Genealogipedia’s Not My Thing

I realize this may put me in the minority, but I don’t participate in any of collaborative “world trees.” Not one. And that is perfectly fine. It does not make me a bad genealogist. It does not make me antisocial and it does not make me a Luddite. It just means that I’m concerned about the accuracy of any research to which my name is attached.

While I believe in collaboration, I simply do not want to “merge” my data into the data of anyone else. And while it’s fun to contact distant relatives who are researching the same relatives as I am (beyond a point it can be overwhelming) and while it’s beneficial for us to discuss what we have found and what our conclusions are, I have no interest in merging my research into the research of thousands of others into one large “tree database.” No interest whatsoever.

This is not an opposition to sharing. This is not an opposition to discussing conclusions. And it does not make me one of the “genealogy elite.” It does not mean that I do not want to collaborate or that I can’t play well with others. This is simply a reluctance on my part to have to discuss my conclusions with every single person who may have a passing interest in one of the ancestral families that I am researching. I do not want to have to constantly change what someone else has “corrected” on my tree.  I want to spend my time doing research and analysis, not playing some online game of Wikipedia Genealogy where I’m constantly responding to changes and revisions as quickly as I can.

I’d rather have somewhat serious research discussions with someone actively researching the family instead of someone who has recently discovered that my ancestor’s second wife’s first cousin’s step-mother’s third cousin’s great-granddaughter was their great-grandmother’s housekeeper for two days and is now “actively” researching my ancestor as a result. I’d rather do actual research, analysis and writing. I’ll leave the Wikipedia Genealogy game to someone else.

Just because I’ve researched a family for thirty years does not mean that I am correct about every conclusion regarding that family. I know that. I wasn’t born yesterday. I make mistakes. Genealogists know that there are times when conclusions need to be reevaluated in light of new information or recently discovered sources. And I’m always happy to discuss and share newly discovered information, no matter how remotely connected to me the discoverer is. But I don’t want someone going into a “world tree” where I’ve submitted data and changing something because they’ve researched this family for five minutes and have suddenly become an expert. I’ve researched some families for over two decades and often am reminded that I’m not really an expert on them at all.

That said, I’ve had good email exchanges with researchers who were not directly related to me–including one whose relative married my ancestor’s second wife after my ancestor died. We aren’t “blood” relatives but have a lot of mutual interests and can discuss things and share what we discover. It’s been a good exchange.

I have a great-great-grandfather and his brother who married first cousins, first cousins who shared a first and a last name (intentionally I suppose just to make it extra confusing). I’ve had them sorted out for years. It’s not actually that confusing when one takes the time to research the wives. If there was any real confusion, military pension records and vital records pretty much lay the relationships out–very clearly.  And yet, in some trees the wives have been interchanged. I don’t want someone “changing” them in my tree only for me to have to change them back. That’s a waste of my time–I’ve already gotten them figured out. And if a researcher thinks I’m wrong, what’s so bad about communicating with me directly and asking me how I reached my conclusion? Or, heaven forbid, reading sources that I’ve attached?

I’ve been told the cream rises to the top…that’s the metaphor we should use for these “trees.” I’m not convinced.

I’ll continue to research, discuss, and share, but on my own terms.

They aren’t “my” ancestors, I understand that. But it is “my” research.






10 thoughts on “Genealogipedia’s Not My Thing

  1. Susan Wilson says:

    I so agree with you! When I first started my research (World Trees were a new thing), it was exciting to see so much information in one place. But my grandfathers info was wrong and when I questioned what the sources were, one person told me it came from the World Tree. Sorry, to me that is not a source. I’ll just keep doing my own research.

  2. I agree completely. I’ve tried to find the source of an incorrect entry on my family on one of these only to be referred to other trees. Gave up on that.

  3. Yup. I agree completely. Excellent article, Michael.
    I never ever ever merge anyone, every person on my tree is individually added, and I’m finally getting better at adding the sources/citations to each item. I do have a (partly private) tree on Ancestry for cousin bait, and e.g., I’ve found several 3rd cousins on the Northern Ireland side, which has been helpful.

  4. I agree. HOWEVER, at my age I’m shifting more time from research into archiving for future generations. BUT HOW? None of the webinars/streaming on this subject has met my concerns No one in my family is yet interested in gen. research. Even if they were, that might not last more than one generation. I know that institutional archival material has sometimes become inaccessible because of OS and media changes (that affects durability of my research scanned onto jpgs or summaries in word processing). Depending on a descendent to shift my scans to new media is as chancey as paper copies which can easily get lost, thrown away, or otherwise destroyed. Donate to libraries? Having a Library Director son-in-law, I know that libraries have finite storage space and then they regretfully throw files away. Or which library/libraries to choose where a future researcher could actually know to look to find records of my and my husband’s migrating families (never staying in the same place for at least a generation)? Looking at the Ancestry SEC filing, I’m not sure we should trust that the $$ gen. sites will still be in business for our great-grandchildren. I am now looking at the tree on because I think this might have the best chance for archiving. I wouldn’t put up a gedcom but do it one person at a time, with attachment documents, at least getting the direct ancestors up. I know about the changes to changes. But if I attach scans of documents and add a field for “parentage” with attachments, I think I’d be able to use their feature that “freezes” the changes. “Nothing lasts forever.” I know this post sounds very negative. But I have too many documented “dead relatives” and too little time to spend it on anything less than what gives me the best chance for my documented research to survive for 20 – 40- 60 years. Suggestions?? Help!

    • Lots of good food for thought there, Lucy.

      Let me think about this and work on some future posts. You’ve brought up a lot of legitimate concerns.


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