Dear Relative – Why Won’t You Share?

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Okay – I admit that researching my family history is by and large a selfish activity.  Starting this pursuit with no plan and no direction – I began because I wanted to discover MY family history, not the guy’s down the street, not my dentist’s and certainly not for relatives I had never met.

To be honest, once I got into it – a bit of altruism did creep in. This started to occur once I realized that the recently departed most certainly would have known who the people were in the old photos that they left behind. How would I ever identify the old guy with the funny beard, or the lady with the bustle? No one was around to help.


So I vowed that my descendants and their cousins and their children would be able to know who their ancestors were and that nothing and no one was going to stop me. But I needed assistance – that’s for sure.

When I started and did not even know the first and last names of 6 of my 8 great grandparents – how was I going to do this without help? So I began to interview my closest  older living relatives – of which there were only three. That got me a little ways – and new surnames were uncovered and through these interviews and hundreds of hours of online searches – a picture started to emerge. I got well past identifying my 6 unknown great grandparents and their parents and in some cases, their grandparents. And stories started to be found and even some old photos were shared and identified.

And in these online searches, I started to find what I fondly called – the STRAGGLERS. You know who these people are – the ones that you KNOW in your heart and in your gut are related – but you can’t prove it. And a few years go by and you still can’t prove it.

Help is on the Way

But it got real fun when I started a family history website and remote cousins started to contact me.  And I hit the jackpot. Several 2nd and 3rd cousins appeared to me and the pieces started to fit, and even most of the stragglers were identified. And guess what – some of hem had photos – lots of photos – and lots of other artifacts – like German letters, and marriage certificates, and a few death certificates and many other documents.

And we started online photo albums and a few of us shared photos with one another and tried our best to identify them. And we identified the living descendants of many ancestors and had what I call a “representative” of each of these ancestors – all who were born between 1870 and 1914. And to a person – these representatives were excited to have found “cousins” who they didn’t know even existed. And hundreds of emails flowed back and forth – discussing dates and maiden names and what they remembered. And then came the fun part – SHARING. And some did share, and some did not.

Are you a Hoarder or a Sharer?

Oh there were a few who shared every single piece of paper, every document, every photo. They scanned them and emailed them, not only to me but to others in our growing extended family – trying to find someone to identify the woman with the bustle and the man with the funny beard. And we were somewhat successful, but some of them decided to not share. They talked about the metal box they had with all of their grandmother’s records and letters, or the three boxes in the garage that they had to get to someday, or my favorite – “I scanned everything I had” (when I knew that they had more). And then there were those who sent three crappy photos of their mother, when I knew that they had many many others.

So my message to you hoarders is “people die and unfortunately you may be one of them.” And sooner than later (hopefully not for your sake). But guess what – when you do, all your knowledge dies with you – and your children and grandchildren will never know that the guy with the funny beard was your grandfather – and the woman with the bustle was his second wife, and they may never know that the woman who you thought was your grandmother wasn’t and you never knew who your biological grandmother was. And that is because you kept all these materials and artifacts to yourself, and that by sharing, many of us could have helped YOU know who your ancestors were – because they overlapped with ours. And then your children and grandchildren would know too.

So the question that I always ask is 


WHY WON’T YOU SHARE?

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Please Share!

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20 thoughts on “Dear Relative – Why Won’t You Share?”

  1. Perhaps one reason people don’t share is that there are not only hoarders and sharers, there are also leeches, who take everything that they can get and give nothing in return, and don’t even say thanks.

    1. You are so right about this. Everytime I come across a new cousin, I do share what I have through e-mail. They contact me asking for this stuff, and so far, I have yet to receive one shred of new information from one single person that I have sent info to. This truly makes me not want to share. How does everyone get over this? I need help!
      I even commented to a person on Ancestry.com with a “private” family tree who was connecting all my photos and documents I had put up…I wrote: I’m so glad I could help “you” with “your” family tree.

      1. Kenneth R Marks

        Missy,
        I wish I had the answer for you. But I don’t. All my “cousins” act differently. Some are great sharers, some think the share but only send some stuff (and usually those are the worst photos), and some don’t share at all.
        Human nature I guess – a mystery!.I try to ignore it but it is difficult when one wants to out a complete story together.

