I have been actively researching our families’ history for nearly 20 years. However, even though I have a tree housed on Ancestry.com, I don’t subscribe this site. Consequently, I do not have access to all of the “cool” features Ancestry.com offers. I cannot initiate contact with other people researching common family; instead, I must wait for subscribers to make contact with me, if they so choose. Also, since I use the “free” version of Ancestry.com, I do not have access to any other family trees, including public ones.
Oh well, I guess that is the price I pay for not paying their price. I have accepted these limitations and have adapted to make the most of what I am granted. During the decade-plus that I have been a part of the Ancestry.com community, I have exchanged numerous communications with other amateur genealogists about common ancestors and extended lines. I have provided dozens and dozens of documents, photographs, and new information to these people, and some of them have returned the favor. For me, genealogy has been a collaborative effort.
For nine of those years, I have traipsed through cemeteries near and far, photographing thousands of headstones and transcribing that information to FindAGrave.com. Most of these dearly departed are not related to me. So why do I do this? I do this for those who, because of distance or other limitations, cannot visit the final resting places of their ancestors. It is the least I can do, considering that the majority of my ancestors and my spouse’s kin are buried far, far from us. Therefore, we must rely on the kindness of others to document our ancestors’ burial plots. Again, this has proven to be a team effort.
During this time, all with whom I have corresponded have been appreciative, courteous, and/or helpful…not a negative one in the bunch. That all changed this past year, when I encountered not one, not two, but three (T-H-R-E-E) demanding, confrontational people researching their family history.
The first pushy person I encountered was through Ancestry.com’s Member Connect. In 2009, Ancestry.com launched Member Connect, designed to help amateur genealogists connect with others who are researching the same people, allowing them to share their discoveries, stay updated on the research they are doing on their shared ancestors, and sometimes (if they are lucky) get to “know” a new family member. Through Member Connect, I have had the pleasure to interact with nearly 100 people, exchanging crucial information.
But then, in 2015, someone whom I have dubbed Ms. Veruca Salt contacted me. Her opening message was abrupt: “I want access to your tree.” No hi, howdy, hey… no politeness… not even a reference to what family line she was researching. Not a good start to a conversation, I must say.
I was willing to cut her some slack, though. Perhaps she had been in a hurry or was having a bad day? So, I dismissed the curtness of her message and wrote back: “Hello. I would be more than happy to help you. Who or what family line are you researching?”
Within the hour, I received this terse reply: “I just would like access to your tree.” Again, no cordiality (“Didn’t your mom teach you to say please and thank you?”) and no willingness to exchange information, contrary to the intent of the Member Connect service.
I immediately replied back: “I am sorry, but regarding my private online family tree, I only share this with family members whom I know in person. Although this specific tree is not open to non-family, I am more than willing to assist you with researching our ancestors. What person/line are you researching?”
Her response back to me was not nice. It was so nasty, in fact, that I will only provide a synopsis of what she wrote (minus the meanness). Basically, Ms. Veruca Salt decreed that since she shared a common relation with me generations back that I was obliged to grant her access to my tree, even though the vast majority of my family members have absolutely nothing to do with her.
Several hours later, I wrote back to her—with great restraint, I must add: “Here is some information that I can provide about our common ancestor…” I then sent her birth and death dates and places, as well as links to some places online that discussed him and his family and a brief blurb I wrote about him. I concluded with: “If you ever discover something about (our common ancestor) that you would like to share, please feel free to contact me. Until then, best of luck in your research.” I never received a response (Thank heavens!) or a thank you (Imagine that!).
Whew, I thought, at least that person was the exception to the rule. Boy, was I wrong! A few months later, I received another crusty correspondence, this time from a man to whom I will refer as Mr. Mine.
Mr. Mine shot me a message that read: “I would like the story you wrote about (our shared ancestor).” Again, no greeting and no manners…What has happened to common courtesy these days? Didn’t anyone ever teach these people that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar?
Regardless, I replied: “Thanks for contacting me about our common ancestor. Here is some information I have on him.” As before, I included birth and death dates and places, as well as details about this ancestor and his family. I concluded with “If you ever learn anything more about him that you would like to share, please feel free to contact me. Until then, good luck with your genealogical endeavors.”
I assumed that would be all that I would hear from Mr. Mine. Once more, I was wrong.
In response, Mr. Mine proceeded to lecture me about how I had no right to keep my tree and my corresponding stories private since these were HIS ancestors too. He then proceeded to get up on a soapbox, claiming that all genealogical research is public domain…Yada, yada, yada.
