Our Obligation to Share

By Carolyn L.  Barkley

Along with many of you, I have been watching the new Friday evening television series Who Do You Think You Are. Interest in family history will be heightened as a result of this prime-time exposure. The elevation of genealogical research to celebrity status, perhaps the ultimate in sharing, has prompted me to further consideration of our personal obligation to disclose our genealogical research to others.

A few months ago, this blog published an article by Jean L. Cooper of the University of Virginia Library entitled, “What Do I Do with My Research? or How to Have Your Hard Work Outlive You.” The information Ms. Cooper provided is critical to ensure that our research is preserved for the future. Mounting my own “soap box,” I hope that you will not wait until the execution of the terms of your will to share your work. I believe we all need to reveal our work as frequently as possible, in as many ways as possible, so that our work can enrich others interested in similar families or locations and lead to new discoveries and connections with documents or perhaps, even relatives. Here are a few suggestions about how you can make this happen:


From the homepage, click on the Family Trees tab in the upper navigation bar. The first choice in the drop-down box allows you to start a new family tree by entering your information. Many of you, however, have probably already created your family tree using the genealogical software of your choosing. In that case, chose the “Upload a GEDCOM” option in the same drop-down box. Click the browse box to locate the appropriate file on your computer. Then complete the boxes asking for tree title and description. Be specific with surnames, dates, and location so that researchers can find your information easily. Most importantly, make sure the box entitled “allow others to see my tree as a public member tree” is checked. There is a 75MB limit on files to be uploaded. A submission agreement is available so that you are clear about the rules governing the use and distribution of the information you are providing. Once you have checked the box giving your assent, click on “Upload” and you are on your way. PLEASE make sure that you include sources for your information. Documentation is the hallmark of quality research!

The social networking ability on this site supports our interest in the shared stories and historical details that make documents come alive. The Create a Page option allows you to gather together everything you know about a person, place, event or organization. You can upload photos and include stories and facts as well as links to pertinent Footnote pages and other web sites. In order to heighten the opportunity to connect with interested individuals, make sure the box stating “allow Footnote members to add items to this page.” You can also create a Personal Gallery that stores Footnote.com images and images that you upload from your computer. When you find a document of interest on the site, you can annotate it with a comment, add it to your Footnote Page, or include it in your Personal Gallery. You will want to search the Footnote pages of other members and look at the Spotlight Pages where Footnote members showcase their discoveries for others.

This site provides you with the ability to upload your GEDCOM files for inclusion in the Pedigree Resource File. This database is available online and on CD-ROMS you can purchase. Master copies of the Pedigree Resources File are kept in the Granite Mountain Vault near Salt Lake City; however, the file is updated and published as additional records are submitted. To access the PRF, you must register on the familysearch.org site which can be done easily at familysearch.org/eng/share/Preserve/frameset_preserve.asp. (For those of you who index for Family Search Indexing, PRF registration requires different sign-on information.) Once registered and signed on, select the “Share My Genealogy” tab in the navigation bar at the top of the page. Further links, shown in the left-hand navigation bar, will provide you with the information on how to submit your data. Once again, please make sure you include source documentation for any information that you upload.

If you have had your DNA tested and joined a surname project at familytreedna.com, you are provided with an opportunity to upload a Y-DNA or mtDNA GEDCOM file. While not universally available to individuals tested by familytreedna, your file is available to the project administrator (of your surname project) as well as those who have matches with you.

National, State or Local Levels

Are you a member of an organization such as the National Genealogical Society? NGS invites members to submit family group sheets as part of the NGS Member Ancestry Charts (MACs) collection. First, you will need to register as a member on the NGS website. Once signed on, selected the “Members Only” tab in the upper navigation bar. Scroll down the page and click on the Member Ancestry Chart heading. This collection of NGS member family group sheets, begun in the 1960s, is currently being indexed and digitized. A full abstract of all names (in excess of 1,000,000) in every MAC submitted prior to 1995 has been completed. About half have been uploaded to the Members Only section with additions made daily. Images are being scanned as PDFs and will be added as well. If you don’t find any charts of interest to your research now, check back periodically.

Does the state or local genealogical society, historical society, or library in the geographical area of your research maintain a file (either electronic or paper) of research on local families? If so, you will want to consider donating a copy of your pedigree files and family group sheets as well as supporting documentation and photographs. Contact the society or library and ask about their policies and collection and format guidelines.

Consider writing a case study or an article about a particularly exciting discovery from your research. Submit the article for publication in a society periodical, family newsletter, or other publication. I read many such articles even if they are not about my particular family or geographical area of interest to learn about new resources or methodologies as well as problem solving techniques that I may be able to apply to my own research. Many publications have specific submission, so be sure to check for this information prior to any submittal.


There are several ways to share information with your family including framed pedigree charts, scrapbooks, quilts, family recipe collections, and other similar items. One innovative way to organize and share images of documents, photographs and brief text is by using a web site such as Snapfish, “the home of online digital printing.” At Snapfish (and other similar sites), you can create custom albums and gifts (calendars, etc.) by uploading your own digital images. Snapfish also allows you to share photographs with friends on such social networking sites Facebook and MySpace. The quality of the finished project is excellent and provides a wonderful opportunity for family history related gifts for holidays and birthdays.

Whatever format meets your needs and expertise, the key is to share your research on a continuing basis. Sharing will inevitably help you find more documentation and connect with that long lost (or totally unknown) relative who can add to your family knowledge. I hope you’ll start sharing today.

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