  2. I don’t know whether to commiserate or to feel jealous 🙂
    You sound like you have so many distant cousins connecting with you–that’s why I’m jealous! I guess perhaps there is a geometric progression that implies that the more distant relatives you connect with online, the more likely it will be that you bump into someone who is not willing to share, even though benefiting from what you’ve already posted. Such is life. However, from a researcher’s point of view, what a delicious problem to have to deal with!
    Just found your blog via GeneaBloggers today, by the way. Enjoyed taking a look around here. Best wishes as you continue your researching and your blogging.

    1. Kenneth R Marks

      Jacqi,
      Thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I have been fortunate in finding “cousins” and having several websites and being on social media sites has been indispensable.
      The challenge, I find, is the “cousins” who state that they have boxes and bags of photos, documents and letters and won’t share them. That is very difficult for me as I scan and share everything that I can get my hands on. And when you suspect that there are some real nuggets in there that will fill in some gaps in ancestor stories or provide a missing date, etc. that is quite frustrating. Hoarders of important family information are not my favorite relatives.
      Thanks again for dropping by.
      Kenneth

  3. I can totally relate to this post!!! It’s SO frustrating! I have several family members who will not share. Whether it be pictures they have in their possession, or information about an ancestor. But, they are quick to ask me for information whenever they have a question, or to save pictures that I’ve come across while researching. What I really find hard to understand, is the attitudes of some of them. They say they just “don’t care” about finding out anything about their family. But, they are the same people who have the family photos, that they keep tucked away somewhere, unwilling to share with anyone else. It’s sad!

    1. Kenneth R Marks

      Thanks for visiting Kathy.
      Yes it is frustrating but I keep poking at the uncooperative relatives as I know they have lots of stuff. Keeping hopeful though.
      Thanks again,
      Kenneth

  4. I have two people in my family who have managed to acquired all of our family’s old photos and neither one will share. I’ve begged for 8 years to be allowed to make a few copies but to no avail. Some of them are pictures of me with older relatives. Consequently, I have next to nothing to hand down to my family. This should be illegal and I have considered trying to sue for the right to have copies. I haven’t found anything on line that addresses this issue and don’t know if I have a legal leg to stand on.

  5. Many of us senior relatives do not communicate on the internet and we certainly are hesitant about our personal information being displayed throughout the world. I have read many or your entries and they are awesome. It is exciting to see so many distant relatives all over the world that I will probably never meet and to see their awesome accomplishments. It made me smile and I just had to thank God for such terrific talent in our family. What you do not know is that our family has always been very protective of our families and we were always taught not to display our family details in public. We senior citizens in the family still honor that advice because we want to continue to honor our matriarchs and patriarchs. Please forgive us for not wanting to publicize our history, but that was drilled into us from childhood. I love what you are doing and would love to share my family’s information with you, but I just cannot do it on international media. I feel that it would disrespect my loved ones who taught me not to do so. Blessings to you and your supporters.

    1. I do not have to share every piece of information I have with the public. The information I have posted has brought family members together in a way that has never been accomplished before. Moreover, I have discovered more relatives through my postings which has been very exciting. Even if something has been drilled into our heads doesn’t mean we can not rationalize it a better way. I don’t want to leave my family without family history or memories. I have spent years and a lot of money just to obtain the histories I have now, but I hardly have any photos. My family enjoys seeing the resemblances of us to our ancestors. This can’t be done with words. Having been recently diagnosed with leukemia has given me a sense of urgency to share our family history before it’s gone and forgotten.

  6. Some relatives will readily and generously share what they have. This is what it takes to flesh out your mutual trees, in other words, working together. Others are stingy and evasive and yes, their information will not be there for their descendants to see. Unless they do share with them privately. Guess what? You can usually work around the stingy relatives for data, but not their family stories. But if they won’t share, what are they hiding? Most genealogists do not publish negative family stories and ALL families have them. Actually when sharing your gedcom online at unpaid sites, you can opt out of sharing: sources, notes and living. However, dna is up and coming and will find out some of those “secrets”.

  7. caith culbertson

    I am very curious how people feel about their dna cousins putting personal lines of others into their trees. Doing that without permission seems intrusive. E.g., if I have a common ancestor tree match, in the 1700s, they will take the line all the way downstream to my mother. This has been done several times that I know.

  8. I have no problem sharing, but sharing to me is a give and take thing. All I usually get from sharing is the giving end and nothing in return. I also get sick of sharing things off of my PRIVATE tree only to find them posted as public with, as always, no credit given to the owner of these treasures. If people would just be more responsible with their research I would be glad to share. Until they learn some basic manners I will keep my treasures for my direct descendants. I just don’t think my ancestors would want their photos posted on an ancestry garage sale.

  9. Interesting thread. I have run into the issue of siblings flipping out and maintaining that no photos or anything should be shared, even among friends on Facebook, until all of us are sitting in the same place to look at archives. This could mean years will go by while the archives languish in the garage of one person. It puts a hold on my research, which I willingly share with them. And I resent the notion that one sibling controls access to the material that they have mandated is for all of us and that’s why I can’t look at it…kind of a circular logic. I fear that lack of sharing will lead to many a missed opportunity, simply so that somebody’s nose isn’t put out of joint. (Note that absolutely no invasions of privacy or living persons’ identities would be involved.)

  10. I am both these people you describe. I am very torn on whether to share all my pictures on my public tree on Ancestry or other places. I am very open to sharing stuff if a relation reaches out to me but I hate to put them up for fear of the “person/info grabbers”. I hate seeing treasured photos on people’s tree who have barely a relation to that person. People just like the look of having pictures up and I hate seeing that they don’t treasure the photo like it should be. I also agree that some of my research which I do enter into my public tree and have the up to date citations *but private image of the document”. I don’t mind sharing that document with people who reach out and say, “Hey, I see you have BLANK in your tree and a source, would you share that with me?” but I don’t like when people just take it and put in their tree without a source or a link to my tree. I work hard on figuring out mysteries and spend hours and money on getting that document so I resent when people just take it and don’t appreciate the effort enough to cite my tree. But if they put in their own effort to reach out to me, I’m very giving. I even state that in my profile so people know that things aren’t “private” because I’m hoarding but they have to care enough about that info to take step to get it. Instead of those that just grab info based on hints and put into their tree without even analyzing the info. However, I am currently scanning and archiving my families photos and realize that unless they are shared, they could be lost forever. And I plan to contact cousins to see if they will share because I hate for photos to end up in estate sales or antique stores. It’s just hard when you share and a cousin just takes it but never offers you anything in return. I’m torn and really appreciate your blog post!!!

  11. Hi,
    I have always shared generousit until just recently. This is your family but my hobby.
    I have spent much time & money doing research. Whenever I have exhausted online resources, I will pay for a a foreign researcher. I was upset in 2 instances recently. 1) a cousin referred me to her daughter’s research. I had paid for that research & shared it with the daughter. Another time, I had been sharing everything but when I asked for something I wanted, the answer is no. The relatives were always interested but as one said, I am interested but not enough to spend the time to research them selves. I always made copies if requested. But not any longer.

  12. Hello Everyone,
    After reading this post I am also curious to know about my ancestors. It’s a very great idea/thought.
    Can any one help me in writing a generic message using which I can convince my family members to share a quick note or belonging or related items to there parents or ancestors and other people in family. I am not very good in words and convincing people so I want a help from your side so that I can also start with my finding about my family tree. A msg which I can share on my family whatsapp groups and on my facebook profile and on other social media.
    Please help!!!!

  13. I have run into this myself and it’s so frustrating and I have to say kind of mean when people refuse to share. A 2nd cousin who also does genealogy has managed to get her hands on loads of stuff because she’s much older than I am and started sooner. When I started doing my own research I was happy to share what little I had and tried to contact her to see if she could help me. No dice. She refuses to answer my inquiries and goes around behind my back trying to get her hands on any and every info, even stuff my own grandmother has, which in my opinion, should come to me, right? And also a lot of what she’s “Found” and shared is actually wrong according to the actual records. She records family lore as fact and as a result I am constantly having to correct other family members assumptions about our family. Basically she has made up a ton of stuff and published it in a family book and now claims it’s fact. I guess that’s part of why she doesn’t want to share since she knows she’s a fraud. Anyway, I will continue to do my own research while she continues to hoard stuff that rightfully should be shared with the entire family. I might add that I also run my own online family web site and I have published every picture and document I have on there so everyone can benefit. So she can actually access what I have. Too bad she won’t reciprocate.

    1. Kenneth R Marks

      I’m sorry you have such a “fill in the blank with a negative adjective” cousin. Feel good that you are doing it correctly. I hope it gets better for you.

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