Posted by Ancestry Team on April 12, 2012 in Website

Do you have living people in your Ancestry family tree? It’s great to add your children, siblings, cousins, and other living relatives, but how are living people protected? At there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure information about living people stays private.  The first thing we do is determine who’s living and who’s not—and safeguard information about those who are living. When other Ancestry members view your tree, living people will appear as “Private” and any information entered about them is hidden.

So how does Ancestry determine who’s living and who’s not in your family tree? This happens a couple of ways: First, when you add or edit a person on you set whether the person is deceased or living—and we respect that setting. Secondly, if you add someone through a GEDCOM upload or link a tree from your Family Tree Maker software (where there’s not a living/deceased setting), then we calculate the living status based on the following rules:

  1. First we look for death information, anyone with death information (date, place, etc.) is dead—that one’s easy.
  2. If there’s not death information entered we look for a birth date, anyone younger than 100 is considered living.
  3. The tricky part is if we don’t have birth or death information. In this case we look at the birth dates of close relatives to estimate a birthdate; if the birthdate is less than 100 years ago, they are considered to be living.
  4. If all else fails and we can’t make a safe estimate, we assume the person is living to err on the safe side.

There may be times when you’ll want to let others see living people in your family tree. You can share your tree with others and give them permission to view living people, or take it away, at any time (go to your tree, under Tree Pages select Tree Setting, and click on the Sharing tab). We encourage you to be thoughtful about what you share on, please only post living information you have permission to, especially when sharing with others.

Privacy of living information should be taken seriously—it’s a priority for us. For additional information about how we keep living information safe or to learn about other privacy topics, read our privacy philosophy.

Was this article helpful? Let us know.


  1. Kris

    I found a listing for myself from my birth that has my birtdate, place of birth and mother’s maiden name. That should not be something people should be able to see. How do I get it hidden?

  2. scwbcm

    I am guessing that when you allow the living person to be viewed on a public tree this would be viewable by everyone and that you cannot selectively do this to allow certain people to view items.

    If you want to selectively allow people to view living information you would do this through a private tree. You would work with the combination of options in a private tree and the individual private/viewable setting (or living/private) to adjust this. So if you wanted to allow A to see one living person (in a private tree) you would -not- give him permission to see living people but then adjust the one person to be viewable. After sharing with him, you could even adjust it back again if you wanted to. If you wanted B to see all living people, you just allow him to see living in the way we have been for invitees. And if you want C to see only deceased people you use the appropriate setting in a private tree. Setting it to viewable in a public tree would mean everyone can see the person.

    Also, for either the private or public tree you would not be able to select particular items to be viewed and it would have to be all or nothing for each individual. Am I correct and if not please explain?

  3. Charlotte

    I wish there had been more consideration of this issue before SAR applications were posted. I have kept myself and my siblings “Living” in my own tree to protect their privacy a bit. Yet when my bachelor uncle’s SAR application was posted, there we all were on the first page with our full names, dates of birth and addresses. Our mother’s maiden name (often on file as verification info)is easy to discern. Fortunately, our Social Security numbers aren’t given, but I’m sure when my uncle gave the information to ease my brothers’ ability to join SAR he didn’t expect it to wind up on a website!

  4. helenevansstaas

    Hard to believe I worked so hard to gather all the information about the living so everyone could see it only to find out you are hiding it. So now we have to keep track of who is dying and get that date in Ancestry so people don’t think they are still alive.

    You have taken too much of our rights away from us. Who are you working for the Government and the ridiculous Privacy Act just because the twin towers were bombed. Too much like a Police State.

  5. scwbcm

    I do not know whether I like this or not but I would like to make sure I understand what he is saying and what my options are.

  6. Helen Re: #8

    The only ‘rights’ you have on Ancestry are spelled out in the Terms of Service (TOS) and the contract you agreed to when you became a registered member of Ancestry.

    As best I recall, neither grants you a right to publicly post information on living individuals.

    The fact is both documents specifically warn against doing so.

    Andy Hatchett

  7. Mary V.

    helenevansstaas, I’m surprised to see anyone complaining about ancestry keeping info on living people hidden … I’m very glad they do, because it is far too easy these days for people to steal your identity, hack your e-mail, hack your bank account, etc. It’s happened to me, and a close relative of mine was recently informed that their tax return was rejected by the IRS because someone else had used their SS#! The Privacy Act isn’t so ridiculous when it protects your money, your credit, and your good name. It seems to be easy enough to share ancestry info on living people with those that you really want to see it … let’s not accuse of evil intentions!

