Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on August 12, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Private and searchable: Limited information about deceased individuals in your tree (name, birth year, and birthplace) will still appear in Ancestry search results.
  3. 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 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.

AncestryDNA hints

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.

dna hints

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 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

privacy settingsIf 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.

Happy searching!

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on 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.


  1. I personally like mine public. And I am very very glad that I leave it public.

    I have met family because of this that I would never have known. We have worked together and broken down some walls in our family tree.

    A few years ago, I met my cousin Jean through We share the same great grandparents. What we found interesting is that we each had heard a very similar story from our parents. However, we each had key facts that the other didn’t have. Shortly after meeting Jean, I met Bill through also. He is the nephew of one of the children of our great grandparents. And of course, he had a third part to our puzzle. Once we had those pieces, we were able to start really digging deeper. And we found a ton of records that we wouldn’t have found previously.

    It seems that our great grandmother had 3 husbands. She didn’t divorce the first one before she went off and married her 2nd one. The 3 children she had with her first husband were then using the last name of her 2nd husband on the census. Her 2nd husband died. She hooked up with my great grandfather. And had more children. Each of her children from her prior marriages were at this time using my great grandfather’s last name.

    The only children that knew their real last name were the first 2 children from the first marriage (Liz and Alex). The 3rd from the first marriage (Harriet) and the 2 children (James and Grace) from her 2nd marriage thought that Pearson was their last name. My great grandparents had to wait until her first husband actually did pass away in order to get married because it had reached a point where documentation was now required to marry. So even though all the kids thought they were married, my grandfather was a teen before they actually were able to get married.

    Thankfully, Bill’s Aunt was married to Alex (the 2nd child from Louisa’s first husband). So he knew the Whittaker last name. Whereas, Jean was Harriet’s daughter (the 3rd child from Louisa’s first husband). She had heard rumors that there was another husband prior to my great grandfather, but nothing more informative then that.

    We now have birth certificates, census & other documents showing the lives that they lived.

    So yes, I find that if you have some brick walls that are difficult, it is almost vital to have a public tree. You never know what information might just shake loose because of it.

  2. My tree is offline, though I blog about family history publicly. I don’t want to keep up duplicate trees, although sometimes I think of putting up a placeholder tree so distant family can find me. Your words about not wanting to publish mistakes strike a cord with me, though. Lots to think about.

  3. I have a few tree public, but no living people on them. I also have a separate tree that also contains living people (I know some double work there.) I do wish that Ancestry would require people that take your pictures to leave a message as to their relationship to the individual, especially when they are putting it on a private tree. Ancestry also shouldn’t let people just merge trees together but only let them see what others have. I’ve found a few people that have added my tree to theirs that really have no connection to it, it’s just that they got the shaky leaf. DNA results, I do skip by those that have private trees. I do occasionally ask a person to give me access or make their tree public, most will grant me access, especially if they have taken a picture of mine.

  4. My tree, too is public, for the same reasons that Anne and Norma mentioned. It is my working tree, so I realize that there are mistakes in it, but I am always looking for verification or new sources, and am grateful when someone contacts me to point out an error. But more often it is new information that might just be the missing piece of a puzzle.

    It is frustrating to see a hint about someone in my tree, only to find that the tree it refers to is private. But even more of a teaser is to click to see who has saved a copy of one of my documents or photos (maybe I can make a connection), and again, it is private.

    I am grateful for for providing so many records and the means to share information, and will continue to be a member (with a public tree) for as long as I can afford to do so.

  5. Marjorie Younglof

    I have strong views about private vrs. public family trees. Genealogy is a very, very social endeavor, as we continually communicate with others as we research our ancestors. It’s a collaborative effort; by sharing information with others who are researching the same people we are, we each can advance our knowledge about those ancestors. With my family tree public (I thought long and hard about that and came down on the side of public), I can share my information with others, and I can also benefit from seeing their public trees. It bothers me considerably that someone with the same ancestors on their private tree can simply reach out and take my information without sharing in kind or even letting me know they are related to me. Thus, I think keeping one’s tree private is contrary to the true spirit of genealogical research.

  6. John Murphy

    My tree is public and it has helped me contact other family. However I do not want anyone to change or add to my tree without my permission.
    How can I do that???

  7. klk

    If Ancestry would enable the simple ability to block individuals from accessing our trees, a lot more people might make their trees public. I made my tree private because a tree owner has decided that one branch of my family is related to her and has taken information and added it and totally made a mess of that branch. After I sent her a polite message pointing out some of the errors, she blocked me from further messages. This is CLOSE family, not remote shared ancestors. If we (my cousins and I) were able to block her, I would return my tree to public immediately. I have a well-researched and documented tree and would like to share it again.

  8. heather

    I have always had my tree public and have connected with wonderful people because of it. I’ve also had a similar experience to klk where someone took all of my info and attached it to a person of the same name who was a totally different person and not related to this family at all. Many others took their info from this mistake and now when I try to research more of this family I get all of the incorrect links. This misinformation has spread as far as Family Search now and no matter how many people I reach out to to correct it, the damage is done. It’s frustrating to know that incorrect info is out there because people just copy without bothering to check the available factual info.

  9. I don’t think private trees are against the spirit of genealogical research, since “take take take” seems to be part of genealogy. The spirit is give and take. More often than not, people are mad at photos being shared without permission. No one has to have your permission to attach your photos. You give that up when you upload it. No one has time to message every person with a photo and wait for a reply. My trees are private because I’m tired of rude messages saying I’m wrong about something. I might be, I might not be. I make mistakes. So do you. I’m surprised at the comments suggesting anger at private trees. Ask politely and someone just might share. Offer what you have. Judge a tree by its sources, not whether or not its public or private.

  10. Jan Shaffer

    I have a private tree as a result of an unrelated person taking photos. When they showed up on my opening page as having copied the pictures, I messaged them and asked what relationship they had to my family. The response was “Oh, I’m not related. I just like old photos.” This sounded like funny business to me therefore I went private. I don’t mind sharing with family but strangers, now that is another thing all together. I think there is an etiquette about copying pictures or documents that can’t be found another way. It is a courtesy to message the originator and ask permission before doing so. A lot of hard work is put into research by some…others they just hit the copy button. Someone above said, you don’t have time to message everyone but genealogy isn’t about how fast you can compile information. It is about documentation and research. For most it is a lifelong endeavor.

  11. Gayle Wills

    A lot of people use Ancestry. I love it but would never believe what has happened. I few years ago a man contacted me and said he had ran upon box of old photo (Photography) back till 1905 in a flea market in Southern CA years ago. He had no idea who the people were but he was into genealogy and did not want them to be tossed as precious to someone so he purchased. Had put on message board and unbelievable they were on my family.
    A lot that does Ancestry use private. I use public as info is passed through families and bibles of birth and death that you can not find legal records or personal stories. I have received so much assistance from others that do public sharing and appreciate the help and hours they have done reliable sources. I have met distant family members.
    A lovely lady, looking for her friend that had been adopted birth family. I was able to find her sibling, my cousin. You see this sort of thing on t v but never dreamed of it ever would be your family. They are in their late 60’s and records sealed. I was able to witness their first meeting yesterday. William Carter and Melodie Thomas Eiteljorge. You could tell as they were perfect match. I was able to talk to her friend and she was going to change her trees to public now.
    I felt like yesterday was Christmas. Like went the day is done and you have such a uplifting of being with family. A good time and know it was special memories built.

