Monthly Archives: January 2021

Public or Private Family Tree?

This is a perennial question for many people researching their family history. Whether or not to have a public family tree available online. And it is a dilemma which can arise fairly early on in the research path. Sometimes though it is not even considered, and for some the consequences of a decision to go public emerge too late.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Before I go any further I want to make it clear there’s no right or wrong answer. It really is a purely personal decision, one with which you need to be comfortable.

However, here are some considerations which I’m sharing to provoke a deeper examination of, and debate about, the implications. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, more a thought trigger. I’ve split them into pros and cons.

First the advantages of a public online tree.

  1. Connecting. It goes without saying, but a public online tree allows other researchers with the same family history interests to easily find and contact you. This enables you to connect with distant cousins, compare research, potentially plug gaps and share photos.
  2. Collaborating. Following on from this, once connections have been made this can lead to collaborative working on trees, pooling research, and the possibility to discuss findings and theories with someone who has a mutual family history connection.
  3. Learning. Linked to the above two, connecting and collaborating can lead to improving your family history research skills.
  4. Expanding. By having an online presence you may be able to expand your tree, pushing back lines and breaking down brick walls. All at a far quicker pace than solo research offers. Though a word of caution. Do not accept the research of others at face value. Always do your own work to check and verify.
  5. DNA. If you have undertaken a DNA test in order to further your family history research, a linked public tree is an important corollary to that test. I realise this may not always be possible. But if it is an option, there are clear advantages. A tree is one of the first things your DNA matches will look at to identify potential links. And it does encourage contacts. Ask yourself if, amongst a plethora of DNA matches, are you more likely to initially investigate and contact the treeless or those with trees? Personally, I find one of the most frustrating things about DNA testing is to see a possible match, but for that match to have no tree.
  6. Tree Purpose. Is your tree family history, pure and simple? Or is it something along the lines of a one-name or one-place study? The latter two may have a lesser emotional/personal attachment, and also a need for a far broader range of collaboration/connection networks than your own family tree.
  7. Family History Community Spirit. Having an online tree may fosters for you a feeling of really contributing and sharing to further the research of others.
  8. Legacy. You may be the only one in your family interested in family history. There may be no-one to bequeath the family history baton to, no subsequent generations willing to take on your work. You may be wondering how to ensure your research is preserved for the long-term. Putting it online is one option.
  9. Unexpected heirlooms. Recently a story made the news about the love letters written by a soldier, killed during the First World War Battle of the Somme, to his wife. They turned up in a sewing box donated to a charity shop. An appeal was put out, and within hours searches by members of the public on an ancestry site resulted in the tracing of family descendants, which will result in the letters being reunited. More details here. This is a rare, potential unexpected bonus of having a public tree.

Turning to the disadvantages of having your tree publicly available.

  1. Information control. Obvious really, but once your tree is out there publicly available to all, you have no control who can access it and how it is used. Be prepared for it being copied wholesale by multiple people without them even contacting you, and without them even referencing the person behind the original research. Is this something which would bother you? If it is, think of other options.
  2. Reduced Contacts. Linked to this, your tree’s proliferation may even reduce the chances of you being contacted. Unless yours is stand-out, it may be lost amongst a forest of other similar trees. Of course though this does not reduce your opportunities to contact others.
  3. Photos. This is a particularly sensitive subject. You may have ancestral photos linked to your tree. You may also have document images, such as civil registration certificates or probate records. Whilst you might be happy to have the basic tree information copied, you may find the copying of photographs in particular, and them popping up on scores of trees, a bridge too far. Several bridges if the photo is misattributed – great aunt Jane labelled as someone entirely different.
  4. Copyright. This is a topic in its own right, so I’m only putting some initial thoughts out there. Your own private tree for your personal use only is one thing. But where do you stand if you link photos, copyright document images etc to a public tree for all to see, copy and share? What about your own linked notes and analysis? And is that going to create a whole new set of potential issues?
  5. Errors. What if you include something in a public tree which you later wish to correct or amend? You may find the horse has already bolted, with your early research replicated across many other online trees.
  6. Privacy Concerns. Whilst living relatives should not be on a public tree, something to bear in mind is how traceable ultimately you (or your family’s) details potentially may be even if the living are unnamed. It might not be the first thing you think of when constructing a public online tree, and it may only be a very minimal risk, but you should be aware of the possibilities for abuse. As an aside, while online trees hosted by genealogy providers do anonymise the living, I’ve come across trees on personal websites where details of the living have been included.
  7. Etiquette. Essentially by openly sharing your tree you are entrusting your work to others. Do not assume all online will have the same courtesy standards regarding information sharing, use and acknowledging.

And finally, in the interest of openness, here’s how I handle the dilemma.

