Monday, May 16, 2011

Musings On A Munday Lack of Courtesy or Lack of Common Sense?

 Is lifting/borrowing/copying documents and photos from one tree to add to your own without contacting the tree owner a lack of courtesy or a lack of common sense?  Those "lifters" do realize that the documents and photos were added by another individual.  They don't think that put them there do they?  Like maybe the shaking leaf appeared and so did a document?

I added a handful of photos and documents to my tree last year.  My thought was that surely somebody would contact me once they see this great information.  That didn't happen.  Don't they wonder if there is more where that came from?  Don't they wonder how we are related?

One person lifted a German church record from my tree and added it to theirs.  This church record is from 1788 in Klepsau, Baden, Germany.  It took me a long, long time to find this record (scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through microfilm) and took me a long time to eventually get it translated.  The devil in me wants to email this person, that placed in on their tree, and ask "do you even have a clue as to what that document is or says???"  Well, I did email them...twice but have received no response.  I let them know that my tree is what I use as a sort of "working" tree and that I have so much more than what is online.

At this point I'm wondering if they are really that rude as to not answer after I've reach out to them twice.  I also wonder if maybe they are embarrassed to have been "caught" lifting.  After reviewing their tree I can see I have a lot to offer them but if they don't have the comment sense to reply to my emails there is nothing I can do about it.

It's not the borrowing of the documents I have a problem with.  I do that myself.  But I never borrow without contacting the owner and letting them know we have a common ancestor and I am happy to share what information I have.


  1. I also struggled with this. In fact, I made my family tree "private" for a long time. I think my issue was that it was not only someone taking my hard work without asking, but that they would also accept my work as fact without questioning me or my source information. But, in the end, I decided to return my tree to the public view. I have worked hard on my tree, and spent quite a bit of money, but I know it is fairly accurate and if I'm going to spend the time and money I would rather have an accurate story shared and "chain linked" than some grossly inaccurate information. I am still amazed that people do not contact others for more information on the documents they find. I think it is both a lack of courtesy and common sense. And it some respects it may just be the excitement of finding some fresh information and just plain not thinking.

  2. Jenna, I think this is a common problem, as I've encountered that as well. Wish I could provide a solution, but I doubt there is a rule to almost force somebody to is their loss. Like you, I always write, finding contacts and cousins is part of the fun. Good topic.

  3. Thank you for the comments Heather and Barbara. The lack of reaching out and trying to find out more information bothers me more than taking the photos/docs without saying thanks I think!

  4. I religiously follow the connections on Ancestry to see who is saving documents from my tree. I'm actually in contact with several distant cousins on various lines and their information is among some of those that I deem to be more reliable than others.

    I've discovered people saving my grandparents and great-grandparents information to their tree. I've written to them to find out what our common connection is and receive a response like, "gee I don't remember; I'm not sure." These are the folks who are merely clicking on the "add this person to my tree" link without really independently verifying data.

    I do wish that Ancestry's shaking leaves were a different color to distinguish between trees and possible data/document matches. Any more, I seldom click on any leaves with only 1 hint. I do leave the hints there because sometime in the future, I actually might make a connection to a specific family.

    I have no problem with anyone saving my photos or documents to their trees - I only hope they are saving the information to the correct individuals.

  5. Sadly, a lot of folks DO think that Ancestry puts those documents/photos/etc. out there, and "I pay my monthly fee, why shouldn't I be able to paste it to my tree?"

    Seriously ... I actually got that as a response to an email (asking if they would like to exchange information) I sent to someone who lifted a photo off my tree. So ... since that date, my tree has been private. If someone wants something from my tree, they can open a dialogue with me.

    I agree with Susan. A lot of people on Ancestry are name gatherers and aren't concerned with whether their information is valid, much less where it comes from.

  6. I think some people are rather clueless. I send messages to those who "lift" stuff off of my tree. My message is always very nice as I am wondering how (and if) we are related. There are a lot of people out there who just accept every hint without checking things out. It sometimes turns out that they are not even related and pulled the info because it was there!

