Genealogists Support ECPA Petition for Privacy

by Bradley Jansen December 11th, 2013 6:10 pm

The Federation of Genealogical Societies has a new blog post out joining with their colleagues in a large privacy coalition called Digital Due Process (of which this think tank is a member as well).  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed in 1986 and desperately needs to be updated.  As genealogy has moved from local paper to online digital research with personal information, it's good to see the genealogical community showing needed leadership!


It concludes:

"Today we ask you join us by signing this petition to the White House[http://www.digital4th.org/petition.html]. It’s time for the President to join tech companies, startups, advocates, and Members of Congress by supporting this commonsense, long overdue reform to ensure our privacy rights online.”

Please add your voice by signing the petition!


Genetic Privacy

by Bradley Jansen December 9th, 2013 2:49 pm


The Council for Responsible Genetics recognizes the need for consumer genetic privacy and has created the Genetic Privacy Network:




Genealogy Sites Not Good Source For Obama Children Birth Records

by Bradley Jansen December 3rd, 2013 7:19 am

The internet reminds us daily that half of the people are below average.  Today's reminder comes from a ridiculous anti-Obama rant (it's actually from last month, but it didn't come to my attention until today) reposting from an original post here from a "Dr. Eowyn."  The gist of the nonsense is that since the author couldn't find the birth records of President Obama's children on two genealogy sites, then, well, I guess that's supposed to mean something.

I'm guessing that since the focus is on Obama-related birth records that it aims to keep alive the birther distraction.  The premise that there would be something questionable because one can't find birth records of living people on genealogy sites only demonstrates how ill-informed some people are (or just plain stupid they are--or just how stupid they think we are, most likely, in this case).  No, genealogy sites are not good resources for information on living people.

Explains some Ancestry.com help links:

Tips for finding living persons on Ancestry:  "Searching for the living may pose unique challenges, such as laws protecting rights of privacy and highly mobile societies."

 You probably will not find yourself on Ancestry:  "Data provided on ancestry  Please understand that most of the information found on Ancestry is about deceased persons. We do not include information on the living, save only a few databases such as our phone and address listings and the Ancestry World Tree. This is done to protect the privacy of living individuals. We currently have over 2 billion names in our databases online."

Living Information in the Ancestry World Tree:  "Are living individuals included in the Ancestry World Tree?  In an effort to protect the privacy rights of living individuals, Ancestry currently replaces the vital information for all living persons from submitted GEDCOM files with the phrase Living Information Withheld. After the file is cleaned, the person's surname and gender will still remain. However, their birth date, place, and other information will be excluded. Their first name will be replaced with the word Living. Only the submitter of the file will be able to see living individuals in the file or download them. All other users trying to download the file will receive a file with the vital information of living persons excluded."  [n.b. This page also has directions on how to get information on living people removed that may have slipped through a privacy filter.]

Ancestry.com's privacy policy also includes several statements respecting the privacy of living people.  There is also a page explaining further their "privacy philosophy" as well.

What about the other genealogy cited?  Well, same problem for the agitator--that site respects the privacy of living people too.  GenealogyBank.com let's users search their collection of historical documents which include:

  • Military Records
  • Casualty Lists
  • Revolutionary and Civil War Pension Requests
  • Widow's Claims
  • Orphan Petitions
  • Land Grants

It's hardly surprising that the president's daughters wouldn't be listed in military records or widow's claims!  Of course, the site also has historical books published before 1900, but they wouldn't be written about there, and the Social Security Death Index.  While there are problems with the SSDI falsely reporting some living people as dead (the subject of other posts), this would not apply to the First Children.

One of the site's substitutes for birth records includes their impressive newspaper selection.  This search allows one to "Search Birth Records and Announcements in Newspapers 1728-1999."  They advertise, "Find your ancestors' birth records published in newspapers. Read birth announcements, see baby photos and discover clues in birth notices that can help you trace your family tree in our newspaper archives."  Needless to say, not all births get announced in the newspaper nor does GenealogyBank.com have every paper.

GenealogyBank.com's privacy policy includes this note on children's privacy:

Children's Privacy  NewsBank cares about the safety of children and their use of the Internet. Therefore, in accordance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, we will never knowingly request or solicit personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 13 without verifiable parental consent. In the event that we receive actual knowledge that we have collected such personal information without the requisite and verifiable parental consent, we will delete that information from our database as quickly as is practicable.

And, unsurprisingly, Ancestry has this post explaining genealogical standards for protecting privacy of living people:

Standards for sharing genealogy

Published 02/11/2002 03:00 AM   |    Updated 07/31/2012 12:46 PM   |    Answer ID 553

I want to share my information with others. What standards should I follow to help others use what I share?

The following is helpful information from the National Genealogical Society's guidelines regarding the SSIO (Standards forSharing [genealogical] Information with Others). This information is found at the following URL:

Standards For Sharing Information With Others
Recommended by the National Genealogical Society
Conscious of the fact that sharing information or data with others (whether through speech, documents, or electronic media) is essential to family history research and that it needs continuing support and encouragement, responsible family historians consistently—

  • Respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement
  • Observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law's "fair use" exceptions
  • Identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another's intellectual work is plagiarism
  • Respect the authorship rights of senders of letters, electronic mail and data files, forwarding or disseminating them further only with the sender's permission
  • Inform people who provide information about their families as to the ways it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items
  • Require some evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing of information about themselves
  • Convey personal identifying information about living people—like age, home address, occupation or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to
  • Recognize that legal rights of privacy may limit the extent to which information from publicly available sources may be further used, disseminated or published
  • Communicate no information to others that is known to be false, or without making reasonable efforts to determine its truth, particularly information that may be derogatory
  • Are sensitive to the hurt that revelations of criminal, immoral, bizarre or irresponsible behavior may bring to family members  [bold added to selected text]

© 2000 by National Genealogical Society.
Permission is granted to copy or publish this material, provided
it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.


In short, no, genealogy sites would not publish birth records of living people.  Using genealogy sites to question, well, I guess, the parentage of living people only illustrates how ignorant and misguided some claims are.


Genetic Genealogy Saves Lives

by Bradley Jansen December 1st, 2013 11:07 am

The FDA's dispute with 23andMe has started a worthwhile debate.  While I think the Federal Drug Administration over-reached (bureaucrats are prone to mission creep and are always looking to expand their turf), they have a point that we are going to need to address new advances in technology.

Adding to this discussion is a post on Laura's Family Search blog on a genetic genealogy test probably saved her life:

How Genealogy Saved (or Significantly Changed) My Life


I wrote earlier how I found another whole branch of my family via DNA testing.  This was so exciting that I decided to test with the other large companies in case other lost cousins had tested with those.  One of those companies, 23AndMe, offered health information in addition to identifying potential cousins...

23AndMe seemed to think that I had a BRCA2 (6174delT) mutation...I quickly panicked and then called my doctor the next morning...

I then had an MRI-guided biopsy...  During the biopsy, the radiologist saw another small area that hadn't been called out on the first radiology report and decided to sample it as well.

Two days later, I was told that I had breast cancer...Had I not been genealogy-obsessed, I never would have taken this test and never would have known that I had a mutated BRCA2 gene--and then I would not have had that MRI...This wouldn't have been caught for years--during which the tumor would have continued to grow--and there could have been a very different ending to this story.

So here's my pitch to everyone--get obsessed with genealogy.  It could save your life.