Why my Ancestry tree is now private

Why my Ancestry tree is now private

My approach to genealogy research has always been one of sharing. I have gladly shared information I acquired with anyone who asked. My family tree on Ancestry has always been public because I know how frustrating it can be to find your ancestor in someone else’s ‘private’ tree. Ancestry makes it easy to contact the owner but sometimes it is more trouble than it’s worth. Especially when it is your own family who is withholding information!

Which is why it may seem strange that I have made my family tree private.

There are a couple of reasons leading to this decision. First, I am in the midst of a large genealogy organization project. My research goes back 15 or more years and I have not always been good about keeping things organized. There comes a point where additional information doesn’t help when you can’t find the information you already have. So far I have managed to get everything in one room and have started organizing papers, making back-ups, correcting my sources, and scanning pictures. Since I use Family Tree Maker (FTM) to maintain my data, which is linked to my Ancestry tree, the information will be in a state of flux for the short-term and the constant changes on Ancestry doesn’t serve anyone any good.

The organizing effort alone did not force the decision. Recently I read a blog where the writer linked bad information on Ancestry to sloppy research. The blog was aimed more at unreasonable conclusions, not mere mistakes. I admit that I get as frustrated as the next person to see family trees where the information is obviously wrong and I wonder why the owner doesn’t fix it. Then I thought….

….maybe because, like me, they have amassed a lot of data over the years that has never been verified.

…maybe, like many of my family lines, this particular one, has lied dormant for years.

…maybe, like I do, they assume that no one takes their research as truth until they have proved it for themselves.

In my case, I have always used some type of genealogy database to store my data. Good or bad, it went in my family tree because I didn’t want to lose it. My tree was the single repository of everything I had. And let me be clear here: data is not the same thing as a proof argument. Some of my lines you can take to the bank because I have spent numerous hours analyzing the data and can prove my conclusions. But some of my other family lines make me cringe when I look at them.  Since the data was on my own computer hard-drive I was not concerned. Now I use FTM, which is linked to my Ancestry account. This makes research easier but it also exposes everything I have, warts, and all. Personally, I consider everything on Ancestry a shaky leaf ‘hint’ to be proved, but I realize others may not.  And ethically I don’t want to contribute bad information. Better it be kept private until it is cleaned up.

The final reason for taking down my tree has to do with copyright infringement. Not my own information but what I may have obtained from others. I understand how copyright works and would never intentionally re-use someone else’s stories or pictures as my own. But over the years I may have copied work from others on Ancestry, stored it in my tree, and not given proper citation of where it came from. As long as my tree is public, I could be passing information as my own that belongs to others and that would be ethically wrong as well.

I would be interested in knowing how others feel about this. Should the data on Ancestry be treated in the same way as other published genealogies, with care taken to not knowing pass on bad research? Or is it simply another repository of data that should be used with a grain of salt? Are you concerned about how the information you put on Ancestry is used (e.g. plagiarized) or do you feel that as long as it contributes to the body of knowledge it is fair game?



10 thoughts on “Why my Ancestry tree is now private

  1. Perhaps if you were to leave your tree public then others might help you to verify your content and avoid erroneous conclusions. We all make mistakes. I have recently had a couple of my wrong assumptions corrected by others viewing my tree and was grateful for their input.

    1. Genealyn, my tree has been public for several years and so far no one has commented on the content. I think a lot of people hesitate to do that out of concern the owner may take it wrong. It’s good that you see their comments for what it is, an attempt to improve your own research. I’m not really sure that what I have is wrong, only that I haven’t validated it, so therefore it could be wrong and I hate for people to keep copying wrong information. Thanks for your comments and good luck with your own research.