  7. This is the reason I made my tree private also. Like many of you, it was a working tree not a completely documented tree. Then I ran into a "collector" who not only collected but actively offered "his" information to anyone with the same name. I felt he wanted to be known as the expert. Suddenly, the misinformation was on multiple trees. I wrote to correct him, but when he asked questions for more, I did not respond since he was not related to my lines. He even had living individuals listed with only our first names, but those names are distinctive. I tried to write to him about this, but he did not respond and had to contact Ancestry. I keep mine private because I want a bit more control and hope it will encourage family to contact me. I am not a privacy fanatic or I wouldn't have a blog.

  8. I love it when newbies discover these things. Yes, getting ripped off sucks. Trying writing an article, having it published and then see it online without attribution.

    People are thoughtless. go figure.

  9. From the TOS: "Should you contribute content to the site, you understand that it will be seen and used by others under the license described herein."

    So if you add a photo or a document and I attach it to my tree I do not feel I have "lifted it" but rather that you shared it with me. Through Member Connect I see when others add something I provided to their trees. It would be nice if they contacted me to say thanks but I don't expect it and it is rarely forthcoming. Because it is so easy for them to attach my photos to their trees in this manner they are less likely to right click and save the photo and repost it as their own and my original description stays intact along with the information pointing back to my tree.

    If I have something that I do not want to share I use the Web Link feature to point to my blog or note that I have a photo, death certificate, etc as a comment.

  10. Thanks for the comment and various view points! It's not the lack of courtesy so much as the lack of common sense that bothers me. Those that take without contacting are missing out on so much! I suppose I have to look at it as their loss, not mine.

  11. Okay. I have a few issues that I'd like to take, well, issue with.

    I don't like being called a thief. As Apple pointed out we are well with the Terms of Service [TOS] that has set forth on their website. We are not stealing anything. By placing it on your public tree, you are sharing it with us. In fact you are publishing it.

    Tell me. When you go the library and peruse a published family history, do you contact the author before writing down any pertinent information for you to later fact check? [You do fact check, don't you?]

    Tell me. When visiting a rather dated family website with lineage information and in the absence of a contact button or a an email, do you scour the internet for this person for their contact information before ever fact checking the information that same information?

    To be continued...

  12. [continuation]

    Further, I don't like my research methods being questioned in a negative light, but I'll enlighten you.

    I may not contact you because I don't want to; because I don't have the time at that moment, but I don't want to forget where I found it; because it's a collateral line that I will want to pursue later; because I'm just saving it to my Shoebox for a client and I can't divulge anything due to my client confidentiality agreement; because; because; because; etc.

    I may have a myriad of reasons of why I might not contact you right away or at all. The one thing that stays the same is that it's not personal. It's not because of you.

    To be continued...

  13. [continuation]

    And if you're still bothered by someone not contacting you, have you considered the fact that they are complete newbies to genealogy who have probably never read a genealogy blog in their lives, and have no idea what the unwritten rules to online genealogy are?

    Perhaps, they have nothing to offer you.

    Perhaps, they are [gasp] name collectors. And 5 will get you 10 that that is exactly how you started out as well. A name collector. Hardly ever does anyone start out thinking, "Hm. I think I'll research how my grandpa's life was like back on the farm." No. It doesn't usually start out that way.

    Usually when starting out, someone wants to know if they're related to someone "important", like a celebrity or royalty, or a founding forefather, or some such stuff. It's not until they really start to find who they really are related to that those seemingly unimportant details start to rise to the surface and suddenly knowing what kind of dip [tobacco] that Grandpa used seems so important to them.

    To be continued...

  14. [continuation]

    An important rule of genealogical research is being broken here. The rule of assumption, or rather, to not assume. Anything. Do you automatically assume while researching a male ancestor that they only had one wife just because you only found one marriage record? [Gawd. I hope not.]

    You are assuming it's personal that they're not contacting you. You're assuming that they are taking and are not grateful.

    Plus, you're calling them thieves, even though they are following the TOS set forth by Nice.

    And I'd like to reiterate what Apple mentioned. There is a link to the image [photos, documents, etc.] from my tree to yours when I steal it from you. [Oops. I mean, when I copy it from my tree to yours.] This means I'm crediting the image to you. This is where I stole [Oops. I mean, copied.] it from. What more do you want? Blood?