  12. Jackie

    I have a private tree and will keep it that way. I have been able to connect with several cousins. One was a cousin through marriage who we lost contact with and she sent a message through ancestry. The other was a second cousin and neither knew the other existed. So, I think keeping a tree private still affords the opportunity to make a connection. It also gives the opportunity to vet the other person before “sharing” your tree or your info. I had a person contact me wanting to share information and I asked him what his connection was since he didn’t provide it in his request. He did give. Me the connection and a link to his tree. His tree had barely any information and most of what he did have was incorrect. I have the documents ; I tried to help him out but he only wanted my info.

  13. Sue M.

    I keep my tree public hoping to MEET cousins and distant relations who share ancestors with me-they might have stories, photos, and info I don’t have. I also like the feature on DNA that shows ancestors that I share with others. Yes, there are some real stinkers out there, but overall, well, I have made contact with some lovely folks who have in the end helped me with more than one brick wall. Keeping a tree public helps others researching the same line who just might have the answers your looking for. With Member Connect, I can see who is copying what from my tree or my daughter’s tree. I have helped more than one person who has made an error or two and been able to then re-direct them and help them find their correct ancestors-all with the help of Ancestry. I try not to let the few stinkers ruin it for me. There are more NICE folks out there than bad. And, I try to remember my grandmother’s saying of “you can get farther with sugar than vinegar.” Now if I could just find someone who is related to my MOORE line-that is one massive brick wall.

  14. Mary N

    I had my tree public until I was notified by Ancestry that a person had copied photos from my tree.
    I contacted the person wondering what relation we were and that person has not responded.
    Personally, I would not copy anything from someone else’s tree before I have had contact and that person gave permission.
    My tree is now private.

  15. Tanya Ibarra

    Do you have any way to make a tree viewable only by AncestryDNA matches? I am considering purchasing an AncestryDNA kit and I can see the value of having a single tree viewable by my matches, but I’m not currently quite comfortable with having the whole tree posted to the public.

  16. Cathy

    For John’s question above, no one can make changes to your tree ever, unless you invite them to be anything other than guest. A guest can only view, can not make any changes. Anyone viewing a public tree can not make any changes.

    Regarding the issue of people saving photos/records from my tree to theirs, I have no problem with it whatsoever. If what I’ve done helps someone else, great. I would be interested in how we are connected though. I don’t feel I need to force that person to explain themselves. If I ever see someone merging my tree in with theirs and it’s incorrect, then I send a message to that person explaining why I feel it’s an error. It’s happened a lot, but what if it isn’t an error? It would be exciting to find out there is a branch of a tree that was unknown.

    Sharing information is such a huge part of all of this and it is frustrating to find someone with a private tree that doesn’t check email or respond. My tree will always be public and all the sources I know about are attached. If I’ve made an error, I certain want to know. I would like to think the work I’ve done can help someone else even if I don’t know about it.

  17. Nancy G

    So, help me all…I see I can go PRIVATE & SEARCHABLE. Can people SEE everything, including pictures, or does that only happen when they contact me as possible relatives and I grant them access?

  18. Cathy

    Nancy, if you are private and searchable, your tree will come up as a match on a search, but the person search can’t see anything. They only know there is a match on a private tree. They would need to email the person asking for an invite to that tree in order to see anything.

  19. Ellen B

    My story is the same as Lacey’s. My tree was public for a long time. I’ve worked on it diligently to take care of obvious mistakes (Mis-spellings, duplicates, improper dates, cities etc.) as well as researching for information.
    I have a huge tree and it will always be a work in progress, but sometimes mistakes get overlooked or maybe I haven’t reached that section yet. I got very tired of getting rude comments and messages pointing out mistakes in MY tree. Not everyone was rude, but the majority were, this happened over several years. I know there are mistakes and I’m getting to them, but I found it very insulting when people were rude. I have enough drama in life with my kids, I don’t need it in something I enjoy so much.
    That’s when I changed mine to private, but it’s still searchable. The rudeness was stopped. Now I get polite messages requesting information or access to my tree. I don’t have a problem with sharing anything that I have, that includes old family photos that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire, after all, that is how we succeed in our research journeys.
    I still have met a lot of cousins and people that have become internet friends this way.
    I try to answer as quickly as I can, but had some family deaths a year or so ago that stopped my work. I sent out a general message to everyone in my inbox explaining and would get back to them as soon as I could. Not one rude message back. Everyone was extremely nice and understanding.
    For now, mine will stay private and searchable.

  20. Brian

    My concern is exposing the maiden names of deceased mothers of (masked) living people. A good data miner could still pull that with other data sources in the aggregate to gain key elements needed for identity theft. The days, with knowledge-based authentication, things like grandparents’ first names and parents’ places of birth can be part of one’s banking website logins. So… My tree is private but searchable. I would like to open it up, but want to first mask the first three generations from public view to mitigate the potential for pulling identity theft clues. Oddly, no one else seems concerned about this here, but I am both a security professional and a 3-time victim of credit card fraud that was likely based in part on identity theft.

  21. Frances

    I feel sad reading that people are offended by others copying trees into their newly started journey. I’m brand new, and I have NO known living relatives outside my 6-person household when I was growing up. If someone else has done hundreds or thousands of hours of work, that allows me to not re-invent a wheel that is significantly more reliable than what I know. I wish I knew how to pull a whole tree into mine. What I DO have to offer is a collection of photos, documents, and handwritten ancestry tree charts created by grandmothers on each side in the 1950s. I’m sure they made errors, and copying someone else’s annotated tree would allow me to compare and even ask about discrepancies the other Ancestry member might be able to correct, or perhaps might be a revelation to them. I personally don’t have thousands of hours available to build from scratch. seems to me like a venue where we can all benefit from what each other has already, so we can delve deeper, not spin tires in the same mud another person has already forged through.

  22. Frances

    Also, I’d like to add, I LOVE finding photos and copying them from the public trees into mine. I don’t know who is who in my collection of old documents and photos, and if there’s an annotated photo in a remote cousin’s tree that is of someone I never knew existed, or I never had any idea what the ancestor might’ve looked like, I get really excited to see them and have a tangible treasure I never could have dreamed of discovering. I can try to see if I looked like them. I can look through my box of photos to see if their face is among my mystery people. And then I may get to surprise the other people out there with a treasure THEY never dreamed of. I do NOT ask permission, being new, because I don’t want to be a pest or impose. I’m exploring new frontiers, just to see what might be out there. For those of you with public trees, I want to say thank you. I believe one of you may be a cousin just a couple of steps away. And I was told all my life, as a result of family estrangement, that there are NO relatives. What a wonderful possibility. 🙂

  23. Ron

    In the debate over public vs. private I have gone public for many of the reasons people went private. I notice that certain branches in my tree had mistakes in them. My thought process was as long as no one has the correct information out there for others to compare to, how else is this information every going to be corrected. I have seen this mistake so often that it has become the norm in the family trees vs in the exception. I have taken the time now to document my tree, so that when someone looks at my tree they can see how I got the information. Hopefully in time people will change their tree to the correct information, but I felt it such a disservice to my ancestors to keep the information private, and let the incorrect information to keep on propagating itself. I can understand the frustration of those who went private and all their reasons, but in the long run I think you can best serve those from the past, who can not speak for themselves, with making their story public. Ancestry does offer the option of making individual facts and events in their life private, allowing only the data you want public and still keep sensitive matters private. As for photos I feel those who do not contact the person who added the photos are the biggest loser, because where there is one, there are usually more. They miss out on not only making a family contact, but on also on more information and photos then they may have thought possible.

