Terry's TMG Tips

Sharing Your Data

This page updated 7 Jun 2008

Version note: Applies to TMG 7 & 8

The questions on how to share the data we collect with others arise again and again. There are a variety of situations in which we might want to share our work, and TMG offers a variety of tools that can be used for that purpose. In this article I explore some of the scenarios in which we share data, and my (sometimes highly opinionated) views on what to share and how that might best be done. It is by no means an exhaustive treatment of all possible situations, but rather covers those I've encountered and the solutions I've used.

Topics Included in this Article
Who We Share With
Best method depends on who we are sharing with
Family Members
Method for sharing with those with casual interest in genealogy
Distant Cousins
Dealing with those interested in a distant cousin
Serious Researchers
Sharing with serious researchers sharing an important line
"The World"
Publishing your work for anyone to see
Name Collectors
What to do with name collectors

Identifying Who We Share With

First we might consider who might we want to share with, and what we want to share with them. This then drives consideration of what the best vehicle might be. Some common situations in which we might want to share our data include:

One might well have different criteria about what should be shared with each of the above. And it's likely that the best sharing vehicle will differ from case to case. In the following sections I'll outline my thoughts on what is appropriate to share with each, and the best tools for the purpose.

Family Members with Casual Interest

In my experience, there are actually two subgroups, but the considerations are similar. The first are siblings or close cousins with whom I'd love to share my family history discoveries. They typically have modest interest, but might peruse the "good" parts – those with interesting adventures or historical interest – if convenient. The second group are typically widows of second cousins once removed, who have provided helpful information, photos, or copies of documents. They usually welcome an offer of "a copy of this after I get it entered," often adding "for my children."

My first question is "who" to share, that is, what people to include. I'm pretty careful about sharing information on living persons. (I know, some people think this is silly, or worse. That's their right, but I don't agree.) So I generally limit any living people I include to those closely related to the recipient; people they are likely to know anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, how far back to go, I have two considerations. Do I believe the data (I don't share my wife's alleged descent from Charlemagne) and how interesting is it? If the line runs back to just a series of names with a few dates I generally cut that off.

Next is what data to share. I keep lots of details, including detail source information and conflicting "facts" from various sources. For this group, I'm tempted to keep it simple so it's more interesting to read. On the other hand, I have visions of some budding genealogist finding this report in a attic 50 years from now and finding no source information, wasting all my careful source records. My solution has been to systematically exclude all but the most relevant source citations, and then include citations as well as notes on conflicting information I've found (see my ResearchNote tag for how I do this).

Finally, what's the vehicle? The answer is easy for the elderly widow – she doesn't have a computer, so I have to send paper. I prefer the Journal report, because to me that seems fairly easy to understand – all the children of each couple are listed with them. Whether to use the ancestor or descendant format depends on what I think is of interest. Some times I send both, and ancestor report with her late husband as the focus to show all the ancestors, and a descendant report with his father or grandfather as focus to show all the close cousins.

The question is more complicated when the recipient is a younger, computer literate, member of the family. Call me old fashioned, but I still dream of creating "the book." Heavy paper, leather bound, title stamped in gold (well, a fellow can dream, can't he?). But the truth is I'm nowhere near ready to declare any line done. So "the book" would quickly be out of date, not to mention expensive. I have produced a booklet or two, covering a limited part of a family, bound with flexible report covers. They have been well received. I used to use my local UPS Store, which did a nice job of double-sided printing from a MS Word file I send them by e-mail, and could apply a neat, simple, binding to a report in the 20 to 100 page range. But they went out of business, and I bought a laser printer that does double-sided printing. So I bought the binding machine they had used (a GBC SureBind system) at a reasonable price and now produce them myself.

But there are some really interesting ancestors in some of our families that I'd like to share, some of them quite a way back. I've found custom web sites, shared on CDs, to be a very good tool for this. John Cardinal's Second Site program generates excellent web pages for this purpose. This way the recipient can read them on any computer, using a web browser. A big advantage is that you aren't limited to the direct line as with Journal reports. You can include anyone you want, including distant relatives and even people who aren't related. As a further advantage, I use a custom index page with links to "Notable Ancestors" to lure the reader to the most interesting parts. I think this is probably the best approach for sharing with computer literate family, at least until I'm ready to publish "the book." Or maybe even instead of "the book." For some tips I've discovered for using Second Site this way, see my articles on Using Second Site. There is also an abbreviated Sample of such a set of webpages.

Researchers with Interest in a Distant Cousin

I get quite a few inquiries from people who have found someone of interest in the family history pages on my website, or my posting to WorldConnect. Many of them are interested in the spouse of a sibling of an ancestor. It's nice to pick up a few tidbits – perhaps a date or two, maybe the names of the parents. I share whatever I have, but we really don't have a lot of common interests.

