[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
Post originally found at: https://genealogylady.net/2014/01/16/the-professional-vs-the-bully/