  24. Justine Self

    My trees are public, always have been. I too am irritated when someone saves an item fem my tree to a private tree. Frequently when I contact them for connection info, I don’t get a response. I know we all work hard researching our families, but if a person is going to gather info from a public tree, it’s just common courtesy to share. After all, we are researching the same family. Pictures are so wonderful, I get so excited to find pictures, see their faces, but many people just will not share a picture. I don’t expect someone to share pictures that are less than fifty years old but 19th century, please.

  25. P

    How does the notification show up? I’ve never been notified that someone has taken a picture, but I know that they have. I know you can copy some through ancestry, but you can also save to your computer manually. Would I still get notified?

  26. Tina

    I have a public tree, primarily in hopes of adding valid information and sharing valid information with others. I must say it does bother me a bit when someone with a private tree swoops down and appropriates ten of my photos at one time but doesn’t offer to share anything. I love to share. That’s part of the fun of genealogy. But “share and share alike” should be the rule. As for public trees, I have learned to be wary though. There are over-enthusiastic researchers who simply do not realize how many people have the same name or even the same name/county and they join together people who were never meant to be joined! Also they will fuse two trees so that a couple will achieve Guinness world record standards by having 30 children. I recently ran across a tree in which a gentleman died and then, apparently having changed his mind, moved two more times. I saw an instance where a family had nine children, all of them born in the same Southern state except one, who just happened to have emigrated from Scotland.

  27. Marie Wingate

    I have meet many good researchers with my public trees. I started the public trees when I saw that the family lines I was interested in were not included in any other tree. I keep the majority of my work and my notes on my Family Treemaker trees and only do more direct family lines on my public on line trees. I work hard to document my data. It is really frustrating to find inaccurate info on a tree with no sources. Often you can tell that several trees have copied the same info and have not done the work to make it accurate. I also try to only add photos or documents that I don’t mind someone copying. Usually my documents are ones that prove the data in the tree. The photos and documents I don’t want to share don’t go to my public tree. I’ve really learned a lot and made new friends with Ancestry and am glad that the service is there for me to participate in.

  28. Maggie

    My tree is public, and I’ve found many.many cousins this way. However, I was somewhat shocked when I did a google search last week, trying to find out some information about an deceased uncle and his business, when up on google, came all my Ancestry family pictures (with that last name in them). The notation was that someone had to sign into Ancestry to see more information, but wow, the pictures themselves were still there, for anyone in the public sector to see. I just read where you can “mask” certain people and/or generations, how do I do that??

  29. Rebecca

    I am one of those people who tell others when I find mistakes in their tree, which is essentially my tree too. I spend a lot of time and effort researching my family and I do the best I can to make certain that it is correct and documented. I know that there are errors, but I hope others will point them out as well so that I can fix them. My tree is public even though some guy who is only very distantly related through a stepfather continued to ask ridiculous questions and who does not know how to use the software contacted me dozens of times. (His tree is such a mess, with duplicates and triplicates. Ugh) I have met cousins and discovered branches of family that I did not know existed. I also depended heavily on others’ trees when I first started researching. I believe that family history is shared history and should not be kept private. I have cousins who don’t like to share information and discovered that they had errors in our family tree once I had access to their information and I have also learned much more at this point on my own than they did–and mine with documentation. Hopefully by sharing I will one day break through a few brick walls.

  30. J. Schroeter

    I do not understand those who are upset by others looking at and copying their photos/info. I will gladly share any info I have. To anyone. It’s nice if they share with me or let me know how they are related but if they don’t it’s not a big deal. Peronally I believe in good research and explanation of sources but if you don’t, then I can use your info as a jumping off point for more of my own research. I also like the ‘Comment’ feature of Public Trees. It is a good way to share info or point out a possible error. Family history is difficult and complex. I believe all of us who do this kind of research should do so with generous hearts and open minds. Share everything. We are all one family. Years ago I knew a woman who was an excellent researcher. She traced back many lines for many generations of some very interesting families. There had to be 10,000 people in her tree. Everything documented. Getting her to share info was extremely difficult, “It’s MY family and My work”. Her children and grandchildren were not interested. When she died it all ended up in a dumpster. So sad, imagine if it had all been on a Public Tree?

  31. Flona

    I like having a public tree for the reasons other people have cited. In the last couple years in particular I have been contacted by even unrelated individuals who have had invaluable information and photos to share about my grandmother’s family that had previously been unknown or a mystery. I had a similar experience to Gayle. Someone contacted me because he had old photos that he no longer wanted and preferred to give them away to a family member. Those photos were not of my own direct ancestors, but of those of a cousin, and I was able to put these men in touch. I was contacted by someone who had a large collection of photos and clippings of a grand uncle she shared with me. His surviving nieces and nephews knew almost nothing about him and we had very few photos. I am so grateful for people like this who are willing to share information and especially photos. Like Marie, I have family lines that I have not been able to find in any other tree, and that is part of why I feel it is important to have a public tree. Especially where I have done a lot of work already to document the line, it just feels like the right thing to do. Why do all the work, and then not at least share it with other family.

  32. Cheryl

    I am strongly committed to having a public tree. Genealogical research, like all historical research, is ultimately a collaborative effort. I have learned a great deal from other people’s trees, though I always use that information as a hint to verify by my own research. When I inherited a trove of family pictures I was distressed to realize that I had no way to share them with relatives with whom we had lost touch. Posting the pictures on Ancestry was a wonderful opportunity to put the pictures into the public realm where others could find them. I also happen to live close to the area where many ancestors in the distant lived. I have been able to go to cemeteries and photograph gravestones that are not on any web site. These I have also posted on Ancestry and visit archives others could not access. I am delighted when anyone can benefit from my work and happy to receive corrections for any errors. By working together with others we have all created a fuller and more accurate picture of our family past. I have connected with many generous and thoughtful people. Yesterday I received an email from a distant relative in New Zealand offering to take photos for me on her upcoming trip to Great Britain. In return I was able to send her transcriptions of our ancestors’ wills and other helpful information. Does the one person who took family photos and attached them to people obviously unrelated bother me? Of course, for a moment, but the good far outweighs the bad. Let’s keep sharing and learning together.

  33. L.O.

    I too have a public tree and plan to keep it that way. However, having seen some of the old photos I posted to my tree show up on trees belonging to others and having the other person shown as the source of the photo irks me. If someone wants to use the photo I posted, I an ok with that, but please show the original source.
    I am now careful what I attach to my tree. If I had to purchase a document such as a birth or death certificate, I will not attach it to my public tree. I will attach any other document obtained on an open source.
    Having a public tree has been beneficial to me because I have been able to contact, and have been contacted by distant family members. But I have experience, as others have stated, trying to contact a private tree owner without success. It would seem that if one goes to the trouble to create a tree that they would be interested in finding out more about their family by shaing with others.

  34. Holly

    I don’t think I saw this one covered in the comments, but this is why I made my tree private; One section of my tree has some significant dead ends and occasionally I’ll put a date or idea in to see if it leads me to a solution. When I do this I make a little note to myself, with the date, on my tree. This tells me when I come back to that person what ideas I had or why I choose that path. Sometimes it takes me a little while to unravel a family who has not been well researched. While my tree is private I can add these ideas, theories, dates and notes to myself without fear of someone else copying the information as fact. I have noticed a lot of people on Ancestry blindly copy from other trees without the slightest interest in the accuracy of the information. I don’t not want to contribute inaccurate information before I’ve been able to work through my theory. I have been contacted by other users and have never refused to help them by sharing my information. Courtesy is the key.

