Friday, November 23, 2012

Question About Privacy

Ron asks:
"I am following the methodology you outlined in your post "Starting at the Very Beginning", and I've run into a bit of a dilemma. Given today's focus on privacy and issues with identity theft, I'm not sure how to properly document living people.

How much official documentation do you keep in your files for living people? For instance, do you have a copy of your own birth certificate, marriage license, etc., in your files? What about your children, spouse, siblings, etc,?

I have birth certificates, religious documents and other official documents for myself, my wife and our children. Should I include these items in my files, or should I cite personal knowledge and leave the official items of living people out of my files?"

Excellent question! I keep ALL documentation in my files on everyone, living or dead. However, I never share info on living people. Not only do I have documents for my immediate family but I have stuff on a lot of other people too. There are many records that are public record including marriage licenses and divorce decrees. All court documents are public record unless they concern a juvenile or they have been sealed. The state of Texas happens to be pretty liberal with birth certificates so I have a bunch of those. I have newspaper articles that mention living persons. I also have home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for many people documented right in my database file. If I send anyone a portion of my file it will be "cleaned" of living persons. If I posted my file on the internet (which I don't do) my file would be cleaned of all living persons.

All of the genealogy database programs have the ability to export data excluding living persons. You can exclude them completely like they never even existed, you can export their names but no information about them, or you can export with all of the names changed to the word "Living." If you upload your file to a website like, the website itself can also clean your file but many people neglect to use this feature. goes so far to say that their upload process automatically cleans files of living persons when you upload but their system is far from foolproof because a lot of guessing goes on when the uploader is missing a lot of dates. I have seen information on living people in some of the trees on and it makes me cringe a bit.

As far as my paper files, they are in my house and no one has access to them, even the documents for dead people. I am more than happy to copy a document (on a dead person) for someone but I want to know who that person is and how they are connected. I also provide a complete citation as an encouragement to cite their sources properly.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. All genealogy programs rely on the data being correct and many use flags to indicate who is living.

    So, please be careful when you choose to publish, online or otherwise.

  2. This is very true and that is why you should always estimate dates of birth, marriages and death when you can. This works both ways. If you have someone born in 1800 with no death information the program assumes the person is still living and that person will not be exported. Legacy (any maybe the other programs too) have a tool where you can go through your file and the program will kill off everyone that couldn't possibly be alive based on the dates that you do have, including those dates for the parents, siblings and children of the person in question. However, this is something you need to run manually, it doesn't do it automatically. In Legacy it is called "Advanced Set Living." You can read more about why you should estimate dates here