For several years I have maintained online family trees at Ancestry.com, including four for each of my grandparents and two for my husband's side. I determined this was the easiest way to share with distant family members, accommodate my and my husband's divorced parents, and also to not provide unnecessary information to fellow researchers. During this time, I have added many census images and other documents to the trees taking care to make sure I have added correct information, just as I do with my RootsMagic database which should mirror the online trees.
Recently Ancestry.com has created an RSS feed for any Member Connect activity. In other words, through Google Reader I receive updates of any other Ancestry.com member that attaches the same documents to their trees. In what I am calling the "WDYTYA Effect", I have seen a recent uptick in the activity.....by a lot. Many of the matches are for collateral lines that I am less interested in following, but occasionally I see a match that could be very helpful to my research and in turn I may have something to share with the other researcher.
Just such a thing happened about three weeks ago. This person appeared to be researching a surname to which I am not blood related. However, this person's ancestor and my ancestor have siblings that married. I had done some looking at his ancestor in order to determine descendants of the siblings. Confused yet? So I send this person a message through the online message system on Ancestry.com....and I waited. Finally yesterday he replies telling me "thanks for the info" but that he was only researching his ancestor's sibling (that married my ancestor's sibling) in an effort to understand the generation before that. He also stated that he hadn't really looked at any of the sibling's descendants because he was focused on their father.
I do have a local county history that is only about 30 years old that would help this guy out. And I believe I have a photo or two of the children of his ancestor's sibling and my ancestor's sibling. Had someone told me that they had that kind of information about my own family when I was starting out, I would have jumped at the opportunity. In fact, when it happens even now I am thrilled to receive info and to share back.
I realize this guy may be new to family history and may not understand the importance of researching the whole family, so I will make one more attempt to contact him. And even if he's not interested now, I'll still be here when he figures out that going sideways and down can be just as important and fruitful as going up the family tree!