Terry's TMG Tips

Sharing Your Data

This page updated 22 Apr 2014


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?). So far the book has eluded me, but 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 have produced custom web sites, shared on CDs and mailed to relatives for this. My abbreviated Sample shows how such a site appears. John Cardinal's Second Site program generates excellent web pages for this purpose. But increasingly I've been posting my "completed" lines on a public website pending publication of that book I mentioned. While these don't include living people, they do include all those interesting ancestors I've found. So instead of preparing private websites on CD I've been sending emails with links to my public website to relatives when I finish a family line that may be of interest to them. See "Sharing with the World" section below for more on this method.

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 or Ancestry.com. 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. The first is posting information in hopes of contacting others interested in the same people. The other is the 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 and 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 find advantages to posting the information on both my own website and on genealogy tree sites such as RootsWeb's WorldConnect or Ancestry.com. My site is indexed by Google and other search sites, so it is easy for a cousin with no research experience to search for his grandfather on a slow afternoon and find him on my site. Public search engines don't work on most genealogy tree sites. But more serious researchers would seem to be more likely to be looking on a genealogy site, such as Ancestry, so also having my data there enhances my chance of making contact with them.

For my own site I find a site based on Second Site's bullet formats works well. I call this the "Family Tree" 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 Family Tree Section of my family history website.

Posting to a genealogy site is more difficult, I've found. I have posted to RootsWeb's WorldConnect project for many years, but that site seems to be falling into disuse by many researchers, and I've not received a contact from my posting there for several years. More researchers seem to be using Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and like sites. But none of them that I've found offers the features I think to be essential for my purposes. For a further discussion of the issues involved, and some suggestions for preparing your data for uploading, see my article on Uploading Your Data to a Public Site.

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. "The book" of course may remain an objective, but a more detailed website can be an excellent interim step, or perhaps even a substitute. Books have demonstrated permanence, but a researcher has to first find a copy. Websites are easy for others to locate, and are easy to update if your "finished" line proves to be not quite finished. But their permanence remains to be demonstrated. A public website requires a host, and commercial hosts expect continued payments. The lifespan of "free" hosts is also questionable. Websites on CDs don't have that problem but a future researcher has to locate a copy, and the life of CDs and the availability of equipment to read them seem to be finite.

At this stage my selected vehicle sharing "finished" lines is my public website. 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. It also offers features such as charts and maps to make the presentation richer. I have begun posting this type of information, family-by-family, as each is ready. For a sample, see the Family History Section of my family history website. More information about using Second Site can be found in the Second Site Tips section of my 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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