Managing editor Diane Haddad’s special report on online etiquette reminded me of an e-mail I got several years ago from an infuriated genealogist (I’ll call her “Linda”). She’d found a family tree on GenCircles <www.gencircles.com> that contained incorrect information about her ancestors and personal data on her living relatives. The submitter, “Bill,” had offered to remove Linda’s personal details, but ignored her request to change any other data.
What Linda didn’t realize — and some of you might not, either — is family tree databases operate on the honor system. No laws exist to prevent users from posting living people’s personal details (legally, names, birth dates and addresses are public information), nor is an army of fact-checkers working behind the scenes to verify the facts in uploaded family files.
The moral of the story: Had Bill and Linda both followed online etiquette guidelines such as those outlined in our report — and exhibited a little common sense — a potential genealogical collaboration might not have escalated into a family feud. Don’t let your own family tree suffer a similar fate.