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Where do you keep your Family Tree?

At the end of last week’s blog, I touched on the controversy over Ancestry’s new terms and conditions. From the initial post by Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, there were some slight changes and clarifications. If somehow you missed this, I suggest you begin by going back and reading Judy’s post, as well as her subsequent one.

I have to admit, that without Judy’s careful eye on such things, I probably would have missed it. Notice that there is not a huge different in the wording, just the addition of two words and the deletion of a sentence. Judy’s post went viral in the genealogical community and I’ve seen posts and messages indicating the intention of cancelling subscriptions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on this, just as Ancestry, as a business, has the right to make changes in their terms and conditions. What follows is my opinion. Each of you have to make your own decision on your comfort level with these changes.

First, and what I think is most important, is you should maintain your “tree” and research on your computer. By computer, I mean under your control whether that be your tablet, cloud account or phone. And, it should be backed up in at least two locations…onsite and offsite. I also recommend that you regularly create a GEDCOM from your database and store that along with your backups. There are excellent software resources out there designed for genealogists. I use Reunion because I am a Mac user and have used this software since the early 1990s when it was just a hypercard stack. Genealogical software packages include RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, MacFamilyTree and FamilyTree Builder by MyHeritage among others. Some of these interact with online software…RootsMagic and FamilyTree Maker interact with Ancestry, and FamilyTree Builder with MyHeritage. Not everyone uses specialty software; there are well known Certified Genealogists that simply use a word processor and/or spreadsheet. You choose, but my point is you should have control over your tree and research.

You might be thinking, but the online trees make it so easy to research (all those hints) and to share. Yes, that’s true. But what if you woke up one day and the company that maintained your tree was hacked, purchased or even went out of business. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that any of these companies are going out of business, but I’m sure many of you can think of large companies of the past (Wang, DEC, ITT) that are no longer with us. This can also happen with software companies…some of you who have been doing this for a while will remember The Master Genealogist which was all the rage in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. Family Tree Maker, one of the original genealogical software programs was created and originally marketed by Blue Banner Software, then Broderbund, The Learning Company, Mattel and then purchased by Ancestry who decided to discontinue it in 2016. An uproar from the community eventually got it sold to MacKiev. This is why you should also maintain a backup GEDCOM. If you are not familiar with GEDCOM, you should know that you can create this format from any of the software packages, as well as from most of your personal online trees (you cannot create a GEDCOM from the FamilySearch Tree or others that are not individual trees). This format allows for data transfer of basic text information but does NOT support images. I recommend that you always download images to your computer. Because of licensing practices, images you have saved to your online tree, may disappear.

So back to the issue of Ancestry’s change in their terms and conditions. Am I going to cancel my subscription? No…Ancestry (along with other large database companies) provides a great deal to genealogists. I do remember the days of working, hunched over a microfilm machine for hours reading line by line to find my ancestors. But, am I going to be more careful about what I post? Absolutely!

My primary tree on Ancestry is private. I use it to cull out hints, find records in their thousands of databases, and a yes, review other people’s trees. If someone is also researching the same people, then we are likely related and like I say frequently in lectures, the cousins got the good stuff! Maybe they have the Family Bible that will have information to break through my brick wall. Even if they don’t, they might have focused their research on another line of the family that can confirm relationships and provide information on the siblings that got “lost.” Do I accept all of their information at face value? Of course not, but if they have the same individual I can look to verify the relationship with other records and will likely contact them. So why is my tree private? Am I not willing to share? Of course I’ll share! I will share information with anyone who contacts me, but I frequently use my tree to test out hypothesis. I am the first to admit that some of my information might not be correct and I don’t want to share that information (or have others assume that everything is correct).

In the past I have added family photographs and images of records that are not in Ancestry to my online tree. I stopped doing that a number of years ago. A picture of my 2x great grandfather’s gravestone, which I took when visiting Ireland in 1997, is in every tree that includes a Moag on Ancestry (and many other sites). Someone I did share it with, posted the picture (with no attribution) and it got added to all of those trees. That is a copyright violation (even if it had been attributed) because no one requested permission from the copyright holder…me. Here’s another blog from Judy Russell you should read. If you haven’t asked for (and received) permission, you can’t share a photograph.

I’m in the process of removing all of the photographs I’ve uploaded (just a reminder, if you are related to a person in my tree I would be happy to share the photograph with you…just email me). I’m especially concerned about living people. I’m also removing those images which I have saved from hints that came from other trees. I’m doing this so if the person who originally posted wants to delete the photograph that it won’t remain in the hands of Ancestry because it is still in my tree. This was clarified by Ancestry in their blog post on August 5th…

"...When a user chooses to delete their tree or other content they have contributed, it is removed. However, this clarification to the Terms and Conditions enables Ancestry to allow other users to keep a copy of the previously shared user provided content in their own family trees, even after the original contributor has made their tree private or deleted their content. The change made today further clarifies this point."

Hopefully, this is an opportunity to be aware of the Terms and Conditions. We all have a tendency to just click the box that say, “I Agree,” and I’m thankful to Judy Russell for bringing these issues to our attention and keeping us on the straight and narrow, both legally and ethically.

Next week I’ll discuss why you SHOULD have an online tree if you have done a DNA test.

Happy Hunting!

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I'm not aware of the post from Ancestry about changes. Where can I get a copy of that?


Here's a link to the post from Judy Russell that explained the change. I'm sure Ancestry sent an email indicating a change in T&C's, but I can't give you the exact date.



My main tree is on my computer in RootsMagic (which I TreeShare with Ancestry)...I also have a copy in Family Historian. Online, my tree is at Ancestry, with smaller versions at FMP and I'm starting to add to WikiTree. My Ancestry tree, like yours, is private, though I have smaller ones that are public, with my grandparents as the roots, so those who are researching the same lines as me can see my work. After the kerfuffle a few weeks ago, I compromised by removing photos of living and recently deceased from my tree, but left the others - most have already been copied at this point (by cousins, who then share), or have been out there as a result of…


Thanks for your feedback. That's similar to what I do. I also have some smaller trees that I use for DNA (which I'll talk about next week).

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