I was appalled at Mr. Mine’s nastiness and assumptions. What makes him think that he (or anybody) has a RIGHT to other people’s creative thoughts and hard work? I wanted to respond that much of my tree is open to the public through MyHeritage,com. In addition, some of my stories/research are accessible through my public blog. Nevertheless, what I choose to share or not to share is my choice. My stories, penned by me, belong to me. They are my intellectual property. Then, just in case Mr. Mine was unaware what that meant, I was then going to provide a definition of intellectual property: “A work…that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript,…to which one has rights and for which one might apply for a…copyright, etc.” In other words, Mr. Mine, you do NOT have a right to my creations, no matter how many temper tantrums you throw! However, in the end, I decided to ignore his tirade and block all other messages from him.
I really hoped that would be the last insensitive, entitled amateur genealogist with whom I would have to deal. Wrong again!
A little over a month ago, I received a message on my FindAGrave.com wall, requesting a slew of people be transferred to an anonymous requester, to whom I will refer as Gen. Gimme ‘Em. Most of the memorials Gen. Gimme ‘Em wanted transferred were people who were distantly related, indirectly related, or not related at all.
However, Gen. Gimme ‘Em did request the memorials for eight grandparents and great-grandparents. As they were not directly related to me, I gladly transferred those to Gen. Gimme ‘Em. Contrary to his/her demand, I did not transfer the very distant, slightly related, or altogether unrelated people (about a dozen records in all).
A few days later, instead of “Thanks for transferring my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ records to me.”, I received this snarky message: “Where are the other records I asked for?”
I responded with the following blurb found on my profile, right above the comment section to which this person was posting: “Regarding the transfer of memorials, if the person is not related to my family, I will transfer a record, provided you personally can show DIRECT lineage within four generations (your child, sibling, spouse, parent, grandparent, great-grandparent)—as per the Find A Grave guidelines—or if you have sponsored the memorial. Otherwise, I will NOT transfer the memorial. As Find A Grave clearly states: Simply having someone in your family tree is NOT grounds for management transfer.”
Now, you might be wondering why I have chosen to adhere so stringently to these guidelines. My reasons are simple. First, I have had people requesting many memorials from me to whom I am directly related. Obviously, I am not transferring those.
Next, oftentimes more than one person is related to a person whose memorial I create. For example, I once had two different people request the transfer of the same memorial within a couple of days of each other. In my profile, I state: “When I receive multiple requests for the transfer of a memorial to whom I am not related, then I will transfer the memorial to the person with the closest relationship to the deceased (again within four generations). Please do not try to lay claim to an ancestor through an older or extended family member.” In this instance, one of the requests came from the deceased’s great-great niece; the other was a direct descendant. Obviously, I transferred the record to the direct descendant.
Finally, I do not troll through my distant families’ FindAGrave records, demanding that those I did not create be granted to me just because I share these people’s DNA. Why? Even though I am related to this person, after several generations have passed, so are hundreds or even thousands of other people. What makes my claim any more legitimate than theirs? Also, I know how much effort it takes to document all of these grave sites. The people who created these memorials willingly donated their time and energy to document my relatives’ final resting places. I am just grateful that they shared them with the rest of us! Who cares who “manages” the memorials? I can make edits and upload images to those pages, if needed. Why do I need to have possession of these pages? The answer is I don’t.
Anyhow, back to Gen. Gimme ‘Em. As I said, I had responded to this person with the rationale why said memorials had not been transferred. Obviously, this was not good enough for Gen. Gimme ‘Em, whose response was one of the most crass pieces of vitriol I have ever received. The response was truly hateful and completely off-base. The short of it: Gen. Gimme ‘Em called me a memorial collector—a hoarder.
Really? A hoarder? Because I spent hours upon hours and days upon days traipsing through cemeteries near and far to help insure that every headstone is photographed and transcribed? Because I want to make sure that no one is lost or forgotten? Because I want to make sure that all relatives can “visit” their families’ final resting places, even if they are halfway across the world?
I was struggling with how to best address this person’s misconception and hopefully help him/her understand the FindAGrave rationale to which I adhere. However, before I even had the chance to respond, another scathing message from Gen. Gimme ‘Em arrived—this time via e-mail, courtesy of FindAGrave’s Suggest Corrections feature. This communication was even more offensive than the previous one. In it, Gen. Gimme ‘Em asserted that if I was unwilling to transfer the requested records, then I must have a fetish for dead people…a virtual necrophiliac.
OH NO, YOU DIDN’T!
Yes, yes, he/she did…using those very words, if you can believe it! Needless to say, I had no choice but to block his/her e-mail address and to report his/her abusive language to the FindAGrave powers-that-be. Thankfully, the powers-that-be did what they do, and Gen. Gimme ‘Em was designated a persona non grata in the FindAGrave sphere.
One would think that after suffering this trio of terrors that I would be a bit apprehensive of collaborating with anyone, anywhere ever again about genealogy.
Okay, I might be just a little wary. Thankfully, when I consider that in the past 15 years, of the hundreds of people with whom I have corresponded, only three were not-so-nice…not a bad ratio, I will concede. Let’s just hope it is a long time, though, until another rude, overindulged family historian contacts me…. a very, very long time.