from other people to "hand it over". To relieve the pressure on myself to "hurry up" I've left the works in my Will to people who matter to me. In the meantime, I use my website as a canvas to build an historical picture, but at a pace I can live with. Here's some other thoughts.