I usually create a small journal report showing the people of interest, using either an ancestor or descendant format, whichever works best for the individuals of interest. The report is fully sourced, and shows any conflicting data I've found. I create it in word processor format, and polish it with my Word macro. Once it's done, I convert it to a "pdf" file because almost every computer user can read that format. I attach the file to an e-mail and send it that way.

I used to use pdf995 from Software995 to create pdf files from Word - there's a free advertising-supported version, and getting rid of the ads costs only $9.95. It seems to did the job nicely for me. But the current version of Word can publish in pdf format directly, so now I use that.

I NEVER send a GEDCOM! Why? For a number of reasons. First, I use lots of TMG's better features. The result is lots of data is lost when translated to GEDCOM. Second, I have no idea what program the recipient uses, so I don't know what additional data will be lost from my GEDCOM during import. With a Journal report, I know exactly what the recipient will see – what I sent, the way I wanted it to look. Finally, I never directly import data from others. I always copy each piece I want, entering and formatting the data according to my personal standards, with source notes showing exactly where I got the data and what details I saw. I think others should do the same when they get my data. They should understand what they receive, and enter it according to their person standards (see my "Editorial" on this subject for more details). If they don't care to do that, I'm not going to make it any easier for them. (Guess that makes me an old grouch. )

Serious Researchers Sharing an Important Line

Once in a while I stumble on a rare prize – another serious researcher with interest in a common line. I've connected with a few of these when they found a connection on my website, or when I found something they had posted on the Internet.

I've generally shared information with such people using the methods described in the section above; Journal reports in pdf format attached to e-mails. This provides a permanent record for them of what I sent. Of course I also send copies of source documents by mail, or images of them attached to e-mails or posted to private sections of my website, if desired.

But occasionally I've tried a different approach, especially when I discover that our shared interests include a number of intermarriages. This sort of information doesn't communicate well with Journal reports. So I mark all the persons of interest with a custom flag, and use Second Site to create a small website with all the details from my Data Set. I could mail the files on a CD, but instead I post them to a private section of my website, so they can have instant access to them.

Sharing with "The World"

The advent of the Internet has made it possible to share one's work with virtually the whole world. To me, this form of sharing has two separable aspects. First, there is notion of posting information in hopes of contacting others interested in the same people. Then, there is the idea of sharing what you have found for the benefit of whoever might enjoy finding it. While some prefer to combine these two ideas, I think it's better to keep them separate. Doing so resolves the frequently heard concern that "my research isn't ready to be published," which then results in missing out on opportunities for potentially rewarding contacts with other researchers.

For family lines in which I'm actively involved in research, I post limited information in hopes of making connections with other researchers, resulting in two-way sharing. In order to encourage those connections I post only minimum information – birth, marriage, and death dates and places, and limited source details – and state that more is available, then invite communication. When I receive such contacts I respond as outlined above. I highly recommend posting selected data in this fashion. I've made quite a number of connections this way, a few of them very valuable.

I post the information on both my own website and on RootsWeb's WorldConnect site. Because of the limited information I want to post, I find a site based on Second Site's bullet formats works well. I call this the "Outline" section of my website, which is produced with Second Site, as described in my article on Minimalist Style Web Pages. For a sample of the results, see the Outline Section of my family history website.

Posting just to RootsWeb's WorldConnect project is a good start, but also posting to a personal website yields additional connections, mainly because search sites like Goggle don't work on sites like WorldConnect. For some tips on posting your data there see my article on Posting to WorldConnect.

Once my research has reached a reasonable state of completeness, I find the need for new contacts less compelling, and find I want to share with others what I have learned. At this stage, the outline format doesn't suffice. I like to learn as much as I can about our ancestors and their families, and in some cases have found considerable information that readers may find useful. For this I find Second Site's narrative format produces pages that are more interesting to non-genealogist family members. I have begun posting this type of information, family-by-family, as each is ready. For a sample, see the Narrative Section of my family history website.

Name Collectors

You know who I mean. They are the people with 30 or 100 thousand name files posted on one or more public websites. But if you ask them about the source of any information you find there the response is something like "I don't know, I got it from somewhere." I suppose they are entitled to their hobby, but I have no interest in helping them.

They aren't too difficult to identify if you should run into them. A request for "a copy of your database" is a good clue. Or a request for a GEDCOM. If I haven't gotten myself too deep in an e-mail exchange before I recognize the signs, I simply never respond. If I've become too entangled to feel good about that approach, I send a Word file of a Journal by e-mail with a couple of generations of long-dead relatives focused on whoever we've corresponded about.


I'm sure there are situations I haven't covered here. For example, I don't know of a good way to keep one's data in sync with that of a sibling or close cousin researching the same line. If you have ideas for better ways to accomplish what I've described, I'd love to hear them.

Some readers are likely to disagree with one or more of my principles for sharing outlined above. That's fine, many do. If you do, then use what's useful and adapt to best accommodate your own beliefs.

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