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Monday, 24 February 2014

Collaborative genealogy - the way forward (or should that be back?)

One of the most interesting talks we went to at WDYTYAL was Laurence Harris' talk on collaborative genealogy.

The subject matter really appealed to me as I believe collaborative research brings great results that benefit all, and I wanted to find out more about platforms such as My Heritage (where Laurence is Head of Genealogy, UK) and Geni who embrace the idea of social genealogy and collaboration.

I use Ancestry mainly and I find that fairly collaborative - that is, I can search other people with ancestors in common, see their trees and add information and photos from their tree whilst they can do the same with mine.

I know that some people don't like the idea of collaborative research for lots of reasons but the most common one is that other people will "steal" your work. Whilst I think it is bad netiquette to copy large chunks of research without making contact with the person or acknowledging their work, I don't think that makes open trees a bad thing.

For me the best thing about genealogy is when you find some information that relates to your ancestors and you feel that rush of excitement of seeing their handwriting or reading a document about them. And with more people than ever before interested in family history, it makes sense that a lot more people sharing their knowledge on a particular family branch makes for some brilliant breakthroughs which would not be possible if everyone decided to not collaborate or share information!

There is also the fact that as well as gaining information, you can also gain some new friends - long lost distant cousins who have ancestors in common with you who share your hobby. Result!

I have exchanged emails with several people who have made contact with me after seeing we share a branch of our tree online. Similarly, I have contacted several people after seeing that they are related to one of my ancestors (and are therefore related to me). Through this contact I have been able to find out much more about my ancestors than names and dates on a tree can ever tell you. I have discovered interesting anecdotes, family rumours and sad stories of everyday life that doesn't show up on any census return. I have been able to get a picture (either literally or figuratively) of people I know little more about than a date and place of birth and I have been able to exchange information freely knowing that we all share a common goal - to find out where we have come from.

Collaborative research doesn't have to just be restricted to people to whom you are distantly related of course - relatives you know well have lots of information to share and are happy to do so, and as genealogists we are used to informing our family of what we have recently uncovered. This is all collaborative research at its most basic level.

Thanks to the internet there is also the opportunity to post questions online for others to answer. You may not know an awful lot about Tithe maps but you can bet someone on Twitter or RootsChat is an expert - meaning that you can move further forward in your research. 

Since returning from WDYTYAL I have uploaded my gedcom file to My Heritage to see how the platform performs, and I have registered with Geni whose aim is to make one giant world family tree which shows how we are all connected. It's early days yet and I don't know enough about them to comment on how effective they are for collaborative research, but I definitely think that working together is the way forward.

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