Thanks to this blog, my website, my trees on Ancestry, the Yahoo Groups I belong to and my countless mailing list and message board posts (both Rootsweb and Genforum), I hear from about ten new "cousins" a month. Some of these new relatives are pretty close and some pretty distant (like a 10th cousin twice removed) and it is usually fun to hear from any of them BUT I've been noticing in my exchanges with some that, well, their genealogy "netiquette" deserves some attention. These are some annoying trends I frequently see when hearing from new relatives (please keep these in mind prospective relatives!):
* While I am interested in your branch of the family and love getting any and all information you'd like to share with me, please use some discretion in what you send me! I don't mean to be rude, but I really don't care about your spouses' or in-law's or third-cousin-twice-removed's family tree. If I'm not related to the person, I'd really prefer it if you didn't send me their extensive information and family tree.
* Please don't contact me just to ask for all my information. It is rude and it demeans the years of work I've put into my research. There is a reason why all my trees on Ancestry are set to private, all my images have a watermark and a lot of the information on my website is copy/paste disabled and the reason is this. If you want my information, kindly ask if we can EXCHANGE genealogy. If you share something (like pictures or GEDCOMS) with me, I'd be more than happy to share with you.
* You know how it isn't nice to dangle a carrot in front a rabbit but never let the rabbit take it? Well, it isn't so nice to contact someone, tell them that you have all the missing links and a wealth of information and then don't deliver. I was so elated when I heard from one cousin who promised she had all the answers to a baffling branch of my family tree. She even gave me a run down of all the pictures and information (including original documents) she had. I gave her my address and eagerly awaited hearing from her and then... nothing. Talk about let down...
* Believe it or not, but I (begrudgingly) do have a life outside of genealogy. If you don't hear back from me for awhile it is because I haven't had the time. I usually try to get back to people within a week of hearing from them, but sometimes, it takes longer. If I know it'll be awhile before I can send someone any information I usually tell them. Please don't pester me for information when you know I am unable to send you any at that time, all it makes me want to do is NOT get back to you. I know how exciting it is to meet a new relative and possibly break down brick walls, but twelve e-mails in one week is not okay.
* I once read somewhere about the netiquette around exchanging genealogy information and the lead off, number one rule to always keep in mind was the fact that people are really only interested in genealogy information that directly applies to them (like direct ancestors and close relatives) and there is a lot of truth in that. While I am interested in all branches of my family tree and do research all lines, not just the direct ones, please don't contact me just to tell me all about your side of the family. It is boring and makes for a pretty one-sided exchange of information. Instead of just telling me all about your family, let's try and focus on exchanging information on the relatives that we share, okay?
* If you see an error or an omission in my information, please do point it out (along with your sources) just don't be a jerk about it. I can't tell you how many new found relatives I hear from who think their data is the most sound, error-free and has all the answers- it doesn't and neither does mine. My data isn't perfect and neither is yours so don't berate my errors while pretending your information is the gospel truth. There is always room for improvement, new information and amending in genealogy as well as room for error.
* Believe it or not, but only about half of all the information I have ever received has made it into my trees. Most of the stuff I'm given is either without sources, unsourcable or reliant on poor sources (OneWorld Tree anybody?). Asking about sourcing is the litmus test for genealogists. I find that the really great genealogists have the best sources and source documentation while the newbies and maybe not so great genealogists don't really bother with it (or if they do it is inconsistent and poor). Since I've been in their shoes, I try and tell them a little about sourcing and the importance of it but it would sure be nice if sites like Ancestry offered a tutorial on it and pushed it more (since that is the mecca for any and all genealogists).
* Don't invade my space! I try and respect the privacy of my living (and recently deceased) relatives and I also try and keep a little for myself. Just because we are related don't expect me to send you information on living relatives. I'm happy to exchange pleasantries and have made more than a few friends (I've even come to think of one like a grandfather) through exchanging genealogy information, but asking for personal information on me or living relatives is not okay. I've had new relatives ask me everything from what school I go to to my phone number to my religious affiliation to who I voted for in the last election. As a general rule, I'm pretty stingy about giving out information on anyone (living or dead) born after 1920 so if you contact me don't expect me to be very forthcoming about post-1920 relatives.
If you are a relative and you want to exchange information, please do contact me. Most of the people that do are extremely wonderful, it is a small minority who fall into the categories above, though these behaviors are pretty annoying and something I'd prefer not to have to deal with as often as I do...