  35. Pam

    I love it when someone copies my photographs, stories, documents etc.! It means more people are finding out about our common ancestors. I get a little thrill every time I look and see 40 or 50 people have saved a bit of information to their trees from mine. I actually bounce a little at the thought that now we all know about these wonderful, fascinating people who were our ancestors. Anyway, the documents I post are generally public documents. They’re not mine in any way, I just did the research to find them and link them to ancestors by being creative in my searches here, at Familysearch and at all the different government agencies that have put their historic records online and indexed!

  36. Ted Roehm

    I leave my tree public to share my hard work and open new doors. Many people seem mad about people adding their photos. I have uploaded 100% of my research and photos and usually people do add them and not contact me. Normally it sparks an interest in who they are so I can view their tree and easily figure it out or I will contact them on my own. I own the photos I post yes, but I didn’t take them, they weren’t mine to begin with. They have been passed down to me from my ancestors, but they are not only MY ancestors. They can be other people’s ancestors too. I share my photos so my ancestors can live on and other people can make discoveries as well. The whole mentality of being greedy and not sharing has got to stop. I guarantee everyone on here would not be where they are in their research today if it weren’t for the sharing of other members. For those that have gone private because they were mad that people added their photos or shared them, yes their is probably proper etiquette in store, but imagine if everybody had the same mentality as you. Where would you be at in your research today?

  37. szegszag

    I don’t put tree online, but do participate in forums, lists, etc to make contacts. When I share tree I do so with PDF versions of particular branches. In this way someone has to actually physically review and add the info. This also gives prompt to correctly source the information. Just merging does not correctly source the info – For example someone getting info from my tree should cite my tree as the source and then noting the source I had. (ie: szegszag’s Tree, 1999, citing History of Smithtown, p27).

  38. After many years of having a private tree, I’ve just set mine to public access. Because I’ve taken the DNA test and want to find cousin matches, I hope this will help. However, I’ve also made changes to my member profile by adding this little paragraph: “As a professional courtesy, before you take information from this site, please let me know if you are also researching individuals in my tree or if you’d like to copy photos I’ve attached to any ancestor. We may be able to collaborate in ways that can benefit us both.” I’m hoping this will encourage anyone wanting to copy my information or photos to contact me beforehand. I guess I’ll just have to rely on the honor system here.

  39. Sharyn Eischen

    I, too, believe in sharing the information I find as I believe it is Family history and not My history. Why should scattered and distant cousins have to “re-invent the wheel” when I can provide information for them? I have discovered wonderful 2nd and 3rd cousins spread over the country and the world and have tried to contact and thank persons who have added photos or documents that support information. I try to document and record information and the source whenever possible as I made the usual novice mistakes when I began and took inaccurate information from other Trees or neglected to note where I had found the info I had recorded. I did make one Tree private as I had so many errors in it but put it back to public after I realized I was unlikely to correct everything in my lifetime!
    I do know people who hold their trees close to them as they “did all the work and paid the costs for it”. Blarney! They will ever know what they may be missing. I nearly wept the first time I discovered a photo of my great-great grandparents, immigrants from Norway, posted by a distant cousin. My mom would have been so thrilled to have seen that photo.
    I have, however, heard of people who attach every fluttering leaf hint as proof to their tree no matter if the information conflicts common sense and have used the Comment area to gently remind people that a woman cannot give birth years after her death or when she, herself, is a little child. Common sense is a necessary part of any research. My deepest gratitude to those who are willing to share their family stories with others and I hope my own research, on Ancestry as well as other sites, will help fellow seekers in their quest. We all want the same thing – the stories of our ancestors so we can share them with our current family and preserve them for the ages. Don’t we all want our own stories remembered?

  40. pauline

    I have never considered making my tree public due to the fact that this research has been ongoing for nearly 20 years and in order to find some missing people, particularly women, i had developed working theories. I would come up with possibilities and research that till I could prove or eliminate. While sharing my findings with another distant cousin I shared one of these “possibles” with him and he shared it wilth another “cousin” who put it up on her public tree. Within a very short amount of time other people with public trees copied it and all but one tree had it up. I told the cousin and the distant cousin he shared with that it was a working theory at the time I told him and that I had since eliminated it. Well they both were angry with me and the misinformation is still up on all but one tree almost 5 years later. True research is not copying others work, it involves more dedication and thought than some give it. Not to mention the expense of travel and procuring records etc…I have since found many inaccurate “facts” on public trees, sometimes I send a message to the tree owner asking what documentation they have and most of the time they don’t answer. Other times I write and tell them that it is not correct and offer the correct documented fact and most of the time it isn’t changed on the tree because when so many people have the inaccurate fact on their tree it somehow becomes truth.

  41. Marnie

    I used to have public trees for years until some others decided to take photos of mine, place them on their trees, and totally change the names of the persons in the photo, some of which included my own grandmother and her siblings. The photos were identified BY my grandmother, plus my dad knew them all, and of course I knew them all. But these people decided they were someone else. One person corrected the info, but another would not. I messaged her to asked her to change it, and left a comment on the photo, and she said she would, but never did. The worst part is, she was not even a relative. While my trees are now private, I still get occasional inquiries, and I am always happy to oblige someone. When I see a photo I might like for my tree, I ask for permission, and I add that I received permission from the original poster to use it. I still get DNA requests, too, and met a 2nd cousin in this way. I have been happy with my private tree decision.

  42. Kathleen

    I also have strong feelings about public vs. private trees. Genealogy is all about making connections, and private trees seem against that spirit. Like others have said, it is very frustrating that those with private trees can benefit from public trees. It should work both ways. Those with private trees should be blocked from viewing public trees.

  43. Doug Hughes

    I don’t think people with private trees should be allowed to save things from people with public trees.

  44. Judy

    My tree was originally public, until I tired of people copying everything off of it without even leaving me a comment. Maybe good manners aren’t expected in genealogy, but I would never copy something off someone’s tree without at least sending them a message of thanks. However, I have never benefitted from anything on a public tree because I can’t tell if it’s accurate or not – so many people put anything on their trees and so few document their sources. My experience with “meeting” other cousins has been non-existent. I did an autosomal test in 2011 and have more than 300 matches; I’ve only been able to identify a common ancestor with one match. Four of my close family members have also tested and we’ve identified zero common ancestors with other matches.

  45. Dawna

    I started my trees about two years ago after I retired and I never had any qualms about going public. I was trying to find information on father’s birth family and if someone else was related or thought they were then I wanted to be able to communicate. I have indeed found much information and met family through my findings on ancestry. com. I must say that I do not think one is wrong to copy pictures out on the trees if they are their to be had. I imaging that others like myself did not know there was a political correctness to asking before adding to your tree. I don’t take insult when someone points out an error. Sometimes, I may have someone or something in my tree that I might question as true but I usually put notes if I think there is a possibility that I am wrong. I am very grateful of the interaction afforded me with the public tree. I have met people who don’t know me from Adam who have helped me with MY endeavor. I have sent emails after finding pictures or information on someone’s tree and NEVER get a response. I love the ability of thinking that maybe I helped someone else with my information or a picture that I have. I have an agenda…my father’s family and knowledge of it but while I am at it, I’m putting it all together so someday, someone in my family may have the same interest that I do and find out who our family is. My father did not have that opportunity. As the person before me said “Don’t we all want our stories remembered?”

