Wednesday, September 24, 2014

FamilySearch Invites You to #MeetMyGrandma

FamilySearch invites you to share a story of your grandmotherFamilySearch began a campaign last weekend encouraging people to share memories of grandmas (and by extension, other family members). Their goal is to have 10,000 stories uploaded in 10 days. They have a special page ( and a YouTube video ( for the campaign. The page links to their FamilySearch Memories iPhone app (

“Let family, friends, and future generations meet YOUR grandma. Preserve her priceless memories on FamilySearch.”

Not everyone is comfortable with the privacy—and sometimes lack thereof—afforded the photos and stories uploaded to FamilySearch. Once you upload a memory (photo or story), you can share it on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or other social network. This often means anyone can see it, whether the memory includes living people or not. For example,the tweet apparently includes living children.

Even if you delete the social post, anyone with the memory’s URL can still see it. For the tweet example, the story URL,, and the photo URL,, will work until the photo and story are deleted.

An article in the FamilySearch help center, titled “Adding Photos, Documents, or Stories of a living person to Family Tree,” states that “you can add items for a living person to Family Tree. You should be aware of local privacy laws. Obtain permission from living persons before you post the item.” However, most people post without permission. The article goes on to say that “If you find a Memory of yourself on Family Tree and you do not want it to be posted there, you may request that it be removed.”

The problem extends beyond URLs shared on social networks. Google is sometimes allowed to index memories on FamilySearch containing living persons. FamilySearch does not clearly explain the conditions under which this occurs. On the FamilySearch feedback system, Cathy Andreregg shared an example Google search that shows photographs she uploaded to FamilySearch containing living people. In response, another user explained that her photos were visible because Google is allowed to index all albums (photo collections). A Google search for albums returns over 36,000, so this may well be true. In addition to the memories that Google indexes from social networks, FamilySearch allows Google to index memories that are attached to deceased persons—and only deceased persons—in Family Tree.

Memories with a mixture of living and deceased persons are problematic. If you attach the memory to a deceased person but not a living person, then Google will index it. If you also attach it to a living person, the help center article warns of another problem. “If you have an item linked to two or more people, one who is deceased, and you tag all of the people in the item, then others who navigate the tree and see the deceased person's item will also see the living person in the deceased person's Memories tab.” That gives them potential access to multiple memories about that living person.

So what does this all mean? Assume that anything you post online is or will become public. Get people’s permissions before posting their images or stories. And by all means, introduce me to your grandma.

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