I use several databases to research my family history, but I have made more successful connections so far through Ancestry's family trees. It can be frustrating when I'm missing that one clue that could finally tear down a brick wall, and sometimes having another family member provide more details can make the difference. What can you do to encourage sharing and collaboration? Here are a few steps that I use to make this a positive experience for everyone:
1. When you see potential matches in your tree you should always double check that they are the same person. Countless times I have checked into a tree with a potential match and the family is completely different, especially with African American families. Making sure all of your facts are the same, or pretty close, can save a lot of time and embarrassment later.
2. Once you have confirmed a match, send a message via Ancestry's inbox even if the member has provided a personal email. I have found it easier to track member trees and organize the messages where I'm researching. It's also less intrusive to use their message tool until getting permission to email them personally.
3. I always explain that I found the information on Ancestry, and there is a potential match with a specific family or member. You'd be surprised to find people who have no idea how public trees work, or they never received a message before and you don't want to scare them off.
4. Provide details of the potential match including names, birth dates and locations. I also give examples of how people may be related with specific examples, such as, (my great aunt "Jane Doe" born 1868 in Georgia was the sister of your great grandfather "John Doe" born 1872 in Georgia). This way they can easily find the person you are referring to in their tree to compare notes.
5. Don't forget to give your full legal name (if your screen name is different), along with your personal email to give the member multiple options to return your message. Remember, the goal is to get them to return the message so you want to provide the most important details.
6. If someone's tree is private you will have to have their permission to view their records and photos. However, even is the tree is public I still send a message to ask if I can add a photo or personal document that is not public record.
7. Last, but certainly not least, be polite and courteous even if they don't want to share. DO NOT continue to message if the person says they are not a match, even if you are 100% positive. They may have their own reasons for not doing so and you don't want to damage another potential source if another family member uploads the same tree later.
Using these tips has helped me make connection with lost family members that would have taken years through my own research. I encourage all Ancestry members to make their trees public, to be respectful of each other's research so we can all help each other share our family history.