Genealogy is an intensely personal pursuit. At least it is for me.
When I look back at what it was that triggered my interest and love of genealogy, it was a very personal issue; the loss of my father.
No one in our family had ever done any family history before me, so I was the first. As I began my work on our family tree and I got more in-depth, I quickly decided I needed to expand from my original paper format to the social networking site/electronic tree offered by MyHeritage.com. This became especially important as more and more family members joined me becoming interested in what I was doing. Why? Because each of them had some personal question/issue/mystery/concern, etc. that they were wondering about in our family and our history.
From some very humble beginnings in family history, our tree now is fairly substantial in size, filled with documentation, data, and thousands of photographs. I also now have this website and blog on family history and genealogy and my Facebook page Onward To Our Past. I love to talk genealogy, about the work I have done and what I have learned as I have traced our family roots back to the early 1500s in Bohemia, Cornwall, Kent, and Italy. Our site on MyHeritage has now grown to include more than 240 family members around the world. I will add here that I picked MyHeritage after undertaking a due diligence review of more than a dozen companies and their software/site offerings and picked MyHeritage because I believe they have the best privacy and security software in place.
This said, I will say again that while I do love to talk about genealogy and family history, teach about it, and share what I know. Otherwise I would not have my site, my Onward To Our Past Facebook page, write about genealogy for FindMyPast, GenealogyBank, Huffington Post UK, and for the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Save Ellis Island, Minnesota Genealogical Society, Ohio Genealogy Society, Czechoslovak Genealogy Society International, and others.
What I won’t do is publicly post our family tree. Nope. Not now. Not in the foreseeable future. Not as long as I am alive. No way.
It does not matter if you are a newbie or a bit of a grizzled, old genealogist like me, you will have heard the many voices ‘telling’ you what you need to do with your tree. Some ‘experts’ practically demand that you make your tree an open and public document. Others shill for the ‘need’ to put your tree on FamilySearch, Wikitree, or some other public site. Add to this the newer movement of using DNA in your genealogy and you have a whole additional chorus demanding sharing of your information.
My suggestion to you is this:
Listen, read, learn, and then make up your own mind and do what YOU want to do with YOUR tree!
I have heeded my own advice and I have made the very personal decision to keep my family tree private in terms of ‘for family only’. While I understand many of the arguments that are made regarding making your tree public I have said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the public option. This is not to say I don’t freely share my information with family. I certainly do! It also does not mean I do not share my findings, knowledge, how to, experiences, etc. I certainly do!
It is just that when I personally weighed the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of public vs. private, I chose private. Let me briefly explain why:
- The purpose of my family tree is for my family. I want to encourage, educate, involve and excite my extended family about our family history. I could not always do this effectively if our tree were to be public, since I want one, seamless document for the family to access and see. This goal also means our tree is chock-full of stories, personal photographs, data, living names, etc.
- In the years I have had my blogs, websites, etc. online, I have only had one occasion where anyone asked if they could ‘use’ a photo, document, etc. from my site. Instead they just believe they are there for the taking, which, of course, they are not, but they have taken them anyway.
- My Bohemian family branches came to the United States to escape religious persecution and the forcing of a particular set of religious beliefs upon themselves and their family members. I believe I cannot, in good conscience, put my tree on any site where, simply because they died more than 110 years ago, makes them fair game for some folks to impose their religious beliefs on them and their memories. Nope. Some of my ancestors fought and died for their right to free religious determination. Many left their much beloved homeland to seek their freedom of religious expression. As a family historian and genealogist I am going to respect that to the full extent, as dictated by my own conscience.
- I have seen far, far too many family trees bastardized online with bad information, adjustments to meet some predetermined outcome, mythology, etc. and I simply prefer this to not be the fate of the tree I have built with good, high quality research.
- I have spent significant amounts of time and money in my work on my family tree. While I have absolutely no qualms about sharing the fruits of these labors with each and every member of my family, I hesitate to just throw it out onto the ‘open market’ for anyone to take, use, access, and perhaps abuse.
As a result of my decision and my perspective regarding family tree privacy, I have been the focus of many who take part in the of public shaming and derision of anyone who might dare to disagree with their openness doctrine, with chants of ‘public data’, ‘finding cousins’, ‘openness’ etc. This I find to be especially true when you get into the realm of DNA and genealogy. I have come to view this activity as just a part of the ‘culture’, or rather lack of culture, on the Internet, which has replaced true debate with ‘who can scream the loudest and post the most outrageous material’. Too bad, but so be it.
As I said in the title of this piece: “It’s YOUR family tree. Do with it what YOU want to do.” When it comes to your family you can dance to whatever tune you think is best for you. You needn’t dance to anyone else’s. Whichever way fulfills your goals is what you should pursue, but I suggest you should always keep the issues of privacy upper most in your mind, because no one else will do so as well as you will.
My family tree? Popular or not, I choose privacy and so it shall be.
Onward To Our Past®