Thursday, 6 June 2013

Geni out of the bottle

As much as I enjoy family research, I must admit that it is rife with hazards.  I have discussed quite a few of them on this blog before:  You can make fascinating discoveries -- which may not be appreciated as such by other family members.  You may find your work co-opted by others, and used in ways you never intended. There's a possibility you will contacted by people you'd rather not meet.

Then there are the many companies springing up to aid -- and profit from -- the dedication, desperation, and quite frankly, the addiction of family researchers.  I'm not saying they're evil incarnate, y'understand, but every budding family researcher (and a few of past-their-first-bloom ones) needs to understand that these companies are in it for the money, which means they may not explain all the implications of their systems to you.  Or the implications simply may not occur to you.  By which I mean "me".

I have three family trees online, mainly as buffers against computer catastrophe.  Should my PC go "foom", as it has from time to time,  quite a bit of my research is stored at three different sites.  The latest site where I established a repository of my family research is, and I did so at the invitation of one of my husband's second cousins, who hasn't done much research himself, but knew I had.  It seemed a good opportunity to share what I had with a particular branch of the Resident Fan Boy's family.  Besides, some of what they were posting wasn't quite accurate; misspelled names, wrong birth-dates and birth-places, that sort of thing.

My original intent was to limit my Geni contributions to that branch of the family only, but if you've been paying attention, I've mentioned dedication, desperation, and addiction -- and that's just me being nice.  Over time, I simply couldn't resist filling in other branches of the family as well, including my own.

Well, predictably, Geni started charging for their family trees about a year ago.  Unless you upgraded, you could no longer add relatives.  This must have gone over like a lead balloon, because recently, so-called "basic" members (the non-paying ones) were once again allowed to add information to the trees, while certain aspects, such as merging trees or making contacts with strangers with shared ancestors, were restricted to so-called "Pro" members.  Since merging my tree had never been an attraction, I didn't pay much attention.  In fact, I only updated the tree when I had something new and startling for the Resident Fan Boy's cousins.

I had taken some privacy precautions, making sure that the relatives I entered were on the setting which permitted their being viewed only by close relatives by genealogy standards, no further out than third cousins.  I had noticed that with certain ancestors, I didn't have that option, signaled by an icon of a globe at the top of their profile.  These all seemed to be great-great-great-great-grandparents and associated family, so I wasn't particularly worried.  Until last week.

When you enter a relative into the Geni format, you become the "manager" of that relative.  If someone else wants to manage, that is, edit information on that particular relative, they usually have to make a merge request.  I've been working on time-lines this month, and as a result have acquired more information, so went to my online trees to update.  To my horror, I discovered that I now had "co-managers" on a pair of my 4xgreat-grandparents; two strangers were claiming to also be descendants of this pair.  Apparently, if a profile is public, then no merge request need be made.  This means that any Geni member who believes this person is their relative can enter their own information in their preferred format, and that is how it will appear in "your" online tree.

Now,  I have no reason to doubt that these two gentlemen are also descendants of my gggg-grandparents, nor do I have a problem with sharing information.  I do have a problem with its being foisted upon me. I sought to rectify the problem by dismantling those branches of the family tree which go back further than 4xgreat-grandparents.  You do this by deleting individual relatives, using the "x" in the upper right hand corner of their square.  You can see the crosses on Harry Potter's parents in the illustration.  One problem: not all squares have crosses.  I was able to delete my great-great-great-great-grandfather, but not my 4xg-grandmother.  I couldn't even delete their daughter, in order to excise that branch of the tree. Looking further along the branches, I could see that some squares had the delete option, others not.  You could take out some siblings and spouses but not others.  If there was a rule for deletion, it escaped me.

Another wrinkle emerged within a few hours.  One of my co-managers contacted me, politely asking why I had deleted our joint 4xgreat-grandfather.  Had I meant to?  I tried to explain my reservations in the most diplomatic way possible, considering how unnerved I was.  I told him I would be pleased to share family research with him, but I had no "urge to merge", and had failed to understand that I didn't have a choice in the matter. I also told him that I saw no reason that he couldn't simply re-enter the ancestor into his tree.  So he did.  And damn it!  I re-appeared as co-manager! I hasten to add, that I don't believe this is his fault -- I don't think he has much in the way of options either.

So, in short, if you're considering joining a Geni family tree network, be warned:  once you've entered a person, you may not be able to remove him/her.  You may resign from Geni, but your tree will not resign with you.  You can dismantle or even delete your trees at Genes Reunited or Ancestry, or make them entirely private; this is not an option at, and I suspect it's a similar story at which has a very similar set-up and is, I believe, affiliated with Geni.

I've worked my way out to the furthest reaches of my Geni tree (which, I suppose, isn't even mine anymore), deleting anyone with a cross in the square, leaving scores of others which I am unable to delete, open to being co-opted by other "managers".  I suppose I could erase the information in the in-deletable fields, leaving abandoned pink and blue squares hanging in cyberspace, waiting to be filled by others with the same (or possibly wrong) details.

Once again, Persephone learns.  The hard way.  Always the hard way.


Tamara Tipton said...

Interesting post. I think I would be a bit unnerved by that experience too. Something to think about if I ever decide to do some family research (I doubt I ever will, I don't have the patience!).

PS I dropped by from NaBloPoMo. :)

Persephone said...

Always happy to see someone from NaBloPoMo, Tamara! Drop by again!

JoeinVegas said...

Sounds like you are obsessed.

Persephone said...

All family researchers are obsessed, Joe. We're somewhere between train-spotters and bird-watchers for dottiness. We don't usually wear anoraks, though.