  46. Cheryl

    I uploaded my family tree maker onto as private, searchable. Once I looked at it, I panicked and removed the tree, as there were people and items on there I never should have been uploaded, and I didn’t catch it until I looked at the tree. My question is: Will the info and documents I had on there for less than 24 hours now be viewable for all to see (Ancestry gaining rights to former tree information.) I want to have a private/searchable or public tree on Ancestry, but this really scared me. Please advise, thanks.

  47. Russ

    The debate of public vs. private brings up a pet peeve I have had with Ancestry for a while now. There is no real way to separate data what has solid sources and documentation from areas to work on. I have a great deal of areas in my public tree that I need to vet but there is really no way to tell where they are without keeping notes the old fashioned way. That is where Ancestry could help us all. If I can mark data as work in progress and tell the same from others, it would definitely change my research patterns.

  48. alec

    I have several thoughts about the public vs private tree issue. My tree has always been public except for a brief period earlier this year after i was a victim of identity theft. I realized at the time that some of the information that was used to answer personal questions was available on my tree. When I changed all of my financial records i did not use the real answers to any of those security questions. For example instead of giving them your mother’s maiden name or your father’s middle name just make something up like apple or orange or ford or chevy. That way there is never any connection to you or your family and public records ,or info on Ancestry, will be of no use to anyone. The other option is to simply keep people alive. You can prevent someone from seeing information on a close relative, say a parent, that is actually deceased by simply making them “Alive” on your tree.
    My biggest gripe about public vs private is the people with private trees that take information from my public tree. I have even suggested to Ancestry that people with private trees should be blocked from viewing all public trees. If you won’t share with me why should I share with you.
    I do think public trees are wonderful……a distant cousin in Scotland posted a picture of my Great-Great Grandparents taken in 1896…….I only hope that someone will find something on my tree that gives them the same thrill I had when I saw that picture.

  49. Linda

    One thing that I don’t like is that you have to be a paying member to look at public member trees. I had an ancestry account for years but don’t have a need for it right now. I hav tested with FTDNA and people will say they have a tree on Ancestry and are mistaken in thinking that I only have to be registered with Ancestry (not a paying member) to view their tree. This really limits connections that we all hope to make.

  50. Kathy

    One reason for keeping your tree private is Scams. I was public for about a month and learned the lesson.
    Our grandson lives about 2500 miles from us and that leaves us with limited contact. We were victims of the “Your Grandson is in jail in Peru — Send Money” fraud. Needless to say, at first we were in a little panic until we reached our daughter to confirm that it was not true. Very likely Ancestry is the only place where our connection and our grandsons info was available. That is why I keep private.

  51. Leslie

    Normally I don’t bother to comment on articles, but in this case since the majority of commenters are only complaining that people have the gall to copy public information, that the posters themselves put out in the public for anyone who has the inclination to access, without first figuring out who the ORIGINAL poster was of that miscellaneous information and then seeking their permission first before using it. If you don’t want people who YOU don’t think are related to you to have your information, then don’t post every piece of information you have online for the world in general to view and copy.
    To the individuals above who were concerned about people accessing and changing their information in their tree: only the person who owns the tree can change information in that tree.
    My tree is private, but searchable. Does this prevent people from contacting me for information in my tree? NO! If someone is truly interested in the information I have or wants to know if my person is the same individual as the person in their tree, they ask me.
    To the people who complained about other’s not immediately responding to their requests and posts, I will answer you this: not everyone has time to work on their genealogy as much as they wish they could. I am not retired, I work full-time and do not have internet at home besides. I have to go to the public library to access the internet (and it’s not that close either). I consider myself fortunate if I get 2 or 3 hours of research time per month! Have patience with the person you contacted – they may not have as much time as you do to dedicate to their research.
    As to my comment about not putting all your research online: My primary tree is on my laptop – OFFLINE. That is where ALL my sources are. That is where my “clean” tree is. I don’t have to worry about having to privatize any information. I am the only person who sees that. If a person contacts me for information, I always tell them that I have more sources than what is in my online tree. That tree has only (with few exceptions) Ancestry matches in it, and I did not bother to attach sources to every person those sources gives information for (a frustrating process that I very quickly saw the needlessness of when I already have everything in my private tree).
    Lastly, to those complaining about people just randomly merging the information that you made public to the world in their family trees, I believe you are forgetting about when you first started dabbling in genealogy. Very few people (if any) start into genealogy from the very first person they enter in very closely studying every fact about a person before concluding it is their person and then entering a source citation for every piece of information (I know it took me a few years to see the need for a source for EVERY piece). Most people are just thrilled with the excitement of the find – I just found my grandparents parents! I remember I was fascinated to watch my tree grow. It was even better when I learned about and found out that people put their trees online – and look this tree has the same people that I have in my tree and they have already gone back more generations than I have been able to… While I saw those trees as very good stepping stones to guide me as to the direction to take in my search (this person believes that this person is the father, let me research that person too). It is rare that the mistakes in the copied trees are around the persons being compared to see if the trees are for the same families – it is usually a few generations back that come along with the copied tree. Most of the time I was fortunate in that the trees I had copied were my family – they just had no sources in them, but early on I wasn’t yet aware of the need to source my own information when I was doing this for my own benefit and had no thoughts of ever sharing the information with others. Also the individuals probably have not yet seen the benefit of keeping copied information separate from their trees until it has been completely verified and add the information piece by piece. It is much more exciting to add an entire family/tree all at once and “see how much more information I have now!”
    Related to the last point, about duplicate and triplicated people in online trees: My tree has some duplicated people. That is not a result of carelessness, I know they are there and I know why they are there. When I added new sources for some people from some Ancestry databases, Ancestry apparently did not know how to treat that information so it thought I wanted to add a new child/spouse when instead I wanted to add the new information to an existing person. I have not had the time to dedicate to figuring out how to fix the relationship issues when I have very little research time and it is correct in my primary tree anyway.
    I know this has been a VERY long post, but I wanted to insert some rational into some of the rants. The long and short of the matter is, as Anne stated at the beginning of her article, each person must determine which is the best setting for THEM. For my tree, I determined that private but searchable was the best setting for me.

  52. Wendel

    Public – Private I have four trees on Ancestry all were public in the beginning but I have made them all private in the past couple of years after finding documents, family information and 130 photos posted on one public tree on Ancestry that was taken from my trees and Find A Grave Memorials. This person is not in any way related to my family and as far as I could tell from her tree she has no relationship to any of the 8000 people she has posted on her tree. When this person was contacted about why my family information and photos were posted on her tree she stated ” I was excited to read all of the information you found and included it to my tree for others to benefit from your knowledge.” “I Like to share information not to take Credit.”
    This person is still collecting other peoples information and photos and posting them as hers.

  53. Karen

    I’m sorry to say that I have a deep dislike for private trees. My trees have always been public because I also feel that the research is social/historical and should be shared. What I dislike about private trees is that the owner blocks other researchers from obtaining possible connection information while they can view and gather information from public trees at will. This comes off as unfair to people with public trees. I have been able to give help and receive help from others with public trees. I have also met a cousin that I never knew about. Research is what this is all about, connecting to related people and learning about one’s past generations, where they lived, how they lived and died, etc. If I had a choice, I would banish private trees altogether, or at the very least prevent the private tree owner from viewing public trees. Fair is fair. If a researcher has a problem with another researcher they can contact Ancestry for help.

