The Professional vs. the Bully

[Editorial note: I generally do not focus on issues within the genealogy community but use this blog to share my family’s history and writings. A situation occurred this week that I really felt I needed to address, or in other words, vent.]

A simple request to transfer two memorials on Find A Grave turned into something more.  I going to assume that anyone reading my blog will be familiar with the website Find A Grave. But in a nutshell, Find A Grave is an all volunteer cemetery transcription database. People from all over the world submit cemetery transcriptions. Others will volunteer to take photographs. Overall my experience with Find A Grave has been a fabulous one. I have even transcribed a few cemeteries myself. I currently manage between 2,500-3,000 graves. If you are the first person to upload information about a gravesite, you are the default manager for the deceased person’s profile. Should someone come along who is a close relative, they can ask you to transfer the memorial to their care. Find A Grave has pretty strict guidelines about who is considered a close relative. Some members are equally as strict. Others, like myself, are pretty lax.  I didn’t transcribe a bunch of graves of people I don’t know just so that I can horde them. I do it so the information will be available online so that their families can find them. My general policy is I will transfer any grave that is not my direct relative or one of my “pet” families (These are generally branches of my family that I have been actively researching).

So earlier this week, I was contacted about transferring two memorials. I declined to do so, explaining that I was a direct descendant. This fact made the other contributor and me distant cousins. Ordinarily, this would have been great. We all love to find distant family. However, the tone of the response immediately set up my hackles. Would I send him a GEDCOM of all the information I had on this family that I was willing to share? He also took it upon himself to explain what a GEDCOM was. (As a rule, I do not look kindly upon people who talk down to me – so mistake number one on his part). He had plainly read my profile and my policy about transferring memorials. Did he miss the part about being a professional genealogist? I replied that I was currently preparing articles on this branch of the family for publication and I could not share anything at this time.

Now, in the past I have been quite generous with my sharing amongst relatives (and the gentlemen did count as a relative). I used to have a free tree posted on Worldconnect with oodles of sources and transcriptions.  Many of my friends will tell you how many countless hours I have spent climbing their trees. I am a very generous person when it comes to genealogy. It is my passion and I don’t care who I am researching. Just give me a puzzle to solve and I am on the trail. Something happened on the way to becoming a professional genealogist…I realized that some people don’t follow the genealogical proof standards; they don’t care and they don’t care who knows it. Some people feel that anything posted on the internet is free for them to take without writing a proper citation or asking permission to take it. Some people have no understanding of the concepts of intellectual property, copyright and fair use. Now I admit that I have not always been so diligent but never to the extent that I would tell someone “I do not share your concern for protecting your work.”  This gentleman actually wrote that in his last email to me.  I am quoting him directly. And this ladies and gentlemen of the jury is why I took down my free tree from Worldconnect last year, and why my tree at Ancestry remains private and accessible to only the closest of friends and family.

The worse part about this whole exchange is that the gentlemen made no apologies for his mindset AND he tried to BULLY me into sharing my tree over the course of three separate emails. When I told him I wouldn’t share, he gloated about combing through 31 other public Ancestry trees to find out the information anyway. The sad thing for me is that because of the free tree that I had posted for years and my willingness to share with distant cousins, I no longer control aspects of my research. The people who know how to cite sources correctly have given me credit (and I always get a warm fuzzy feeling seeing my name in a citation), but once that information gets saved from one tree to another and so on, the original source is lost. I can get over the loss of my intellectual property but how many possible connections have I lost with distant cousins as a result?

For me, this experience was about the fact that I felt bullied. I was berated for not sharing. Sometimes when people keep pushing, your natural tendencies revolt. I generally share my work on a case by case situation. I felt the gentlemen thought he was entitled to my work, and that made me uncomfortable. I wish there was a way to solve this conundrum. But I really don’t have any answers for this one. As for my personal research, my Ancestry tree will remain off limits indefinitely.

