In our time as genealogists, we have probably uploaded a GEDCOM file or two (or a dozen). It seems that every month a new site (or an old one) has a system for uploading and managing your family tree on their website. The most popular site today for building a tree is probably Ancestry.com. There are others:
Each of these has their advantages. Ancestry.com probably has the best system for locating hints from their databases as seen by the “shaky” leaves that appear. FamilySearch’s Family Tree is more like a wiki where you don’t actually “own” the individuals in the tree but instead collaborate with other researchers and have the ability to have discussions or post proof arguments.
Family information didn’t trickle down the family tree evenly. My cousins probably know more about my Businger ancestors than I do because they lived nearby whereas my branch of the family moved “out west.” They most likely have more family photographs and papers than I do stored in their attics or basements. I happen to have a lot of information on my Miller ancestors simply due to the relationships formed and the relatively small “competition” pool to get old photos and papers (there’s me, my brother, and our one cousin Andy). However, think about those families not so many generations ago that bore eight, ten, twelve, or more children. There were a lot of children to pass these treasures down to, and it didn’t all flow evenly. If there was a rift in the family, these artifacts may have followed one line only. If there was estrangement, these might have gone to a family friend, or not have been saved at all.
Just like family information, online trees today are not all located on one site. Some people only put their tree up in one location. I happen to have mine in a few, but not “all” of them. Posting your tree online can be an exceptional research tool, especially if you are looking for collaborators; people who may have been on that side of the family tree where the information flowed more fully. By posting your tree online, and in several locations, you can cast a wider net and reach more potential cousins who are researching the same or connected family lines.
I have a few ideas on what I think are some best practices for posting your tree online:
- Make sure your email address or other contact information is up-to-date. You could even include your social media contacts if you have them, your Facebook profile, Twitter handle, or other social media of your choice.
- Make sure you keep your tree at least moderately updated. The problem with having many trees online is that there is not an easy way to keep them all updated at the same time, no syncing across sites. If you are not doing any attaching of documents like what happens at Ancestry.com, you could simply delete an old tree and upload a new GEDCOM periodically. However, I don’t recommend this if you do a lot of attaching from the host site. One solution: you can post a “skeleton” tree with basic information in order to “catch” those collaborators, then invite them to your better tree, wherever that is hosted, once you’ve made contact.
- Attach as many source citations to your trees as possible. If you keep one main tree and then post skeleton trees to a variety of sites, make some mention of this in your profile information. Something like “This tree does not contain many sources, but if there is a name or family group you are interested in, please contact me for more information.” This will at least let them know that there are sources available.
- There are other more obvious “rules” I like to follow such as not posting personal information of my living relatives, not spreading gossip or rumors about living people, or the recently deceased, and not copying the trees or work of others without their permission (and I mean by asking them directly, not just clicking “add to my tree” because of the “well, if it is out there, they must not mind sharing” attitude to sharing.
If you do not know how to make what I call a “skeleton” GEDCOM file, I recommend reading some of the help files and/or video tutorials that came with your genealogical software. But in a nutshell, there is usually a way to mark a line of people you’d like to create a GEDCOM for. For example, if I only want to post a tree for my Kindervater ancestors, I can choose to begin with one particular person and then in Reunion (for Mac) there is a command to mark all ancestors of said person, and I can also choose whether to include all children or not, all spouses or not, etc. What you choose here will create a larger or smaller file to post.
These are just some thoughts I have about online trees. I have been working on a project trying to identify the parents of a female ancestor. I have been combing through many online trees, most of which have no sources and appear to repeat the same information that I am not sure is correct. It is a lot of time-consuming work. Most trees have no sources, they don’t all have working emails, and not everyone responds to emails when they are working. Online trees can offer many useful clues and hints and send you in directions you may not have known to go, and perhaps some of the people posting these trees online were on the side of the family tree where the information flowed down more freely than mine. I will keep investigating.
Some helpful articles or resources I found online: