The National Genealogical Society has published Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others. I like this document because it is good practice for all genealogists and family historians from the absolute beginner to the most advanced. I wish I could give every person who embarks on their family history adventure a copy of this.
The privacy of living individuals is an important ethical concern. Interestingly, we find the names of living people in many publicly assessable databases so one could make the argument that since the information is out there it is fair game. I do not agree with this. I think that living persons have the right to privacy.
So let’s take a look at how some of the repositories/tree sites handle living people.
Find a Grave has a link on their home page for their Privacy Statement though is is more about your privacy as a consumer/user of Find a Grave. They do have two entries in their FAQ that address living persons.
What about the privacy of living family members?
An individual's right to privacy disappears when they are deceased. The opinions of the relatives of the deceased fall on all sides of the question. Some people are angry to find a loved one when they come to Find A Grave, even if the memorial was added by another relative, as is usually the case, and some people are elated and send us notes of thanks for building an online memorial to their family member. If an immediate family member contacts us and wants information removed, we generally do so as a matter of respect for their wishes but we treat each request on a case by case basis. The names of living survivors will be removed from the biography section of a memorial upon request.
Is it acceptable to add a memorial for someone who is still living?
Please try to avoid it. In general, we do not encourage adding memorials for individuals who are still living. We do realize, however, that when transcribing a cemetery, it is not always possible to determine if the person is living or not. Memorials for individuals who are alive will be removed when requested (the exception being for 'famous' individuals who already have a burial location in place). You are always welcome to create a 'pre-need' memorial for yourself, if you would like, provided that you have a pre-need headstone already in place in a cemetery. Given these exceptions, a memorial created after death will be preferred over a pre-need memorial.
Ancestry.com has good information but it isn’t easy to find if you are navigating their website. I found it because I knew how to Google what I was looking for. There isn’t a link for it on their main page nor on their Site Map. They have a main Privacy Center where several different topics are addresses. At the very bottom you will see a link for Privacy for Your Family Tree which is what I was most interested in today. Even if you don’t “sanitize” your file before you upload (exclude living people completely or change their name to Living and exclude their details) Ancestry will automatically do it when you upload which I like because if someone is a beginner they may not know to do this on their own.
“Information stored in your family tree will, in almost all cases, include personal information about other people that are still alive. As with all information in your family tree, your information may be searchable by findmypast.com users (together with users of other websites) and may appear on internet searches, but all of the information will not be viewable unless you explicitly give them permission to view your tree.” [emphasis mine].
I take this to mean that you can see a living person’s name on a search but not their details. I hope people are scrubbing their files before they upload but if the person is new to family research they may not know to do this.
“The user decides to what degree information on the family tree and other information from the family site will be visible to and discoverable by other users, by setting the Privacy Preferences (described in a detailed section below). The user decides whether to build the family tree on the Website on his/her own, or to make it a collaborative effort by inviting family members to assist, using facilities available on the Website for inviting members. If other members are invited, they make similar choices on entering information into the family tree. All information is entered into the Website directly and is not collected implicitly. The Website prevents information on living people from being disclosed to strangers, to protect privacy, and such information if entered will not be visible outside the family site or discoverable by search engines such as Google. It is often useful however to allow deceased people entered into the family tree to be visible to and searchable by other people, to allow one's distant relatives to discover it.”
MyHeritage allows collaboration between family members. Anyone you invite to view your tree will see all of the data you have entered, even information on living people, so if you are planning to collaborate with people that are not your close relatives you might want to scrub your file before uploading. It is good to know that anyone else will not have access to that data.
Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis