Sharing Genealogy & Gedcoms

by JL Beeken on 1-30-2007

I’m glad people are sharing genealogy. I found a file on WorldConnect that ties directly into my database. Lots of cousins I wouldn’t likely find another way. Lots of well-documented census research already done. So far, so good.

Then the trouble started. Question marks and AKA’s in the name fields. Social Security numbers, cemeteries, occupations and zip codes in the Master Location list. Social Security numbers and burials in the Event description and place fields. Forty-five counties that don’t exist for the right time period. Twenty-five locations that don’t seem to exist at all. Burials listed as baptisms. Sources that don’t fit with my own hard-earned system that all have to be rewritten.

Generally, I don’t work with gedcoms. I have thousands of people in my database and most have been entered one person at a time. That way I have control over what I’m doing and get to know the people as I enter them. Otherwise, what’s the point? But a gedcom here or there can be tempting.

When importing new data it’s a really good idea to import it into a New Family File, since in this way you can examine what you’ve got. If you immediately mix it up with your main database the problems will not go away, they’ll just be better hidden. But they will show up again and relentlessly to haunt you for months and years to come.

This is not only a problem with gedcoms. I once added a large amount of data from a “scholarly work” (book) on one of my family’s “famous” lines that was later disproved in many details when I met a living relative. If we can’t even believe the “scholars” what’s to be done? I look at it this way: we’re compiling history with a grain of salt. And some grains are larger than others.

Sharing GenealogyI found one enterprising individual who had hacked together 50,000 people from various sources into one database. He posted this online with a note saying “Please send corrections” and, I assume from his lackadaisical email to me, then went off on holidays. That’s one way to do genealogy. I was impressed with his ingenuity.

The problem, of course, is that the information pool available for us to share can get shoddier and shoddier over time. So, if you care, it would be a good idea to establish a correspondence with the person whose file you’re interested in using. That would be the #1 most important thing.

Once you’ve got their gedcom imported into a new family file, run all the tests possible. Find out where they got their information from. Look through the Sources list and verify what you can. Clean up the Master Location List and verify the locations. Make a list of the ones you can’t and mail it back to them. If you’re a Legacy user, read Master Locations and use the check list. All genealogy software should have similar options for cleaning up. If not, consider switching. Make a Potential Problems report and mail it back to them. Look through all the Notes fields, and move anything that’s out of place. Run the Global Spell Check. Go back and forth with the other person until you’re happy with what you have. Make sure you add their name as a source to all their data so you can get back to them later with any further questions.

If they don’t want to talk to you, or can’t explain where they got their information, that’s a clue.

After you’re satisfied with the file you can easily export it as a new gedcom, import it into your main database, and use the merge function to tie it in. Or use the Split Screen view to merge the two. By that time, you’ll be much better acquainted with that batch of relatives and will have made a new friend.

#2 most important thing: As your database grows and grows it’s easy to start thinking it’s all yours. Some people do not want their information posted on public sites, and although they were willing to share it with you (in the glow of your email friendship) it does not mean they want you to share it with the rest of the world. Some people don’t mind it being shared but they’d like their contribution to be publicly acknowledged. Some people don’t know how they feel on this subject until you do something that ticks them off. Please take the time to know other people’s wishes in this regard before posting what’s been given to you.

This is family research, not a race. If you communicate with the other person, instead of just inhaling their research whole, you’ll both learn something, and both come out with better information and better family charts.

I’m not talking about “perfect” here, because we all know that doesn’t exist. But consider that we have the power to set a higher standard.

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