Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Hiding Dead Individuals Online

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

We living genealogists place dead ancestors on various websites such as FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and RootsWeb World Connect.  We collect every shred of information we can on our living relatives and place it in our PAF or FTM or whatever genealogy program.  However, because of privacy concerns, we truncate and do not post that information on-line.  If we don't truncate that information, the FamilySearch or Ancestry.com, or Rootsweb World Connect website does it for us. 

Question: Will these companies eventually put all the information we have collected on these now living persons on line at some future time, say 75 years, like the census?  I'd hate to have collected it all, then have it lost to posterity.  How can we handle these situations to assure eventual access to the next generations?

Signed,
Charles R. Heath II

Dear Charles,

That’s an interesting question. It made me think. If Ancestry.com or FamilySearch automatically hides persons in our trees which they consider living, will those persons automatically reappear at some future day?

I asked Ancestry.com and FamilySearch what rules they use to automatically hide people in trees. I asked if there was a certain age past which they are no longer considered dead.

FamilySearch did not respond.

Ancestry.com spokesperson, Matthew Deighton, wrote that Ancestry.com “hides anyone who does not have a death date and who is less than 100 years old.” He also pointed me to an Ancestry.com blog article, “Living people in your family tree,” which goes into the issue in more detail. Basically, you can explicitly specify that a person is living. Or Ancestry.com will assume they are living using the rule Deighton mentioned.

Unfortunately, neither Deighton nor the article addressed the issue of the passage of time. 

Once flagged as living, is a person in the tree forever hidden, even when they are older than 100 years? My guess is that a person explicitly flagged as living will continue to be considered living forever if you never enter a death date. Your desire to have this information eventually public will be thwarted.

I further guess that if implicitly treated as living because the age is less than 100, that such an individual will be considered dead when they reach the age of 100. If that’s the case, be careful what you say about your living relatives. What you write may one day be visible to the general public. To keep a comment private forever, use the “Add a Note” feature. Notes can be seen only by yourself and others that you give Editor permission to.

Charles, your desire to have your living people revealed after your death—after they are too old to still be living, of course—touches on another issue facing the online public. After you die, what happens to your online information? You don’t need to be an Ancestry.com subscriber to have a tree on Ancestry.com. Your tree there will persist until you remove it. If you leave it up and you and your heirs never come back, presumably Ancestry.com will leave it there forever.

Thanks for your thought provoking question.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider

3 comments:

  1. I've read several articles recommending that we make sure that at least one descendant knows how to access our online genealogy - usernames, passwords, etc.

    FindAGrave has a custodian set-up already in place. One of my younger cousin research partners is already registered as custodian of my FindAGrave memorials.

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  2. This is a terrific article. It never dawned on me to think about this...but I should. Given the hours of beloved research it would be nice to have it continue upon my death (which I hope will be a long time in the coming given I'm only in my 40s!). Thanks! Karen (www.gettingtoknowyou1.blogspot.com)

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  3. I think there's another problem with Ancestry.com's guidelines. It seems that personal information about a living person will be visible to viewers of an Ancestry.com member tree if the owner or editor of that tree checked the "deceased" box when the person was added to the tree. I recently worked with someone who was disturbed that the names of, and information about, living members of her family were disclosed in an Ancestry.com tree. The problem was finally resolved by contacting the owner of the tree, who changed the status from "deceased" to "living."

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