©2014 copyright owned and written by Deborah Sweeney
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20 thoughts on “The Professional vs. the Bully

  1. Kay Strickland

    Boy, does this post hit a nerve! I ran into a novel “request” for my research recently. Contacting me through my blog, the reader asked me for some research on my branch of a tree. She then sent me the link to her ancestry tree, with settings for me as Editor. The note that followed was straightforward: Just add your information.
    I deleted the tree from my account, and fortunately she has left me alone.
    I have had amazing interactions with other blog readers, and our correspondence rekindles my desire to write up and share some of my research, emphasis on the some. I have often cropped or altered photographs that I publish so that readers have to request the original to get a good shot. Or put some sort of mark on them. And I am sharing stories now, not raw data.
    Anyway, I appreciate your rant, and the opportunity to add my voice of frustration. 🙂

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Hi Kay,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I had a similar situation to yours recently. A woman sent me a link to her ancestry tree and another webpage that was a collection of documents relating to our one common surname. There were hundreds of un-sourced documents from all over the web saved to this website. This was another situation that I just did not want to become involved in. I wrote her a short note voicing my concerns and haven’t heard from her since.
      I agree, there are more positive experiences out in the blogisphere and the internet that make me want to keep connecting. I generally just try to forget the others.

  2. Chips Off the Old Block

    I can relate to a lot of this; not so much about the bullying but about other issues raised. I recently discovered that someone posted my blog’s photo of one of my great grandfathers on a Find a Grave memorial page I created and also sponsor. I really was flabbergasted. If they’d at least attempted attribution, I may not have minded so much. I can appreciate how dispirited you feel to see the fruits of your long, hard labors or images from your personal collection posted without permission or attribution elsewhere. I don’t think people appreciate the amount of time that goes into doing quality research and the importance of always giving credit where credit is due and providing sources, especially in your case when a publication is involved.

    I’ve avoided posting a tree to Ancestry for the reasons you and others have described. I’ve found numerous photos of mine on there and followed Ancestry’s procedures on this, but nothing ever happened. I’ve actually contemplated taking my blog down on many occasions, but I am trying not to allow myself to be disheartened by this ill-mannered minority. Still, if you notice it’s gone one day, you’ll know what happened!

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Hi Gail,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I wish people were not able to commiserate with me. Did you know that there are different settings on Ancestry? You can have your tree completely public, private but visible in the search engines and then completely private? I keep mine at the middle setting. That way people can see basically a person’s name, but nothing else. The index will also let the searcher know if there are pictures or sources attached to the tree but they can’t see anything. If the searcher wants more information, they have to contact the member who owns the tree. At that point, I can screen the person and answer their questions. But they don’t have access to my tree.
      For photographs I always add a watermark to my personal pictures that I upload anywhere. It would take a really motivated person to save the picture and crop out the watermark. There are always going to be unethical people who will take that extra step but I chose to take the risk in order to reach the people I am trying to share with.

      1. Chips Off the Old Block

        I was naive about the need to watermark until I started having issues, and then I started adding one in. As for Ancestry, thanks for the information, Deborah; I’ve only been a member for 7-8 months. Maybe I will upload my tree some day and label it private as you suggest.

  3. schmidtbarbara

    Amen to that! I can totally relate to this. I am doing genealogy for abt. 20 years now and I did (and still do) my shares of mistakes and fell into traps. But recently (abt. 4-5 years) I have seen so much crap out there and parts of my tree have just been mixed with others. I admit that it can happen with my last name being the second most common in Germany. But I’ve spent hours crawling up my and other trees to compare and to show where they are off but some just don’t care. For them it is all about numbers, not people. The more figures they have in their tree, the “better” they are. I’ve had people sending me my own information as their research, publishing data from living people (one of the mistakes I made in the beginning, I didn’t set th privacy settings correct) including pictures. I have a cousin who is a “data collector”. I shared my data with her abt. 4 years ago, because she wanted to build a family tree for her son. Since we share the same grandparents I gave her what I had. Since hen she never did any research but accepts every shaky leave on ancestry and then tells me my data wich is citated and sourced would be wrong… oh geeze, I could go on and on and on like this for hours..
    Result: my tree is private, I don’t share automatically anymore. I am still eager to help everyone, but on my time and on my schedule.

