Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Use of Data Concerning Living Persons

I recently received a notice from MyHeritage about photos of people who matched names in my own family tree.

I was surprised and shocked to see pictures of my children and grandchildren there! Along with vital information about them.


We have informed the member that no permission was given to use the photos on MyHeritage, or elsewhere – by any family member. We were especially concerned with them being related to living persons, especially children.

I fail to understand how information about our children is relevant to the study of ancestors. Yes, they are the latest in any line but who they are, when they were born, where they live or what they do has nothing to do with their great-great-grandparents. It is the latter who, as genealogists and family historians, we seek to find information about. Invading the privacy of minors – and that is what is happening here – does not advance the study of our forebears.

I believe people need to take extra care when publishing information of any kind about living people but should never, in my opinion, put up photos of children, without the parents' express written approval.

I do agree that the photo library of MyHeritage could be of value in the search for information about our dead relatives. In my case, I already have copies of the photos that were shown in the notice sent to me. Some actually looked like they were copied from my files although I do not think that was the case. They may have been shared by others to whom I sent copies, though. It has happened before and is impossible to control.

It is not necessary to import the bad behaviour shown in much of social media to genealogical pursuits. Surely we can respect the privacy of living people – AGAIN, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN – as we study and share information about our ancestors.

I have made my views known to MyHeritage. We will see what steps they take to preserve privacy. I have also complained to the individual who put up the photos on her family tree site. We expect her to remove them, along with the vital information and, in the future, seek permission before she uses such material.

By the way, on my own MyHeritage family tree I have clicked the box that says guests can view limited information but “can never view information about living people” in my family website. Only those that are invited to join the tree may do so. I also do not allow site members to invite other members to the site. I am hopeful that is enough to protect the privacy of people I have named in my family tree.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

3 comments:

  1. I agree with you, but even state governments are selling information. Ancestry has a database of California birth records, which has been online for years, including birth records up to 1995, I think. My son is in his 20s, but his birth info was available on Ancestry from age 17, I think it was. I was horrified to find it in this age of identity theft.

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    1. Linda,
      I don't know that we can do anything about governments releasing data although I am surprised at your example, given they are usually the ones that restrict access to vital records. We should discourage family historians from sharing such information though, especially photos of children. And perhaps we should let organizations like Ancestry know they are potentially contributing to identity theft problems by making available such information.

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  2. Texas also has sold birth records to Ancestry. Two of my three children are listed in Ancestry. The cut off must have been around 1990.
    Greenhill39

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