From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 7/25/2002

   
    Given Name(s) Last Name

I Want it All

Involve yourself in family history long enough and the request will come your way, via e-mail, regular mail, or face-to-face contact. The requests have been made long before the Internet was an essential communication medium.

"Send me all your data. Give me all you have."

I'm not opposed to sharing family history information and genealogical data. I've done it myself and it is a great way to make contact and potentially obtain even more information. I realize some readers may have had bad experiences with the sharing of information. However, it is important to remember that many readers have had positive experiences as well.

Please take time to think through your message before sending a nasty reply to the next person who asks you for "all you have." And it would probably be a good idea for those on the other side of the e- mail to reconsider any requests made "for all you have on my family."

They Were Not Aware
Some of the requests for "everything" are sent by people who have just begun their family history research, have not researched extensively, and do not really realize the nature of their request. All of us were new to research at some point. New researchers sometimes are unaware that others have been obsessed by genealogy for years or decades. New researchers may also be unaware that some of us have entire filing cabinets, living rooms, and second floors of our home completely overtaken by copies of records. They may be unaware that a Hufferman family in Nova Scotia is not necessarily related to one in San Francisco. And to give them the final benefit of the doubt, they might not realize the true scope of their request. Of course, there are also those that are hoping to get as much as they can with as little work as possible.

Handling the Request
There are a number of ways the request can be handled. Consider the following:
 

  • Asking the person to narrow their request.
     
  • Asking the person to reimburse you for copies.
     
  • Asking the person to share what information they have.

    Of course, the person may not choose to narrow their request, may not see the need to reimburse you for copies, and may not share anything they have.

    Personally I think it is sufficient to reply in a fashion similar to this:

    "I have been collecting information on the Smith family for 20 years. I have four filing cabinets of material and simply cannot copy everything. If you could provide me with some specifics on your family, I'll take a look and see what I can find. If the number of copies are more than X, I would appreciate a reimbursement for copy expense. (My spouse has told me that [he or she] is NOT getting a second job to help pay for my genealogy fix.) Of course, if you have information to share on our common lines I would be happy to exchange with you."

    An initial response that is light and to the point will serve the purpose and hopefully give the person a chance to realize that their request was more than you could reasonably handle. The ball is now in their park. They may still insist that you send them everything. There is nothing you can do about that.

    Give a Little at a Time
    Consider sharing some of your information in chunks. I know many genealogists who share small amounts of information to determine if the person on the other end of the e-mail or envelope is seriously interested.

    I Got Burned!
    Why are some reluctant to share? There are many reasons, but some have been irritated or burned by another family historian who refused to credit them with information they located or who immediately lost interest in the family. As they sometimes say "one bitten, twice shy."

    What Happens After You Share
    The person with whom you share information may not share any of their data with you and may use "your" data however they see fit without crediting you as the "source" or locater of the information. The ethics of this type of action are questionable, but keep in mind that the date of someone's birth, marriage, or death is not copyrightable. If you compose a three-page commentary on why you arrived at a specific date for an event, that commentary IS copyrightable but the date of the event is not and others are free to use it regardless of how you feel about it.

    There are other alternatives. I would consider sharing my three-page commentary (or whatever the length) with an appropriate genealogical society journal or quarterly. Editors of these journals are always looking for information to publish and your article might reach additional family members who could be able to help you in your search. This would be an excellent way to preserve your information even if your book (which may be your long term goal) never sees the printed page.

    Is Everyone Data Greedy?
    No. There are thousands of people in "genealogy-land" who are willing to share when request are reasonable and are willing to work with others to establish documented lineages as far as records will allow.

    Are They Dead?
    Hopefully you are not communicating with deceased genealogists. Here we're talking about the sharing of information on living people. Personally, I do not share any information on living individuals. While dates of birth, death, and marriage are public information and available via a variety of sources I choose not to share this information as a personal choice.

    Why Are You Researching?
    Keep in mind why you are researching your family. Most of us are researching to learn more about our family and more about our past. To do that effectively requires us to share a certain amount of information, especially if we are unable to go to every location that contains a record on our family. Another family member may be able to pass along a clue or a document that opens a whole new area of research. This is not a foregone conclusion however, so keep in mind some of the concerns mentioned in this week's article.

     



    Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com. Used by the author on his website with permission.

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