I remember being 12 years old, walking around a rural cemetery somewhere along the border of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. It was a hot summer day and we had driven round and round up a mountain, and then walked up a long drive way to get here. My aunt, the genealogist in the family at the time, was so excited to finally see this cemetery. My cousin, a year younger than I, was incredibly furious that we were spending the day in the middle of nowhere at a cemetery. My job was to take the pictures while my aunt wrote down the names of the stone. My cousin’s job was to cut the grass and overgrown bushes so I could get a decent photo with my throw away camera.
Afterwards, we drove through some more mountains and hills to get to an elderly woman’s house. I don’t really remember who she was, but she knew my grandfather when he was a child and remembered my great-grandparents. We sat uncomfortably on her plastic covered couch while she told stories of life in rural North Carolina in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. She talked about my great-grandmother contracting tuberculosis and being sent to a special home for tuberculosis patients and never really being seen again. She talked about how my great-grandfather remarried not long after, mainly so that there was someone to raise his children, and how all of these events led to my grandfather becoming a rebellious child and teenager.
It was on this day that I was bitten by the genealogy bug. From the start, my journey in finding my family roots was a collaborative one. Without the help of my aunt, the elderly lady, and many other distant cousins that guided us to the cemetery in the first place, we wouldn’t have found this information. Discovering this information was a collaborative effort.
So what is collaborative genealogy: It is working together to find genealogical information, answer genealogical questions, and solve genealogical problems. I would argue that all of us, at one time or another, have collaborated with someone in their genealogy research.
Here are some reasons why I think collaborative genealogy is super cool:
- No one person knows everything. There is always more to learn when it comes to genealogy. Collaborating with experts in an area you are researching can help answer some of the ancestral questions you have.
- Two minds think better than one. Sometimes, talking it out with another researcher can help you think of a new way to break through that brick wall.
- You never know who inherited the family Bible, only photo of the Civil War veteran, or old family letters.
But there are some things to keep in mind when collaborating with someone else:
- Always ask for permission before using another researcher’s work and always give credit where credit is due.
- Never assume someone else’s research is the gospel truth. Confirm it for yourself and see if the conclusion makes sense.
- Respect intellectual property rights and copyright law. For a good guide on this, I highly suggest the Legal Genealogist Blog – Judy G. Russell is amazing.
- Don’t go sharing or publishing (even on an online website) on living individuals. Always be careful about respecting the privacy of others and be aware that family stories can sometimes be painful for living individuals.
- Always cite your sources. Let me say that again…. just in case you didn’t hear me: Cite. your. sources. And explain your reasoning.
What have been your experiences with collaborative genealogy?