When looking for family, remember to protect your own

12 years ago

Family Searcher HEADER

Every introduction to genealogy suggests starting with you. Collect and collate data and artifacts surrounding your own life. The reason we all suggest this is that it allows you to consider the kinds of information you want to be passed down about you to future generations. It also helps you to become aware of the many different places to look for information and how to best convey it to people who do not know you. Once you have pulled together all the pieces that make you who you are, then it becomes easier to recognize the gaps in what you put together for the rest of your family, and helps you to prioritize your research.

The second recommended step is to work with living relatives to get their own stories, as well as to obtain their memories, and copies of photos, documents and artifacts about deceased or other relatives you cannot reach personally. There are many ways to do this; in person is the best, if possible. Be certain to take copious notes, or make video (or at least audio) recordings if you can.

It stands to reason that someone who is already doing genealogy is going to be a good resource, and the easiest way to find an unknown relative who does genealogy is online. Now let me first say, I keep my family tree private online. Years ago, I made the mistake of making it public, and within a week eight other people had copied my entire tree, perpetuating all my errors, and not always citing my sources. Without sources a researcher has no way of evaluating the reliability of information. All-in-all, such practices are a very bad idea for everyone involved.

A good alternative is to join message boards for your major family names, or for your biggest brick walls. Rootsweb.com has very popular message boards where you can post (or answer) questions (called “queries”) for family names or places you are researching. A typical query might be something on a “Brawn” message board like: “Catherine Beckey, daughter of Magnus and Serviah LANGLEY Beckey, wife of Peter Brawn 1776-1856 , Piscataquis County Maine, looking for her birth and death dates.”

With a private online family tree on Ancestry.com others can see that someone is doing research on any deceased person in my tree. Other sites do something similar, just be sure to check out their security measures. For example someone researching Peter Brawn can see certain information: when and where he died and was born, his parents, and wives’ names. They cannot see the rest of my tree and they cannot get my contact information. What they can do is send me a message through Ancestry, and it is up to me if and how I share information with any requester. This creates a safe environment both for my information and for me.

In this way, you can reach people who already share your interest and may have already conquered your brick walls. I have “met” dozens of unknown relatives in this way, and have gotten some truly wonderful information. Even more important, I have made many contacts with family members I otherwise would never have known.

Editor’s note: Columnist Nina Brawn of Dover-Foxcroft, who has been doing genealogy for over 30 years, is a freelance genealogy researcher, speaker and teacher. Reader e-mails are welcome at ninabrawn@gmail.com.  The Aroostook County Genealogical Society meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Cary Medical Center’s Chan Education Center, 163 Van Buren Road, Caribou, at 6:30 p.m. Guests and prospective members are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.