  54. Virginia Sande

    At the moment my tree is public; but it says everything is not sourced. I used PAF originally. The only place to note sources was in Notes. I have continued to do that; as I find the source section of Family Tree too complicated. I wouldn’t mind making the notes public. There are extensive bios in there, also.

  55. Agnes

    My tree is public. My gripe is a person copied a group of pictures to their private tree. I contacted them asking what is their relationship to my Grandparents. The reply, “I am not researching your line”. When I tried to contact them again, I was blocked.

  56. Jeff

    There are a lot of good comments on here. I have a public tree of my entire family, but I also have a private tree that is just my direct ancestors. I only created the private tree so I could see my generations easier. I have never considered a public tree as a way for identity thieves to attack me. Thanks alec. I have a public tree for two reasons. First, because of connections I make. I have met several distant relatives and together we have helped each other make discoveries and solidify some assumptions about ancestors. Secondly, I like when a related person can use my research to help themselves. Pictures and documents I post are for anyone to see. I enjoy showing old pictures of relatives to my friends. They are always amazed by them. Why not share these with my “friends” on Ancestry.
    I do not have a registered account with Ancestry yet, but plan to register at some point. I used to be able to download photos posted by other members (this feature has been removed). I could not view a picture, but I could attach it to my tree and then I could view it. I deleted many, but some I left attached. At one point, I had someone leave a nasty comment on one of the photos. Honestly, I didn’t even remember using it. My thoughts are that if you don’t want others to use your pictures, make them private. Personally though, I think this is some sort of power trip. When most of us have pictures taken of our family, we buy multiple copies and give them to relatives. I only use pictures of relatives, previously known or recently discovered. Why would someone be upset that another relative used the picture? It’s not like I am being malicious with the photo.
    Anyway, a public tree is a great way to meet people and share information. A private tree is what should be used by someone not wanting to share. I can see benefits with both, but for me, a public tree is best because I don’t have access to every piece of research out there. Meeting relatives from across the country, and even the world, gives access to research materials at their location that would otherwise be unavailable to me without expensive travel.

  57. Marina

    I keep my tree public and if people chose to post incorrect information on my ancestors, that’s their problem, not mine. My photos and documents are posted to share with anyone who wants them.
    My biggest issue is the number of private trees that show up on my DNA matches. I have upwards of 17,000 DNA matches. Granted, most of them are pretty distant. But, with so many, I tend to skip over the private trees. I’ve written to a number of private tree owners and perhaps a third or less respond, so I’ve given up on those. I sent polite, respectful inquiries, but for the most part get no response. Now I only try to contact private trees that are 4th cousin matches or closer. It’s too bad, but……………

  58. Linda

    I had my trees public until I was contacted by an individual who told me that he had a lot of information on my family. He emailed it to me then got mad at me for adding the info to my tree so I changed it to private.

  59. Jill

    I actually am happy and excited when people use photos for their trees that I’ve uploaded. It means the photos will live on. However, I’m not so sure I would feel that way if they had a private tree. But perhaps I read into it too much when someone has a private tree. It seems unfriendly which I’m sure is not most peoples intent. People are fearful of privacy or their tree may not meet a high standard for accuracy and they don’t want people blindly using info which may not be accurate. Also I don’t think people realize the connections that can be made and how helpful and rewarding that can be.
    I agree with the comment by Russ that it would be helpful if Ancestry had a way to make it so that tree info can be shown to be solidly known or documented or still being figured out.

  60. Judy Swann

    I’m blessed with several photos of my ancestors, including some gr-gr-great grandparents. I don’t mind sharing with anyone else. But don’t change anything on my tree! Can they do that? It’s best to just send a message if you think something is wrong.

  61. I have just finished reading the comments posted concerning public vs. private member trees, and am very upset and confused. Even though I have been a member for a few years, I still consider myself in the dark as to how all of this works. I thought the whole idea was to share and be able to access information about your ancestors. I have copied pictures also, but I guess I naively thought that it was there to share. Why else be public? I have never contacted anyone for permission, and there again, I didn’t realize I was supposed to. Is there something about using that I have missed? When I joined I was not told of any orientation class or given a crash ‘how to’ course. Also, I am technologically challenged, so I don’t understand how to go about doing much of what has been suggested. I thought that the person’s tree I was gathering info. from was automatically cited in my tree. Am I wrong about this? I have thoroughly enjoyed finding new and interesting facts about my ancestors through all kinds of documents, not just public trees. This discussion kind of burst my balloon.

  62. Michael

    To Leslie: For duplicate people the fix is very simple. Open your tree, go to the menu bar and click on “Person” which will give you a drop down menu, look at the bottom where it says merge two individuals and click on that, a new small box appears, find the matching or duplicate person, click on their name, next you get a window that has both people side by side and you do a merge. When you do this however, it will change the parents of the 2 people that you merged, so you have duplicates of them, so you do the same merge for them. It may sound difficult, but it isn’t.
    After reading many of the comments on this page I think at least some of the problems that are mentioned, are due to user error. What I mean is that you are not fully using the software, or using it incorrectly.
    I welcome others to look at my tree and use my info. I think it is a compliment to my years of effort. All of us make mistakes! When someone contacts me with what they believe is a mistake, I go back to my tree and verify my research. Sometimes I have my info wrong, sometimes the person contacting me is wrong. Either way I write them back and thank them for contacting me. Most of the people who contact me want to thank me for the info they copied from my tree, or to share something new, that they think will be of value to me. I contact people for the same reasons. There is one person I contacted because she has the most detailed, accurate tree that I have ever seen. Huge amount of data. I believe she is Russian. If any of you have ever seen her tree you will know what I mean. If gave out awards for “best tree” she would win hands down. She has more descriptive info and resources on her tree than most of us could ever imagine doing. There is absolutely no one else who has a tree like hers. I sent her a complimentary note, but have never received a reply.
    My tree is public. Maybe someone does go to the effort of taking info for identity theft, but don’t be so sure, there are much easier and faster ways to get your info if a person really wants to be a criminal. You can find out anything about anyone on the internet in much greater detail than you can find on

  63. E.Z.

    To those concerned about security…
    Brian-fudge the death dates of the people of concern so they are living, as living people in trees are hidden.
    Kathy-there is no way that scammers can get information about you and your grandson from Ancestry, as you are both living. Most likely they got the information from your grandson’s facebook page, or or similar that lists people and their close relatives. However, I was taken aback to see how much information on me is in Ancestry databases – high school yearbook, birthplace, where I’ve lived.
    I have my main tree public for the reasons others have giving. My tree has people/branches that I’ve documented, and those that are unsourced placeholders copied from others’ trees. I chose descent information from the trees with the most documentation and ignore unsourced trees. It is annoying when contacted about an unsourced branch, however there is no way to keep some people from being annoying. I do use a private tree for special, speculative research. is my primary genealogical program, as I don’t have time to keep up several duplicate trees. I tried Family Tree Maker but it adds housekeeping issues that require hundreds of hours to fix. So I just use the online tree – I can access from anywhere, no issues with backup. My tree is for me. It is not a published genealogy. Caveat emptor.

  64. Mardella

    I am blown away by this controversy. I had no idea that it was considered rude to use information that is publicly posted on Ancestry. I thought the fundamental spirit of was to get information out there for all to share. I have not made my tree public because I am still new to all of this and want to be sure that I am not posting mistakes. I do try to make sure that there are sources attached to any information that I gain from the public trees. I will have to give this some thought and consider my options in the future. I have photos that I want to share with others and I thought Ancestry was a good place to do that. You have all given me a lot to think about.

  65. I chose Public access to my Tree simply because it made no sense to me to do all this research and work building a tree only to have it lost upon my demise. Additionally I have found cousins whom I would never have known from a private tree.

    No judgement is passed on those who prefer private ………. just sayin’

  66. Sherri

    STOPPING other researchers from clicking on a button and taking all of your correct or incorrect information and having 10 Trees out there with all the exact information coming from one persons tree is a nightmare. If the information was incorrect and it came from your tree and is now shared on 10 other trees…you catch your mistake and correct it on your tree, which wonderful, however, those other 10 trees do not change and the incorrect information is out there for others to pick up by a click of a button. The worse part, their pages say it came from you originally! So, now it is your fault their tree is wrong.

    For those reasons alone, my tree is private but searchable. Researcher’s e-mail me for backup or question what my source documents may be. Most people in my tree, I place on the website Find A with supporting documentation if the person or document was a difficult find. Then, Find A Grave uploads into Ancestry for others to look at and decide at that point if they wish to include it in their tree.

  67. Shirley Maaks

    People need to get over themselves. I don’t expect a “thank-you note” every time someone copies something from my tree. As a matter of fact,it gives me a sense of satisfaction and joy that I was able to provide something they may have found interesting or not have known about their relative.I do agree however, that if you are keeping your tree private and you want something from my public tree, you should contact me first.Fair is fair and I should have access to the information on the relative we have in common from your private tree.Additionally, with all the sites available i.e.facebook, google peoplefind, etc personal information can be obtained from so many other sources other than ancestry for those devious and unscrupulous enough to steal someone’s identity or use the information in a scam.

  68. Dorothy

    I personally like the public. I am an only child of an only child and had an only child. I grew up not knowing that I had 3rd and 4th cousins out there and through ancestry I have made numerous connections to those wonderful people. Without making my tree public, this would not have been possible. Thank you ancestry for being there when I needed you.

  69. Donna

    My tree is private and non searchable. I would be glad to have a public tree but members of my family like to copy the information and claim that they did all the hard work and sadly, everyone believes them.

  70. Ellen

    I like the public trees! I copy the common pictures, (flags, CoAs, etc.), to keep track of my direct descendants, and left the others in silhouette.

  71. Robert

    I too have a public tree and I have used photos from other people but I also credit them and try to share as much as possible. My frustration is when I see a private tree has taken data from my tree but I can’t tell where it fits. I think the private trees need to have at least the tree lineage posted so we can see if there is a connection we might want to pursue with them.I have had private tree owners refuse to share. Maybe we could come up with a way that folks who have private trees need to request data from a public user before they can copy it. I know the reason some private users are concerned but this is all about sharing research. If Private owners don’t want to share then go do your own research and ignore ours. I refuse to put my documentation on-line if its not from an open source but will share it with anyone who asks.

  72. Andrea

    Kathy, My mom was a victim of that same type of scam, only her grandson was supposedly in Canada. My mother didn’t have a tree on Ancestry, or anywhere else. She wasn’t on the internet at all, not even with email. These scammers get people’s information in other ways, as they always have. Sad, but true.
    I keep my trees public because I believe I might miss an opportunity to “meet” a relative who may be put off by my tree being private. I don’t want to miss a soul who wants to connect with me. As many others have mentioned, I have been able to extend many of my trees with the help of relatives found on Ancestry, and I have also been informed of mistakes I have made, which I, as quickly as I can, correct, if need be. I have made many friends on Ancestry. I think most of us have a little bit of “MYTREEITIS”

  73. wes bell

    I do not post my tree online anywhere.
    As a victim of I.D. fraud it is way too easy.
    Even info people think they are posting is private may not be. If I want to contact someone who has a private tree I make the request via ancestry.

    The major problem is pure JUNK in the public trees.
    people will cite a date of death and never read the Certificate of Death they are citing. I find 10-20% or greater error rate in online posted trees. Others copy the errors to their trees and the error explodes.
    Ancestry is a great research tool I have used for 5 plus years but once posted.. is it ever private?
    We are finding how the “cloud” can be compromised and what next.
    Ancestry does a good job posting research information but use any “tree” with extreme caution!

  74. Andrea

    Kathy, My mom was a victim of that same type of scam, only her grandson was supposedly in Canada. My mother didn’t have a tree on Ancestry, or anywhere else. She wasn’t on the internet at all, not even with email. These scammers get people’s information in other ways, as they always have. Sad, but true.
    I keep my trees public because I believe I might miss an opportunity to “meet” a relative who may be put off by my tree being private. I don’t want to miss a soul who wants to connect with me. As many others have mentioned, I have been able to extend many of my trees with the help of relatives found on Ancestry, and I have also been informed of mistakes I have made, which I, as quickly as I can, correct, if need be. I have made many friends on Ancestry. I think most of us have a little bit of “MYTREEITIS”. I did the research, I made the trip to the FHL to look up microfilm, I took the trip to the remote courthouse to obtain original information, I took the trip to Wales to look in their archives. It’s MY tree! However, as has been mentioned before, if we don’t share our hard-earned information with others who care, when we are gone our trees and meticulously kept notes and documentation goes, as well (usually into the garbage). I try to keep the little twinge of irritation subdued when I notice that someone has used something from one of my trees without contacting me and introducing themselves. In fact, now I notice I get excited that someone else is finding something they never had before they found the picture or document that I uploaded.

  75. Linda

    I chose Private after being Public as my trees are continually a work in progress, and I have discarded incorrect info. when it was still out in public, but, as others have commented, my errors are still being replicated. I have posted comments on public trees that contain the misinformation, and some have thanked me and corrected theirs. Others have ignored the corrections.
    I also have copied photos from public trees. For some, I have contacted the person, so I could see if we were connected, and have found some great cousins and more info. That way. I also then share with them.

    I did have one person who wrote to ask why I was “stealing” their info. I did reply that, as the tree was public and viewable, I assumed one could use the info. I then offered to share my tree with the person/invite her to my tree, if she could show a relationship to my line, and she refused.

    After seeing how everyone feels about this, I do think one should thank the person, and I will definitely do so from now on. As far as I can tell, when I save the public photo to my tree, it does show who originally posted it. However, I can also just click on the picture and save it to my computer, without doing the “save to my tree.” Ancestry should fix that. One of my cousins who does have a public tree and has some great photos, has had her photos copied by someone else without using the “save”, so it looks like he is posting things as his own. And he’s only a shirttail relative of the family.

    Even though my tree is private, I do have it set to where someone can contact me to ask to view it. I do vet them first, asking how they are connected to the person they want access to. I have lots of cousins who now enjoy viewing the trees; some get to see everyone, and others only see the nonliving. It depends how well I know them. I do let them use photos and documents I have for their own trees.

  76. Marion LeQ

    Much appreciation to all those who made their research public so that I could get a good start on my own tree about 5 years ago. We have all made mistakes and if I find credible proof of a mistake, mine or yours, I have and will continue to contact the interested parties.

    Hello to all my distant cousins who have helped me identify the people in so many precious photographs, some of them almost 150 years old. Anyone with an interest or connection to the people in those pictures may copy the pictures or any part of my tree with my enthusiastic permission.

