Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Genealogy Serendipity Moment - Pedigree Resource File Submission

Whenever I work with a client I encourage them to share their personal database in the Pedigree Resource File available at The free genealogy database is available for any one, not just members of the church. In my morning e-mail reading today I read a post by the Ancestry Insider titled "New Pedigree Resource File: Sources and Notes". This is something I had to check out as I submitted a file of my own to this collection several years ago.

The PRF database was first available in 1999 and has since added about 19 million names a year. The files were originally available on CDs and one could purchase them or access them at a Family History Center. As of 2007 there were about 150 million names included. At that time they added the ability to view genealogical and extended information for deceased individuals in a familiar pedigree format online. An article at the time explained that, "To respect privacy, only information about deceased individuals is displayed online".

Just recently they added the PRF information to the new website under the Trees tab. The differences between the new and old websites are that the new site offers the sources and notes that the contributor included, but not the contributor information, the CD number or pedigree format. The old site offered a pedigree format for ease of viewing the overall content of the contributor, basic information about the individuals, but one used the CD number to look up the additional information.

Unfortunately the new online version of the file does not offer the contributor information. This can be found on the old website and is a critical piece of information. I am pleased to have the notes and sources of the contributor, but I also like to know who contributed the information.

As I looked at the entries for my Gr. Gr. Grandfather I found the same two files that were indexed before and no new ones have been added. These include the file I contributed and the second is from a fellow researcher on the same line. We exchanged emails some years ago and I shared with him about my private personal collection, including my relationship to this ancestor. I was shocked to find that he included  this private email as part of his notes.

This was a serendipity moment for me as I realized how careful one must be with such a submission. When I submitted I only included my brief source information. This enables someone to find the information and they could contact me for additional information. Now that someone else has shared my personal information to the world, others could easily trace the connection to me a living person. The key parts of my personal information are my father's information and that I am his daughter, enabling someone to know my maiden name. Maybe it is not that critical with the availability of information on the Internet, but it does make me uneasy.

Previously there was a disclaimer at the bottom of the view that stated, 
"Submitter information is provided to help in the coordination of personal family history research."  I want to be able to coordinate with unknown family contributors, but we need to respect each other’s privacy. How should I react to this public display of my personal email containing information that would enable someone to gain my personal information? More importantly how do we protect the privacy of living individuals without monitoring the notes provided in these types of files?

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