Well over a decade ago I did have a bad experience regarding someone copying my once online tree, including notes and other elements, and it didn’t sit right with me. However, I can see the benefits of information sharing to mutually further research. I now have a threefold tree strategy. This is:

  • A full tree which is on Family Historian and it is entirely private;
  • A private tree on a commercial website shared with a couple of trusted people – a very much pared down version of the Family Historian tree, minus any images or photographs. Only very basic information, with no source links or citations. I’ve not updated it for quite a while, but it is useful to consult when I’m out and about (family history events, archives visits etc.); and
  • An online publicly available skeleton tree, with basic direct line information only, linked to my DNA research. No photos. No documents. No comments. No analysis. It is there primarily for DNA purposes. That way I have a way of connecting with other DNA researchers. And I can then share selected relevant information, rather than my full tree.

I realise it does limit my opportunities for connection and collaboration because of its reduced public visibility. However, that hybrid approach is a decision I am most comfortable with. But it may not necessarily be the right one for you.

The bottom line is make sure you define your reasons for putting your tree online in advance of doing so. Ensure you know the full range of privacy settings on whatever online medium you decide to use for a family tree (if indeed you decide to go down that route). Think about what would work best for you and what you would be comfortable with. And go into it with your eyes wide open.

Keeping Your Family History Research On Track

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Halfway through a piece of research, do you realise you’ve done it before?
  • Do you get broken off from your research, or shelve it, then pick up the problem months later – but can’t recall what you’d done or where you’d got to?
  • Are you a scatter-gun researcher, flitting from one unplanned search to another, and at the end of a couple of hours you have no idea what records you’ve checked. Then go round in circles once more, repeating the same searches?

You’re not alone. But it means you’re wasting research time; you’re potentially overlooking key pieces of information; you are duplicating your efforts; and your research is unfocused. 

Which is where a research log comes in.

A log makes for efficient research, with no wasted time or duplicated effort. You can pick up a piece of research months later and know exactly what steps have previously been taken. It also means you can more easily identify gaps in your research.

In short a log keeps your research on track.

My seven key points for research logs are:

  1. Define the research objective: Set out clearly the problem, e.g. finding out the date of birth of an ancestor, or who their parents were. Include what you know through evidence, and any assumptions or conflicting information. This enables identification of issues, leading on to potential sources and search strategies
  1. Identify possible records and sources (e.g censuses, parish registers, probate records, books): These must be fully detailed including description, location(s) and type e.g. original documents, indexes, transcripts, digitised images etc.
  1. Date of the search: Archives add to their acquisitions. Records are continually being digitised and appearing online, and this includes updates to ones already online (think 1939 Register, or the GRO Indexes). So a search conducted 12 months ago may not have the same outcomes if conducted today. A date helps you decide if it’s worth repeating the search.
  1. Set out fully the search parameters: What spelling variants did you use? How many years either side of a specific date did you search? Which locations/parishes did you use? Did you rely on a data provider’s online search? Did you visually confirm results? Did you go through the record (and all the years) yourself? If a book, did you rely on the index or read the entire chapter or book? Some datasets (e.g. censuses) are on multiple websites – did you search just one? The same search on another website may have a different result. This enables you to see exactly what has been done and identify other possible areas of research.
  1. Record in detail the results – including negative ones: Fully record search results along with your analysis, conclusions and any discrepancies. This includes problems with the records, e.g. were there any gaps or record damage which might affect the result? Do ensure that the explanation is clear because it might be a while before you revisit it. And do include negative searches.
  1. Full source citations: Note where the original document can be found. Include full document reference, with page number. For website searches also include URL, description and date accessed. Give as much information as possible to enable you to find the document again. Do not assume it will always be online! 
  1. Next steps: Review your log. Identify follow-up searches. 

Your log could be electronic (do remember to back it up). Or it could be paper-based.

There are lots of pro-formas online. I have included my example above. Or perhaps you might prefer to design your own bespoke log.

And do not be put off by the thought of the time taken to keep a research log. It is minimal when compared with the time you will save in the long run from trying to remember exactly what you’ve done before, reducing the number of repeat searches and pinpointing what you have not tried.

Whatever method you use, online or paper-based, your research will benefit.

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 6 December 2020 to 1 January 2021 Additions

St Mary of the Angels Church, Photo by Jane Roberts

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.

During the last few week I have added seven pages. These include six weekly newspaper summaries. There is also one biography, that of Patrick Naifsey, which encompasses apparitions, miracles, evictions, Kipling and an Irish Great War poet, as well as the County Mayo/Batley connection.

I have also identified more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
4. Austin Nolan
5. Michael Brannan
6. Michael Horan
7. Patrick Naifsey *NEW*
8. Thomas Curley

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
9. James Delaney

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
10. Cemetery and Memorial Details
11. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
12. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
13. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
14. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
15. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
16. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
17. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
18. 1914, 19 September – Batley News *NEW*
19. 1914, 26 September – Batley News *NEW*
20. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
21. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
22. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
23. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
24. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
25. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
26. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
27. 1914, 5 December – Batley News *NEW*
28. 1914, 12 December – Batley News *NEW*
29. 1914, 19 December – Batley News *NEW*
30. 1914, 24 December – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
31. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
32. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
33. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems