Advice, Maintenance

5 tips to protect your online privacy in family history

Sharing your family history online has significant benefits for your research but it also raises important privacy issues.

Here are my five top tips for protecting your online privacy while researching family history.

Privacy and data sharing policies

Always examine the privacy and data sharing policies of any websites or online services if you are providing them with personal information.

Collecting personal information and sharing it with third parties is very common on the web, not just with genealogy and DNA companies. By using their services you often agree to tracking cookies and having your information passed on for the purposes of targeted advertising.

Before you agree, just be sure that you are comfortable with their terms and conditions.


Typical clause in a Privacy Statement

Strong passwords

Yes, you’ve heard this advice before but it is worth repeating.

Use strong passwords. Don’t use the same ones on different sites. Change them periodically. Don’t use your mother’s maiden name – after all, you have probably shared that information in your family tree!

A strong password uses:

  • at least 8 characters (the more the better)
  • a mixture of upper and lower case
  • a mixture of letters and numbers
  • at least one special character, e.g. %#*

Emails

Assume that your email address will become public or be shared.

It is probably best if you don’t use your main email address or the email address you use on social media.

You might consider creating a separate email address just for family history. If you want anonymity, avoid any part of your own name in your email address.

Using inbuilt messaging systems instead of email are a good idea, if they are available.

Living people

It is good practice to protect the privacy of living people when sharing family history information online.

Many online websites used by genealogists have guidelines and systems that automate this. If you create your own family history website, such as a blog, you will need to do this manually.

You should not post information or photographs of living people without their permission.

Consider carefully what information you share on social media about you and your family.

On Ancestry, for example, all living people are private. If no death information is provided, people under 100 years old are considered to be living. 

Privacy settings

Learn how to adjust the privacy settings of any online website where you post information. Consider what information you are willing to share and adjust the settings to suit you.

Here are three examples

On Ancestry, you can choose to have your family tree public or private. If you make your tree private, no one can see your tree unless you invite them to view it. Private Ancestry trees will still appear in Ancestry search results, unless you prevent them from appearing.

Extract from the Privacy Settings in an Ancestry family tree

On Wikitree, the profile manager sets the Privacy level for the profile. What others can see and do depends on that Privacy Level. More information.

Wikitree privacy settings for profiles of individuals on the family tree

Blogging platforms, such as WordPress and Blogger, allow you to restrict access to your website, or to specific posts, by using a password. If you want to limit who you share your family history with, this might be an option that suits you.