27 March 2012

There Is A Line: The Difference Between Collaboration and Cheating

Recently, I had a message sent to me on my www.ancestry.com account. Here is a person asking for access to my private tree, so she can "use" my information. I have several concerns about this. Let me state now, before I get going on my rant, that I am in no way affiliated with Ancestry.com, except for the fact that I purchase access to their system.

I actually have several tree's on ancestry. All the projects I work on eventually end up there. I think of them as rough drafts, and that is the primary reason why I keep them private. I do not want anyone using me as a resource when the original is about as far from polished as you can get. The tree's are like a working theory; as I find clues or names that may (or may not) help me, I add them in to see what will happen. It allows me the creative freedom to prove or disprove a theory or assumption. Sometimes, I can delete that new idea immediately - it's obviously not a match to who I'm looking for. There are other times when an idea becomes its own tree, so I can continue to progress in my work at a later date and time. (See, I have this thing called a toddler. She's not exactly willing to let Mommy sit at the computer all day.) Life interrupts, so I have to save it all and come back to it again and again. Not everything on my tree's are correctly cited, not everything has been judged against the Genealogical Proof Standard. Therefore, it is private.

As much as I value the resources that Ancestry.com provides to me, it is not the end all and be all of genealogical research. There is so much more out there to investigate. The vast majority of that work goes into a much different database on my hard drive, and never gets posted to an individual's online profile.

When I send a message on ancestry, it goes something like this...

"Hello, I'm looking for information on So-And-So and his wife, Mrs. So-And-So. Here is what I know about them already: he was born... she was born... they married on this day, year... they lived here... they had these children... they are buried... Thank you so much for your time and consideration in sharing any new information you may have."

Etc., etc., etc.

I include as many details as I think I can without losing the interest of the reader. I do this to show that I am willing to share as much as I give, I am genuine, and I care about the ancestor in question. I care about the researcher's credibility and the ancestor's "online image" so to speak. I can recite that last line verbatim, because that is how I have been ending my messages and emails for collaboration requests for as long as I can remember. This is personal stuff. It doesn't get any more personal than your family. People out there in the genealogical community generally recognize this fact, and strive to ensure that the trust and respect from one researcher to another is displayed upon first contact; and continues to be present and obvious as long as the collaboration continues. It is displayed in comments and credits given to each researcher.

Please, don't be a cheater. Collaborate with the world, but don't cheat. Take credit for your individual work, and give credit where credit is due. It's very important, and unfortunately, its rampant in amateur and hobbyist genealogy.