  8. Bonnie D

    I am happy that privacy is a big issue at Ancestry. I wish I would have understood sooner the implications of letting someone see my living people. By opening my tree to a distant relative, I opened doors for this person to open their trees to other people. I found one of my living people on other websites (with information I only had knowledge of) which upsets me a tremendous amount. I asked this person to take my living people off their tree and they refused. This experience has taken my love for uncovering the past, to moving forward with great caution. I’m just throwing this out there to unsuspecting people who share for the love of family history…:)

  9. Irene

    I have a public tree and I see that if I edit someone’s profile there is a place to select “living” or “deceased”. I do have a couple of questions:

    1. Is there any ability for a tree owner to see a list of living individuals with private information? I have more than 5,000 individuals in my tree and it would be hard to find those indviduals on my own. There are a number of individuals in my tree who I suspect are dead and I’d to zero in on these individuals from time to time to search for death information.

    2. Does Ancestry provide “green leaf” hints on living individuals, based on the private information provided for living individuals?

  10. Tricia Holt

    i uploaded a family tree expecting you to do exactly what this article said you do, BUT when the tree appeared there were mnay cousins whose information appeared despite the fact that they are living. The only thing I could do, besides removing the tree, was to make it private.
    I have a lot more I would like to upload — since I have spent over 20 years doing this research — but I don’t know how to do it safely to protect the living.

  11. Cynthia

    When I share, I don’t like the person I share with to see my living relatives. Usually people who want to see my tree ARE STRANGERS ! (even if they may be family members) I would share if those I shared with did not see them. I have things written, and pictures that I don’t want strangers to see on my living relatives. But there seems no way to change that. Just because I don’t mind sharing, doesn’t mean those who are on my family tree want their information shown.

  12. Cynthia

    When I share, I don’t like the person I share with to see my living relatives. Usually people who want to see my tree ARE STRANGERS ! (even if they may be family members) I would share if those I shared with did not see them. I have things written, and pictures that I don’t want strangers to see on my living relatives. But there seems no way to change that. Just because I don’t mind sharing, doesn’t mean those who are on my family tree want their information shown.

  13. Irene

    Cynthia, you can change what people are allowed to see in your tree. Select Tree Pages > Tree Overview and then look down the right hand column. Under “People You’ve Invited”, select “Manage Invitees”. You’ll arrive at the screen which is pictured in the article above. You can then choose which of your invitees can or cannot see information on living relatives in your tree.

  14. MsWinston

    When you invite someone to your tree, you control whether or not they can see living people. I have about 15 people I have invited, but only 2 are allowed to the see the living. Most people are fine with this. As to the question about a picture of a living family member appearing in the same photo has a deceased relative, the way we do it is just to identify the relationship of the living person to the deceased and omit the name of the living person. We also make sure that the photograph is never attached to the living person.

  15. Connie

    If you were concerned about privacy for the living, and copyright for that matter, you would not be importing data from small town funeral home websites or newspapers into Ancestry, at least not for a few years after the death.

    Had I realized that when my mother passed away last year, her data would be placed by strangers (most not even distant cousins) in public family trees all over Ancestry and that one click would bring up her obituary with all her living children and grandchildren, with their home towns, named, we would never have published an obituary anywhere.

    It means absolutely nothing for me to be listed as Private in someone’s tree when all they have to do is click on her obituary.

  16. Aaron Orr

    Glad to see the all the response to this article! I’ll do my best to address some of the questions and concerns which have been raised.

    • Finding information about living people in historical record collections: In our extensive databases you may find information about living individuals; quite often this is information that has been made public by government institutions or other groups. Before we publish information on our site, we consider many different rules, regulations, and legislation, so we can be thoughtful and responsible in our approach. That said; if you find a record about yourself or your living family that you are uncomfortable with please contact Member Services.

    • Do we hint information about living individuals? We only hint information about living people if it is from one of our historical record collections which contain living information. We do not hint information you enter about living people.

    • Irene – you asked if there’s a way to see a list of living individuals; currently there’s not, but this is a great idea which we’ll consider for future improvements.

    • Tricia – I’d love to learn more about what you’re experiencing, I’ll email you to get more information.

    Thanks again for all your comments!

  17. Aaron,

    Thanks for responding, it is much appreciated. Far too often a Blog article is posted and comments made about it but the author of the Blog article never bothers to respond to those comments.

