One question I am asked frequently is “Should my tree be public or private?” There is no one right answer and you should choose one of three options that works best for you.
Your three options:
- Public: This setting allows other users to view all content in your tree—except information about living individuals and private notes. If you change your mind, you can make your tree private at any time.
- Private and searchable: Limited information about deceased individuals in your tree (name, birth year, and birthplace) will still appear in Ancestry search results.
- Private and not searchable: Once you choose this option, your tree is private and does not show up in the search index. If your tree was previously public or private and searchable, it takes about a month to disappear from the search index.
Some scenarios to consider as you choose the option that works best for you:
Do You Want Meet New Cousins?
If you make your tree public, or private but searchable, your tree shows up in the Ancestry.com search index. If a cousin or other relative are searching for a name in your tree, find your tree, attach a note, photo or story you have uploaded then a connection is made. You never know who is going hold that key piece of information that will help you break down a brick wall. And you never know who is going to answer your request for information, and not everyone will. But some will and sooner or later, something good may come of it.
Hopefully you’ve taken an AncestryDNA test, and maybe even had a few other people in your family take one. If you have a DNA test that is connected to your tree then you can get DNA hints; if it is public, then your distant cousins can easily see where you connect. Otherwise, they might just pass you by.
You never know what goodies you might find. My DNA is hooked to a public tree with just my direct ancestors, some researched better than others. And I’ve found some cousins and good information that way including who killed my 3rd great grandfather (How DNA Solved a Murder Mystery). It wasn’t immediate, but over time I received more and more hints and made more or more connections. Not everyone responds or responds quickly to requests for information, of course; but I take what I can get, when I can get it.
Make Sure Your Research Outlasts You
On our most recent Between the Leaves, we discuss the how to preserve research and make sure others benefit from it. Crista Cowan made the point that this is one of the most important reasons to make your tree public. Many of us, myself included, do not have someone obvious in our family to leave our research to. And it is a good idea to leave your hard work to a genealogy or historical society or some other archive. But your public tree on Ancestry.com is out there and will remain out there for others to find even after you are not able to continue your research. If you are registered guest and not a subscriber, the items you have attached and the data you have entered are still part of your tree and available for others to see and use.
You Don’t Feel Your Research Is Done
For many researchers, there is this feeling that the research isn’t done, or is not quite right, not quite perfect enough. Does anyone ever feel that their research is done? Doubtful. No one wants to publish mistakes. And we all make mistakes in our research. If someone else finds your mistake, that will get you closer to the truth. And that is what we are all after.
Changing Your Privacy Settings
If you want to change your privacy stings, or just verify what they are, click on the Tree pages link next to your tree name in Family or Pedigree view and then on Tree Settings. Then click on the Privacy Settings tab. Your options are described, and you can be change them at any time.
You can also visit these helpful step-by-step instructions to walk you through your privacy settings.
So public, private and searchable, or just private? The decision is yours and you should choose what makes you comfortable.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.