  4. Tom Wetherell

    Your vent hit a nerve. I have been trying for many years to accumulate the information on my family. However, although I really enjoy sharing, sometimes I find information “written” by me appearing on sites that I have never shared, and without any references to where they got the information, as you did. This can come as a surprise. I try to not use others information without permission or references, and although I do not have a genealogist degree, I do have one in history and know how important sources are.
    I am sorry that someone thought that you were obligated to share.
    Wishing you well in future endeavors, and I think your sites are presented well, your professionalism shows through.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Hello Tom,
      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your comments. I truly appreciate your kind words. I was discussing this situation with my father and my supervisor at work this week. Both have doctorates. They were completely shocked that anyone would ask for me research. They both told me that you don’t share research. Period. The genealogy community is very different from the academic community in this respect as we rely on collaboration at times and often seek out others to share. We walk a fine line with our genealogy research. I love the relationships I have discovered through my extended research, but sometimes, we just have to be cautious.

  5. thegenealogygirl

    Oh that is too bad. Why can’t everyone play nice? I also keep my ancestry tree private. I have had a few uncomfortable situations arise from extended family. I’m in my mid thirties so some older family members assume that I don’t know what I’m doing and I get talked down to at times by people with far less research experience. They have much more experience with certain branches of the family but haven’t researched them at all – just read and retyped information others have gathered. One much older cousin sent an email to a different much older cousin explaining that I refuse to learn how to use Legacy and that maybe he could convert me and so on. I refuse? Oh boy. He replied to both of us so I got to see it. The funny part was that they were trying to get me to gather all of the descendancy information for my great grandfather. Hmmmm. Despite that and a few other petty moments, I have never had someone bully me like you have. I’m sorry. No fun.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Thank you Genealogy Girl! One thing this experience has taught me is that overall the genealogy community is great. It saddens me to hear that others have had similar situations, that they can sympathize with my experience.

  6. Our Lineage

    I am very sorry to hear this, but unfortunately, I have suffered similar things – not quite the bullying, if you will, but a definitely feeling of entitlement to it. I have given a lot in the past as well, but sometimes you just have to say, “enough”. You still have cousin bait, regardless. 🙂

  7. Maureen Trotter

    I think BeesKnees cut to the heart of the problem by using the word ‘Disrespect’. Respect and consideration for others are needed in all our interactions with others. What that man said to you was inappropriate and, I agree, probably a form of bullying. He will be the loser in the long term!
    I have to say, however, that i (respectfully) disagree with your last paragraph – disrespectful bullies come from all walks of life, so-called professionals and amateurs alike!

  8. Valerie Craft

    I’ve had a horrible experience on FindAGrave with a similar sort of person. He actually wanted me to transfer an entire family cemetery to him so that he could “fix” everyone. He was part of a family association that holds reunions at the cemetery every so often and felt ownership. The funny thing is, I had communicated with him only about a year prior. He was the one who sent me a map to the cemetery located in the middle of nowhere on a logging road. I’d sent him my Gedcom to add to his database. And all the sudden he finds FindAGrave and seems to think he’s the only descendant capable of memorializing our ancestors. I actually ended up blocking his emails and he could only communicate through Suggest A Corrections.

    Long story at an end… you have every right to protect your research, *especially* when you are working on a publication. I don’t have a ton of experience, but from reading author blogs, I’ve often seen free content disappear when it gets sold to a publisher. I can understand that it can be frustrating to find someone who might have some resources and not be able to see it – but all he has to do is wait for publication. Personally, I have all my research online and use it as cousin bate – but that’s me and it’s not for everyone. Everyone does what they need to do; it’s your work and you have every right to do what you want with it.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your comments. I am usually a very generous sharer, because I do like cousin bait. There was just something in the way the gentlemen wrote to me that made me not want to share anything with him. And the more he wrote, the less I wanted to have anything to do with him.

  9. BeesKnees2013

    I know exactly how you feel, having had similar experiences. I started researching over 30 years ago and have shared much over the years with distant relatives. Disrespect for alive relatives and putting photos shared onto Ancestry without permission is also a problem.
    It is a shame that current researchers haven’t learnt the joy of finding out every little bit of information from original sources themselves. Copying other people’s research is just not the same.
    However, these type of people are countered by all the wonderful, thoughtful and helpful people we encounter along the way.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Thank you BeesKnees! I appreciate the support. Finding my own photographs on Ancestry is another pet peeve of mine, but it is one that I have to live with.
      And you are very right about all the great people out there. They vastly outweigh the small percentage of people who make waves.


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