  2. I understand so much what you are saying I too have put my ancestry tree on private for the very same reasons I have to know it is absolutely correct before i make it public again if I ever do! some people copying what I have and taking it as read that it is correct when clearly sometimes (when i have gone over it) it is a bit of a jumble other times i have seen someone copying a particular line of my tree that i know is correct and they have added it to a completely different family!!! I too am not very well organised and struggle to find bits of information I know I have, I am looking for the perfect system for keeping all the records and bits of information that i have amassed. I have just started a wordpress blog to put my info on (on private for now) bit by bit so that hopefuly I can see at a glance what I have and dont have I know family tree maker and others are supposed to do this but i wanted to put it somewhere else that might make it all a bit clearer to me as ancestry doesnt seem to be doing that, I havent even started putting info on here yet but when i do i am going to start just with grandparents, great grandparents etc leaving their familys out of it so that it doesnt get too complicated The result of this is I suppose if you put your tree on public view then it is fair game like anything that ends up in the public eye….or is it?

    1. Faded Pages, I agree there is a lot of copying on Ancestry and I have done my fair share. I don’t think I have ever (intentionally) copied an entire tree. For the most part it was to add a parent, a date, or a place that I hoped would lead me to right person. Have you ever used Evernote to organize your research? A lot of people do and I am working toward that end. I also use a lot of spreadsheets because of filtering capabilities. It lets you see a lot of data in different ways. Good luck with your own research.

      1. I love Evernote yes I use that I am looking to have hard copies of everything too so still need to organise that the hard drive went on my pc last year and I lost some stuff so im trying to get really organised so that if it happens again im ready and everything will be saved ! hopefully wont happen again but you never know

  3. I am going to start a new public tree that has ONLY verified by me information to share. I appreciate so much that as a whole everyone shares, but I agree in that I only want to contribute correct information. Starting over is also a great way to work toward getting organized and completing research on families that was never completed as a new discovery was made and it was forgotten. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, just what is right for YOU!

    1. I thought of that too but since I am linked to Ancestry via my tree I have to be careful. As part of my organizing I found that I actually had a couple of old trees still linked to prior versions of FTM and since I didn’t make the names much different I was actually linked to the wrong tree. I have since archived and unlinked a but my current tree which has also been renamed.

  4. A lot of us have amassed a lot of garbage in our Ancestry trees. I would like to also have an accurate tree but don’t have the time and don’t care for current tech options that I know of for copying and correcting one version.

    1. I hear you Luanne! And I do honestly believe it is up to each of us to validate the information is correct. Most of the Ancestry tree information is poorly documented, or the owner just chooses not to share sources. I will most likely have to break off the branches that need work if I am ever to re-publicize my tree. Like you I don’t have time for perfection. Thanks for your comments.

  5. I am as you are. However, I have taken it one step further. I have a very comprehensive private tree and a much, much smaller but sourced public tree. My public tree contains only direct lines–no off-shoot family of any kind.

    The reason for this approach is two-fold. First. like you, I hate unverified information. Speculation abounds in online genealogy. I do not want to add to this misinformation, so I keep all of my research private until I am absolutely certain. I guess I am one of those” “Just the facts, ma’am.” types.

    Also, I have personally researched and penned many of my stories; they are my copyrighted material. Years ago, I had a story I was intending to publish pilfered by another person who failed to cite me and posted it on her own online tree, claiming that she wrote it! After several attempts requesting that she properly credit the story and her repeated refusals, the genealogy site had to step in and remove my story from her tree… a hard lesson learned but a necessary one. Too often, people view information found on the internet as fair game. Plagiarism abounds.

    Finally, I have opted for a private tree because many of my family members who have contributed memories, pictures, or notes have asked that their material only be shared with other known family members. If I failed to respect their wishes, no one in the family (except them) would be able to enjoy these photos or remembrances.

    Now, have I been lambasted by some people who demand that everything I have or create should be theirs “just because…”? Oh yeah, many times! I am always amazed when people think that they have a God-given right get whatever they want just because they want it! Self-entitlement abounds these days.

    I say, stick to your guns, Susan, and keep your tree private. Your reasons are spot-on.

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