To share or not so share…

… that is not the question.

We all share. We index, transcribe, publish our trees, work on wikiTree or other projects to make data available.

As a genealogist you have to share the information you have, otherwise it is very hard to move up or down or left or right in your family tree. Because there comes the point where only a coincidence can help you. When only the fact that someone else around the globe is researching the same family line, can give you the push into the right direction.

But (and there had to be a “but”, right?), we have to make sure that we share correctly. As boring as it sounds but family research does not contain “research” because of its nice touch. Everyone of us already had some research to do: for a school paper, an assignment, you name it. And what was one of the most important things your teacher in school told you? “Check your sources and cite them!”

And it is the same thing with family research. Make sure you have your sources checked and double checked. And now the sharing part comes in. There are lots of great websites and communities out there, where you can store and publish your family tree. And most of the sites offer you to screen other online trees and provide you with hints or smartmatches or however they call them. It is a great opportunity to get in contact with other researchers, maybe to even find living relatives.

So you see the hints and from what you see, all is matching. And now it is so easy to just hit the “accept” button to include this data into your tree. It is a great moment to see your tree growing, right? I mean, we all know it. And I totally agree!

But wait, not so fast! Did you check the hints? I mean, really check them? The name, date and place of the other person? Take me as an example: Barbara Schmidt, living in Frankfurt, Germany¬†(that is no news, so I don’t really have a problem mentioning it).

Schmidt is the second most common name in Germany (yeah, makes genealogy really great, I know ;)) and without even thinking any further I know of already 2 Frankfurts in Germany. One in the middle and one far east at the polish border. And I bet there are lots of Barbara Schmidts out there. So are you sure, I am the correct person? Really?

Okay: name, place and dates are matching. Did you check the sources? Where is the information in the other tree coming from? Are there actually sources attached? Oh, the data is taken from another tree? It is a bit like playing telephone as a kid, isn’t it?

So, what do I do when I find similar data to mine in another tree? I contact the tree owner and take the new information as notes. I don’t insert it into my tree until I have certified and secured it with proof. If the tree owner is in a “do not reply” mode, I can’t help it. I still keep the data on my to-do list in the “certify” section.

When I started using the internet for my family research years ago, I made the mistake of accepting everything. I was so glad to see my tree growing, to find new branches that I didn’t even think about checking for sources. Bad mistake! It went so far that I had no idea who all these people are and where they came from. So I mad a deep cut and started all over. Which was helpful because I forced myself to look at every piece of paper I had, to read every email again and I found some hints I didn’t see before but it was a lesson I learnt.

And I hope you learn it, too. Hopefully not the hard way, I had to.

How do you deal with hints from other online trees?



4 thoughts on “To share or not so share…

  1. I take other online trees as hints — nothing more. Years ago I made the same mistake and added everything I could find on the internet to my family tree. Three years later I deleted everything and reworked my tree from scratch.


  2. Pingback: To share or not so share… | Old Bones Genealogy

  3. Great article Barbara. I know a Barbara Schmidt also from NYC!!! I am only human and do my best to make sure what I put in my tree is correct. Not only for me FIRST but for others that may follow. I am a sharing person. Always have been. It’s my nature my whole life to share and my personality has not changed since I started genealogy 4 years ago. If wrong info is innocently put into my tree by me and someone has copied it without contacting me?. That sucks for them. I keep a separate file of all the folks that have contacted me about a surname or any family history. I will go thru that file and find the papers and notify them.


    • that is a great idea to keep a seperate file for everyone who contacted you or vice versa. Do you also note the people you were asking about and the status of the feedback? I list the contacts in the notes of the respective person in my tree but never thought about having one file especially for that


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