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The Dilemma of Online Privacy for the Genealogist


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Another challenge that the online world brings for genealogists is the issue of privacy. Family history researchers as a general rule are very open and willing to share lots of information. At least in the part of the country I live that’s how people are. I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone call and leave a message and describe how he’s related to me and before long we’re hip deep in sharing the parts of the family history that we’re each missing. This is a great thing for the hobby because it makes the barriers to entry pretty low. You don’t have to worry that someones going to give you a “shut up and leave me alone” kind of answer. However, many genealogists are eager to post their data online. Again, this is a great thing for beginning genealogists as it gives them a “lead” on who to start researching. But at the same time there’s a great risk to this.

Unfortunately, not all eyes online are friendly. There are many with an eye to get access to as much data as they can on someone for malicious purposes. One of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to publish too much data on this site is I know how many of the accounts I hold use Mother’s maiden name, or Father’s middle name or something along those lines as security questions. In the last 5 years, many companies have become more creative, even allowing people to make up their OWN security question, or select from several other ideas.

But, what if your parents or grandparents (or Uncles and Aunts) are still living and you post information on your grandparents family? You’ve just given a con-man everything they need to try and get access to some of the Parents (or Aunt’s and Uncles’) accounts. Not to mention the publishing of birth dates and marriage dates et al. I know many of these things are public record anyway and can be looked up. But what did you go through to look them up? I remember in my case to see birth records we requested to see them at the county courthouse (and it seems as though there was a limit on how recent the records were available for.)

So, think carefully when posting family data online and be cautious in revealing too much information. I know many genealogy programs will filter out and label as “private” data that is recent enough (say 70-90 years) for posting online. This is a partially a good solution. I still get a bit nervous when I see someone listing full parent names/etc for themselves. Maybe I’m a bit too paranoid, but the reality is there are a lot of people out there looking to take advantage.

When posting on this site, I’ve tried to make sure not to post family information for any family with either living parents or children to avoid giving too much info to those unfriendly eyes.

Good luck and stay safe!