    Now. I do return my mail. Eventually. Why does it take me so long, you ask? Besides the fact that I have clients, it takes me so long because I actually do figure out how you and I are related. For free. If you were a client, you'd be paying me $30 an hour for such a look-up.

    Alas, because I do have clients, I have less time to work on my own ancestors. 'Tis a shame really, but there it is.

    Therefore, if you come across me in's tree system [tree name is Family Stories], it's probably wrong. I've probably mixed up a few John's and Mary's. [Snort.] But that's not my problem. That's yours. You should be fact checking everything. Even official documents should be fact checked.

    After all, everything on my tree, I stole. [And if you believe that, then I have some ocean front property in Arizona I'd like to sell ya'.] [O.K. I stole that from George Strait.]

    ~Caroline Pointer

  15. Actually, my website address is

    This is what I get for posting an opinion that I know beforehand is not going to well-accepted at all late at night.


  16. Jenna, wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone followed the Golden Rule? It's terribly easy to be impersonal on our computers. I hope that's the reason people are less than courteous online. And say things they (hopefully) would never say in person.

  17. Caroline, Caroline, Caroline...I'm going to pick my battles and this isn't one of them!!! :) Somebody bring up sitting in chairs in an exhibit booth and I will be all over that!!

  18. Laura, I hope people are staring to realize that you can no longer be rude and obnoxious online without it catching up with you at some point. Try as I might to keep my personal and business "profiles" separate, I am seeing more and more cross over. You never know who you are talking to and when it may come back to haunt you in your "real" life! Thanks for commenting!

  19. When it came to loaning money to our children my husband corrected me; he said, "We never loan money to our children. We give it to them. That way we're never upset if they don't pay it back and are thrilled if they do."

    This is the same approach I've taken with regard to the subject of this discussion.

    I have been furious at those who have taken my research, my one of a kind graphics, and my treasured photographs. But, it required so much energy to contact them or to be angry. Energy I could be putting to better use.

    Now I am just thrilled when someone contacts me to ask permission, thank me or to offer assistance.

    Their manners and research skills are their own and no reflection on me. Thanks Jenna, I feel much better.


  20. It is not against the Terms of Service at to copy information as the whole point is to share information freely through public trees.

    When I save something to my tree, there is a link that directs anyone who is interested back to where I got it from.

    This also allows me to see where I got it from later when, once I've fact-checked the info, I enter it into my separate database on Rootsmagic 4. All credit of where I've found the information is entered into there as well.

    Now, if I find information elsewhere, then I abide that site's terms of service. Regardless, credit is always given.

    I think the problem at is that very few people are aware of their Terms of Service.

    I have no problem with people copying things off my tree without contacting me. Guaging by how many people do so, I could not possibly return their messages & requests. Mostly? They're collaterals - distant ones. And I don't have the time to educate them all individually on how to perform research correctly. Plus, I don't feel comfortable being the genealogy police
    of research methodology on a one-by-one basis.

    Another problem with the usage of the trees on Ancestry is that not all people are using it for the same reasons, and many assume that others are using it the same way as they are - as an end product.


  21. Jenna,

    Hi, I find this post interesting and it is something I've been going over in my head for a few months now, but I'm trying to figure out how to share :)

    I now have a huge collection of old original photos, letters, documents etc that my grandmother collected over the years. I really want other distant family members to be able to use and see these pictures, if they are interested. Some of these items I've recently scanned in and given to a local historical society to use in a write up about previous citizens and the history of the town.

    Now, here is the but: I don't like feeling that anyone out there can use the photos and docs for their end goal. (I found a findagrave pic I took on ancestry and the guys FB page and he gives himself credit, umm, that is my shadow in the picture).

    I don't know if I'll ever get it all to a point to print up a full history that is suitable for anyone other than close relatives, who then may just put the booklet on a shelf and forget about it. So, how do we share these items and make sure that someone who really appreciates them can have access to them? That is my dilemma at the moment, how do I share them with others and still make sure the items aren't being used for something else. Sorry for the long post.