As Seen on

I recently saw this message posted on an Ancestry user’s profile page:

“Do not contact me if you are not willing to share … I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE WITH THE MESSAGES FROM PRIVATE TREES”


I mean, really, it can be annoying as anything to have someone reach out and request family history information—only to golem it away.

It’s about sharing information and exchanging facts, not genealogical vampirism. Which, honestly, it is when someone takes more than they give, if they give anything. Open-minded, generous and enthusiastic researchers will eventually fatigue of the ask.

The result is the above message, which truly resonates with me, and surely others.

That said, there are valid reasons that folks have their family tree in private mode in the first place:

1. Privacy protection for the living and the dead. Let’s face it, as interesting and intriguing as family history searching can be, many times there are details of the family dynamic that people would rather not publicize.

2. Proprietary information. Hobby for many, capital venture for others. Some researchers want to protect their interests as they research. It helps to know that the basics of a family tree cannot be copyrighted, per law. However, stories and narratives crafted around family trees can be protected under a copyright.

3. Unsure of the information attached to trees. Sometimes users and researchers alike will create family trees purely out of speculation. Because public trees will be copied over and over, it behooves a user to make sure that all of their research is accurate. As a preventative measure, sometimes folks will just keep their research tree private.

4. Just not willing to share-would rather not collaborate-wants a singular experience on Ancestry. I get it. I really do. Ancestry is not a social media platform. People visit the site to learn and reflect on their families. They are looking for the readily available information that Ancestry’s thought-provoking ads tout. They’re not looking for a new best friend, or even a long “lost” (or get lost) relative. Understandable.

And yet, for all of the above reasons and more, the same reticent users of Ancestry hold no qualms about devouring each and every carefully curated corner of your public family tree.

Is it even worth it? Yes. I say that as an Ancestry user/enthusiast who has toggled between having a public then private then public then unsearchable now public Ancestry family tree. While my tree was private, I always sent out invites to those who requested and I always shared information. However it’s done, just know that the information that you share will be the information that you receive, just many times over.

Oh yes, Virginia, there is a genealogical “karma” and it’s a wonderful thing to receive random acts of genealogical kindness after you’ve shown some. It’s happened to me time and time again.

Still, for those who are cautious about having a public family tree, for whatever reason, consider workarounds. Maybe you can create a separate public family tree that only shares the information that you are comfortable with sharing. Perhaps focusing on one family line will be encouragement to reach out to someone who may be able to exchange more information with you. That’s rather than tackling everything at once. Also, consider delegating the maintenance of a family tree to someone in the family who is more inclined to reach out and exchange family history with other users/researchers.

Just things to consider.

As we all journey to learn more about our family histories we will have trials and errors, things that we wished we would’ve done differently. One thing that I personally have never come to regret is the sharing of information. Even if not returned or reciprocated by the intended, please believe that you, like I have, will reap the reward of discovery.

Just know that some people have had it up to HERE…

The Genealogy Situation Room

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