All over America, Facebook users are eagerly racking up points on Farmville, Mafia Wars, and other games. I know; I see them on my Facebook page.
But not me. I don’t dare. Knowing how little time I have for research, blogging, and other pursuits as it is, I avoid these addictive pastimes. Because I would get addicted.
Until now. You see, I thought I’d give Ancestry’s Public Member Trees (PMTs) a whirl. You know, just to see what all the fuss over “shaky leaves” is about.
Little did I suspect. I was just going to input a few names, places, and dates and see what happened; if I liked what I saw, then I might gradually – very gradually – add information.
I started two family trees, one each for my mother and father. The shaky leaves started to appear. Nothing exciting at first, just interesting. These were my closest relatives, the people who had been added to my genealogy program first, and I knew most of them well (parents and grandparents, a couple of aunts and uncles), so at first I hadn’t always bothered to put a source (shame!). To rectify this, I checked out the hints and added sources – SSDI, census, maybe a World War I Draft Registration Card or two. All the sources were familiar to me; I had already transcribed them, even if I hadn’t bothered to cite them for each and every close relative.
As I progressed to aunts, uncles, and their spouses, I had already put source citations, and I started to note that I had more than Ancestry did. “Humph!” I thought. “I’ve got more than you do.” “You” being Ancestry. After going through the sources, I decided to see which PMTs were listed in the hints and what they had. For my father’s close family, there was only one such tree, and the second cousin in question had received the information from me.
Three trees came up for my mother’s immediate family: one first cousin once removed, one first cousin twice removed, and a large group tree for my mother’s home county in Texas. I had much more information and many more sources. “Heh!” I muttered. “I’m ahead here, too.”
For a total of about a dozen relatives, Ancestry’s accuracy was pretty decent on the source hints – out of about 20 hints, only one census link was for the wrong Moore. (This made me think: I often examine the links to the PMTs to the right of the images of the censuses and other documents and I’ve seen incorrect or conflicting connections to a few – are these wrong connections made by the owners of the trees or have they simply accepted incorrect hints from Ancestry?)
For the PMT hints, however, I was not about to hit “Connect”; as I understand it, this is how you add the highlighted information to your own family tree and not how you get in touch with the owner of the tree. If I find anything, I will type it in myself. (A confession: in this process I have found one or two incorrectly entered dates in my genealogy program, such as a 25 Jan 1909 for a 26 Jan 1909; at least I think I made a typo….) But I don’t want to incorporate information without truly looking at it and thinking about it, and I don’t want to have to go back to correct sloppy capitalization and punctuation (which seem to be all over the place in these trees).
And the fact that anybody can just hit “Connect” and endlessly duplicate mistakes – whether minor or major – bothers me. As I saw the same information appearing in exactly the same form in tree after tree, it occurred to me that you cannot tell who originally contributed the information or who copied from whom (although that information is provided for photos that are downloaded and added to other PMTs). So how do I know whom I should contact? And once I put “new” information up, later, after it has been copied and recopied umpteen times, how is another researcher to know to get in touch with me and not just someone who clicked on “Connect”?
This could have put a damper on any further additions to my trees, but I had learned something else: it is interesting and it is fun to see what comes up; what does Ancestry have and what do other tree owners have? And this brought another question to mind: how far can someone go in building a tree by simply following hints (after a bit of initial data input, of course) and without doing much if any research on their own?
And what new things are added after I have reviewed the old hints? Already I could see that I had more ammunition in the bag: I started fumbling around, trying to use the clunky forms to add some non-Ancestry sources and I was also aware of a number of censuses that had not been included in the hints. What would happen if I added those?
At this point I realized that it was too late to stop. This was like a game, and I was addicted to it. Ancestry was “The System” – and it was fun to try to beat The System – even while using it to support my own research. Owners of the other PMTs were other (human) players. I could see and use their research, but they could see and use mine, too.
So when and how would I add new information and where would it lead? For my mother’s family in particular, I have quite a bit of information that neither Ancestry nor the PMTs have. I felt like a chess player considering her next move: should I go ahead and add the name of my mother’s paternal grandfather or should I just cite and link to the two censuses (1880 and 1900) that show her father living with his father? (OK, having just written this I realize that it sets off major geek alarms.) And will this – through my great-grandfather’s distinctive first name – then lead Ancestry to my great-grandfather’s family back in South Carolina? I suspect it will. (And it was no easy thing for me to find this family originally!)
It’s not that I resent sharing the information; if I did, I wouldn’t have put so much of it in Featured Family Friday and Surname Saturday posts. But at least from there people have to cut and paste and then enter the information in their programs.
But there is no question of whether I will make my Next Big Move, simply one of how and when I will make it.
Because I am the Tree Trampler, the Destroyer of the System. Show me what you’ve got, Ancestry – I laugh at the few puny censuses you throw at me, ‘cause I’ve got that many up my sleeve, and a Will-Bomb and a Land Deed-Grenade in reserve.
So how come I have this sneaky feeling that Ancestry has outmaneuvered me by luring me in, taking all the stuff I throw at it and … making that stuff its own content?
Maybe I’ll keep that Will-Bomb in reserve.
Questions that I have:
1. Is there any way to use the forms for additional sources on Ancestry’s PMTs to generate decent source citations?
2. Is it OK to upload an image to my PMT that I originally downloaded from a site such as FamilySearch Record Search?
3. My PMT shows up to the right of census images linked to citations, but not in the Search PMTs function. Is there a certain minimum number of individuals the tree has to contain before it will show up there? (I seem to remember seeing the figure “50” somewhere – Apple’s Tree or Genea-Musings? – but can’t seem to find it now.)