In a unified family tree model, all of the users have equal access to the data to add, modify, delete or merge existing information. In the user-owned model, the family tree is completely controlled by the user and cannot be modified, added to, or deleted by anyone other than the user.
From the viewpoint of a genealogists who is not affiliated with any of the three entities listed above directly as an employee, both models offer advantages and disadvantages. My personal position on the two different approaches is complicated by the fact that I have family trees on all three programs. I also have a long history of involvement at various levels with all three companies to a greater or lesser extent. In this post, I am not taking a position either in favor of or in opposition to any of the models of on line family trees. The idea here is to investigate as many reasons pro and con as possible.
There is a third position that still has a marked level of attention from genealogists and that is a complete avoidance of the idea of sharing a family tree online out of concerns about privacy and control. Here, I will present the issues that I perceive for each of the three different approaches to the online family tree issue.
Some reasons why genealogists do not wish to share their data online
As I discuss online family trees in general in classes and other presentations, I find a significant percentage of the greater genealogical community to have substantial reservations about sharing any of their research or data online. The primary expressed reason for this reticence concerns privacy issues. Underlying the privacy concerns is a fear of "identity theft." I have written extensively on both topics but, of course, many of the people with these concerns also have a very limited online presence and it is very unlikely that they read this blog or any other blog. There are a very few people who have extensive online activities, but still do not want to share their data online, but their motivation is usually quite complex. I think that the following factors, in the order listed, are the most common for failing to put a family tree online at all:
- Privacy fears
- Identity theft fears
- Concerns about disclosing untested and unproven information
- Concerns about losing ownership of the data
- Overall distrust of the Internet
- Lack of the technical skills and knowledge to upload and share files
Reasons for and against sharing genealogical data on a unified family trees
The reasons why someone would put their research on a unified family tree program are probably much more diverse that I can imagine. But here are some of the more obvious reasons.
- A lack of understanding of the difference between a unified family tree and a user-owned family tree
- The availability of a free vs. subscription website for hosting a family tree and specifically in the case of FamilySearch.org Family Tree, because it is free and not subscription based
- In the case of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the lack of any other option for providing names to the Temples for ordinances and because the FamilySearch Family Tree is sponsored by the Church
- A lack of concern about ownership or privacy
- An appreciation of the advantages of finding others who are working on the same family lines
- Experience with other online collaborative programs
- The lack of feelings of ownership of genealogical data
- A belief that FamilySearch will maintain the data for a longer period of time than any other entity
- The fear of losing ownership or control of the data
- The inability to deal with the idea of having to compromise what they see as the correct interpretation of their data
- A lack of understanding of how a unified family tree model works
- A lack of understanding of of why a unified family tree model works.
- A lack of awareness of the differences between a unified family tree and a user-owned family tree
- They have any one of the reasons for not sharing their data online in the first place
Reason for and against sharing genealogical data on a user-owned family tree program
There is some overlap in the reasons why people do not want to share their genealogical data online at all and the reasons why they do not want to use any particular program. But here are some of the reasons they share their data.
- They have a subscription to the program and simply put their data online because they think that is what they are supposed to do
- They do not understand the need for storing their data locally and use the online family tree as their primary data storage program
- They are not aware of the alternatives of the differences between the subscription based programs and those that are free
- They use the free portion of the subscription program and do not take advantage of the other features
- They see the advantages of programs that automatically provide research for sources and inter-tree contacts
- They want to share their data with family members and are not familiar with any other way to do this
- They want clear ownership of their family tree
- They see the value added advantages of the subscription services such as automatic source lookup features
- Other family members have family trees online and they wish to share information
Now to the list of reasons against having a user-owned family tree.
- They are unwilling to pay for a user-owned tree
- The have any one of the reasons for not sharing a family tree in the first place
- They fail to see any of the advantages or do not understand the advantages of an online family tree
What I find interesting is that there are some people who will change their mind and put their data online in a family tree after their questions or concerns have been answered. But there is also a significant group of genealogists who cannot be persuaded by any argument or education.