    It makes it appear that we are simply yelling into a black hole and hearing nothing but our own echo.

    Andy Hatchett

  18. Monika

    I appreciate your comments as well, and must admit that I am conflicted about your providing easy access to information about the living. Yes, this information is PUBLIC information. But, do you really have to hand it to us on a silver platter? I would rather that–if people want to have information about me–people have to go out of their way to find that public data. I was recently shocked to find a public tree that had decided to show me as deceased and that this tree holder had found my naturalization papers and much other data about me on Even though it is public data, that person, most likely would not have gone out of her way to find it it were more difficult to find. In a day and age where identity theft is so prevalent, for an individual who is barely related to me (and that only through marriage) to have this much data on me does feel uncomfortable. And, I had to work my way through several layers of people at ACOM’s member services before I stopped hearing “we do not manage people’s trees”. (When I asked that person not to show me as deceased, she wrote back that I should mind my own business!) In our meeting at the genealogical society tonight we were made aware that will not permit you to download a gedcom file that contains living individuals onto They are concerned about this data being misused by identity thieves. I must say I appreciate that idea! After all, the purpose of genealogy is to find your ancestors, not living individuals.

  19. Monika

    Ooops! Fingers too fast, brain too slow: I meant to say “Even though it is public data, that person, most likely, would not have gone out of her way to find it IF it were more difficult to find.”

    Also, as an aside, that person bought my e-mail address from the Intellius service (it was an outdated e-mail address, but her e-mail reached me anyway) because she was so furious about being asked to show me as living. The text of the e-mail read “I am standing in front of your home. Ask me how many lights are on in your house right now, you bitch? And I have lots of relatives living all around you!” These are the type of people you are helping obtain information about the living under the pretext that it is public information. (Not even smart enough to realize that her profile reveals that she is from out of state!)

  20. George Rodrigo

    It’s nice to take a vacation once in a while because this gives you physical and mental refreshment. I can still remember my unforgettable experience when I was in Bantayan Island. The place was indescribable. The surroundings were rare, pleasant to your soul.

  21. Darlene E. Miller

    This “Living” and “Private” designation is applied rather broadly by most people. The object of family trees, is to share information. When it comes to names, birthdates, marriages and deaths. These actions are backed up by “Public” records, whose documents everyone has access to. The way I understand things, no one can have a patient for any of the mentioned happenings in a persons life.

    Personally, when I run into the “Living” or “Private” designation. As an example, I will summerize in my data base: 5 unnamed boys, 5 unnamed girls, because I choose not to overload the space on my harddrive, where the genealogy program I’m useing (FTM) allots lines of spec, even for this blank material beyond names etc.

    There is a family upset with me, because I located and applied information from a census report to fill in blanks listed as “Living” and “Private”. Even the president of the US cannot stop people viewing and gathering information from these documents. I appologize for the upset, but I’m not sorry about using census reports to fill in these sorts of blanks.

    I do appreciate all of you fine workers and your company. Thankyou for being there for everyone.


    Darlene E. Miller

  22. Darlene E. Miller

    Second Thoughts.

    If the family material is so painful to the family, it would probably be better to not mention the individuals at all, until they’re less sensative. Keep your own data base the way you want it, but definately don’t list a lot of the family info on a public format, because it is “Public”.


    Darlene E. Miller

  23. Karen

    I find Ancestry a great way to research public records. However, I am not happy how living people are listed by name, birth and marriage dates in family trees.

    I am also very disapointed in that is seems many are posting incorrect information. I have found lines I am researching and found incorrect birth, marriage and death dates not to mention incorrect given, middle and surnames. I know this to be true as I have done much of my resarch the ‘old fashioned’ way–going to the county clerk’s office and searching the record books.

    It would appear that many are more interested in how fast they can ‘grow’ their family tree and take information at face value witout verifying the source. I don’t think the few that do this really care about others, their privacy, or ensuring that the correct information is posted. Genealogists like this are not doing anyone a favor and in the end only hurt themselves as their credibility is ruined and no one will share information with them for fear it will be posted incorrectly and their name attached to it.

    Isn’t there a disclaimer that can or should be added to a family tree when uploaded by GEDcom to Ancestry?

    Ancestry, I like much about your website, but the family tree postings really need to be cleaned up and done correctly. You have members that are disregarding the rules and hurting others. I know–I’ve had living family listed as dead, living listed by name with dates, and nothing has been done to correct it by the owner of the posting or by you. In this respect, I am truly disappointed in you and your website.

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