28 August 2014

Are genealogy forums worthwhile?

There are advantages and disadvantages to leaving your name, surnames-of-interest, and email address on the many genealogy forums and load-your-family-tree websites.

Advantages

The main advantage is, of course, that you might connect with someone who can give you vital information. That is the reason we sign up to these things in the first place. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response straight away. The crucial person who has the family bible, or knows who has it, may not read your post for years.

My g-g-g-grandfather, Richard Eason, immigrated to New South Wales from what is now Northern Ireland in 1850, and a few years later his older sister Anne, arrived with her family and their mother, Sarah. We don’t know much about them and we don’t have any photos of that generation or the one after. I posted my interest in the surname Eason on an Irish forum – it was so long ago now that I can’t remember which one it was (if I ever change my primary email address I will lose these forums). Anyway, only last year a lovely lady in South Australia contacted me about my Eason post. Her husband was descended from Anne, the older sister and she was able to send me photos of the family, including the mother Sarah, and a scan of the inside page of the prayer book where Sarah had written the date of her wedding and the births of her children. Priceless!

Another advantage, more to do with loading your family tree on a website such as Ancestry or GenesReunited, is the insight you can get by formatting your family tree in this way. You can easily see inconsistencies, missing information such as certificates you haven’t yet ordered, and problems you thought had been sorted out already, that you may not have seen looking at the data within your genealogy program all the time. You can see that you have different spellings for the Ewins and missing sources for marriages. You can see how much of your data really came from that report you were sent five years ago and haven’t got around to verifying for yourself. Of course, these issues also emerge if we just run a report to give to someone else.

Disadvantages

Many other people may contact you as well, people who are very unlikely to be connected to you in any way. I still get the occasional email from people who have seen my post on one of these forums and have asked me if I know their g-g-g-grandfather who came from Ireland, or Scotland. They don’t seem to notice that my email address is Australian, and they rarely seem to have much information themselves. A g-g-g-g-grandfather of mine is William Stewart, who raised his family in Paisley, Scotland until the boys emigrated to Australia in the 1850s. William Stewart is a very common name in Scotland and so the other information I provide is important – Paisley and Australia and all the rest, and yet I get emails from Americans about Stewarts from all parts of Scotland who emigrated to the USA. Bewildering, it is.

This annoyance pales into insignificance beside the main disadvantage of posting your email address on forums, and that is its susceptibility to spammers. These people gather email addresses from wherever they can, and they indiscriminately send out their pleas for assistance in getting fictitious money out of some troubled country and advertisements for pirated software and enhancements to bodily parts. They also sell email addresses on to others who use them for the same evil ends. The more places you have your email address accessible on the web, the more your inbox is likely to be bothered by these people.

Personally, I find the benefits of potential contacts far outweight the risk of more spam. Spam will find you even if you don’t put your email address on a forum, and there are many good anti-spam tools available. Most internet service providors have their own anti-spam software that stops these messages getting to your inbox in the first place. I must admit, though, that I think my spam is decreasing. The percentage that my ISP reports is spam is much lower than it used to be, and not so many slip through their net.

 I’m sure there are other advantages and disadvantages that you can think of, and I’d love to hear what they are. Leave a comment!

What do you think? Leave a reply here.