the Ancestry Daily News
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.
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.)
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.
Other articles by Michael John Neill