Monday, March 2, 2015

Public trees vs. private trees

If you are a member of any genealogy Facebook group you are bound to have heard the public vs. private tree debate.  Every couple of weeks it will get started again.  Here is my short and sweet response.

  • A person has the right to make their tree public or private.  He/she is under no obligation to hand over their research to you on a silver platter.
  • The person has the right to ignore your pleas for more information if they want to.  It might be a tad rude but certainly not illegal.  There are a lot worse things going on in the world.
  • Bottom line, you shouldn’t be relying on online trees for your research.  Sure, I look at online trees but I don’t get whacked out when there are no sources, the data is totally wrong, the tree is private, or the person doesn’t answer my emails.  I used to get a little peeved but not any more.  It just isn’t worth the aggravation.  It is what it is.  Instead, do your own research.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Michele,

    Great, to the point blog post.

    I agree with you, 100% but will add that most of the "bad press" that Online Trees get, if from individuals who want THEIR information NOW, in 149 characters or less. Click and Copy research.

    Take an Online Tree for what it is, someone elses research. With or without documentation. Just ignore what you don't like and move on.

    Thank you,


  2. This discussion is going to go one for as long as family history is around. Fortunately I can keep my tree private or not as I choose. And, as you say, I should do my own research. Best just to get on with it.

  3. Very pertinent, Michele. There just is no point getting aggravated about what is or is not in trees.

    Trees may not have benefited from any "research" at all. Could be copied in whole or piecemeal from other trees and user-submitted data in junk databases.

  4. I finally took my tree private when I started noticing pictures I have collected from family showing up in other people's trees unattributed. It is disrespectful and it has happened more than once. I have also reached out to people that have added to their tree from mine and they have gotten it wrong because the are just copying and pasting. I decided my tree is for me and my family and people that ask to see it. I have started "cleaning up" FS Family Tree as a way to get my tree out there and I ensure it is all sourced.
    I still see items from my tree in other people's tree on Ancestry with the item attributed to them. The worst was a picture of my great grandfather that someone attached to her g grandfather of the same name. It took me 3 months and much correspondence to get her to remove the picture. Those types of items are more personal and I want to know who I am sharing that kind of stuff with first. We all know an example of something incorrect becoming gospel simply because it gets copied over and over again. Sorry for the rant. I used to be very pro-public, but after seeing what people do with information, I want at least some control on how it is shared and possibly duplicated.

  5. What irks me is not that people take my photos but that some who do take them have private trees so I cannot see why they may have taken them (i.e. how they might be related) and since I don't have a paid account I also can't email them. I wish those who do take my photos and have private trees would write a little note on the photo why they are taking the photo. Taking it is fine, but I'd like to know if you might be a distant relative or perhaps a closer relative.

  6. So very well stated and I agree 100%. Do your own research!