    And to those who copied information from my tree, with or without acknowledgement, the only thing I ask of you is to let me know if I got something wrong. I am reasonably certain of what I add when there was no prior solid research to guide me, but I have had to make corrections. If you are rude I will deal with it but nice is better and I won’t make any changes without proof.

    I guess this makes me in favor of public trees.

  77. Ancestry Anne, Is there any way trees – either private or public – can be made more secure, ie. information or photos available only by permission of the tree owner? Maybe with a toggle feature that would let the owner enable full access or choose to screen the request through email exchange? Just a suggestion on giving each person a choice as to how this should be handled for his/her tree.

  78. Cathy

    I favor public trees, and also the sharing of photos. Let me explain why a person might have a private tree and yet be copying info and photos from public trees: Adoptees who are getting some DNA results are building trees to work out possible relationships. These trees may include lines that don’t actually end up being family – this is serious research. Even when an adoptee CONFIRMS parentage, there might be sensitive issues related to who has been notified/contacted. So there ARE really good reasons to keep a tree private, and I can assure you that adoptees are absolutely thrilled to have photos of their bio relatives. However, communication is a delicate area!

  79. Dottie M.

    I only have one thing to say on the private vs public. I had public until some messaged me and said that I was not from her family. (Have news from dna… Hello cousin!)

  80. Phillip Gordon

    I was public and changed to private because some creep pirated a picture of my wife and he wouldn’t answer my inquiries as to why he wanted it!! If I could block photo grabs or at least require permission to take them, I could be public again.

  81. Rosemary

    I have a private tree, mainly because my maternal grandfathers info came from a newly discovered 1st cousin and is mostly copied from her private tree. I am interested in sharing more information and photos on other branches of the tree. Is there any way to split it up after the fact or somewhat easily create a public version from my private version? As far as copying photos from one tree to your own, it never occured to me that permission was needed since there is a button right there on the page to allow it. I am glad the subject is being discussed. It has been an education.

  82. SG

    I have my tree private, but searchable. Anyone who see my information on a search is more than welcome to contact me through the Ancestry email function (it’s easy to do) and I will be more than happy to converse with them. I used to have my tree public, but like many of you, I was disturbed by the inaccuracies that sometimes occur when information is copied. And like many of you, I know that some of my data is not fully vetted, but it seems that many people blindly copy tree information. I see the exact same information on many trees, and I know that it could not have been individually verified by all. I don’t want to see my known incorrect data on someone else’s tree, then the third person, then the fourth, after a while, there is no hope of getting the correct data out there once I have researched and/or made corrections. I have my personal method of marking what is not verified and I put what I know in there I the hopes of developing it further, but I don’t want it to be copied yet. If I keep it private, I can let those who contact me know what is verified and what is speculation at this point. One of the things that particularly bothered me about the public tree is that I would see information that I had posted show up as “originally posted by —” someone other than me. For example, a story about my grandfather that I authored and typed my name at the end of, and no one else would possibly have that information. Yet here it was with someone else’s name on it. It’s not even that I am possessive of my information, but that the lines of authenticity get very blurred when this happens. All that said, I have been fortunate to connect with some cousins who have helped me considerably with data, and have also been able to help others. I completely believe in sharing when appropriate. But those connections and help can still be made with a private tree. All it takes is a friendly email to the other tree owner . One comment about security and identity theft. Someone suggested “fudging” death dates to make it seem someone is still living, and therefore their information would not show up. I wouldn’t recommend that since it could compromise the integrity of your tree and could be very difficult to keep track of. Even with the accurate dates, you can go into the edit mode for that person and mark the radio button for living or deceased independently of the date. Just my thoughts. Thanks to everyone who willingly shares information, whether public or private.

  83. dkath11

    As many others have said, I have assumed that if you post your info/photo to a public tree, you’re willing to share, and that asking permission isn’t required. Since the new “comment” system has been created (where you get an email anytime someone comments on your tree) I’ve gotten notices about a comment–I always look to see if the commenter has new info or a correction for my tree–But many times it’s someone thanking me for posting a bit of info or such. While I appreciated the thought, I really don’t need to know anytime someone uses my info–that’s why it’s there, and I just assume if anyone uses it, they appreciate it, as I do when I add from someone’s tree.
    Also, I’ve had the problem of a shirttail relative putting incorrect info and incorrect photos of my family out there. I don’t like it, but what can you do? The same with all the undocumented and/or incorrect info–you just do your own work and don’t worry about it. Just be careful of adding the wrong thing–I had to learn that the hard way at first, and so have errors in my tree I’m working on–it’s not all fixed, so all of you out there need to be careful of my tree too. If it’s not documented, ask about it, or don’t use it, that’s all.
    My major trees are public, but I do have private trees where I’m trying to find my way–not that I don’t want to share, but there are too many uncertainties that I don’t want turning into “sure things” before they’re verified.

  84. B.Wallace

    I personally resent private trees. Those who maintain them, acquire information from us who make ours public. They take advantage of our information and yet, don’t share what they have. I just feel it’s very one-sided for us unselfish ones.

  85. Kay

    Just a thought–I found a small notebook among my Dad’s things when he passed away. It didn’t belong to our family, but was an antique he had found and admired. The dates and names in it allowed me to track down a descendant of the in the notebook, following a public tree on Ancestry.

  86. cheryl

    I had a private tree when I was new, and was afraid of making mistakes and being berated by others. Later when my confidence level was up, I went public. I have made contact with many distant relatives, but I get contacted much more when the tree is private, so I am back private. That way, a relative who needs my info will have to contct me, and we can become acquainted.

  87. nfr

    Like many of you, I had a Public tree, but it was being copied and data changed to fit another individual’s personal wants. I was also “charged with adding false info” from someone who did not like what I had documented on my tree, from an outside living source. Hey, if GGGreatgranddad married 7 times, and the records are there, don’t blame me. I am Private but Accessible. I do let people into my tree, but by proven descendency only. And I will give people information. As probably 80% of my records come from traveling to places and doing the research and from thousands of hours looking up city, county and state records, I did the work. I don’t feel obligated to just give it all away. And when I do, it is copied and spread to trees with the wrong meaning. An Obit mentioning a person, does not mean they are related or even the same person.
    Also, I have an enormous amount of photos, records, etc given to me by several others, who specifically said they do not want they kindly charged research on a Public tree. Some of these people have been doing research for over 30 years, have pages of documentation, and if they want to share with you, contact them the way I did. Find them!
    I recently found where the birth and death records of one person were used for someone who lived in another part of the US, along with his parents. This mis-information had been copied some 14 times. Once the wildfire catches, it is hard to put out. I do try and let one of them know, But if it has been copied that many times, it becomes the “law” and no one really wants to look other info up. I don’t do Family Data or Millennium files, as often I have found the info to be inaccurate. While I do look at Public trees, I don’t use the tree until I have actual documented the info. Once I do that, I change how names are recorded on my tree. I never just assume someone else’s tree is totally accurate. My tree isn’t totally accurate, and I am finding so many trees with absolutely no documentation. NONE. They are just printing out trees and adding the names. I don’t know which is worse copying trees or just adding the data.
    My thoughts.

  88. Sue

    I have 3 public trees and 2 private trees. 1 tree is a duplicate of the public tree, except that it has some information that is not on the public tree. The other tree I have private but searchable, as the daughterinlaw of my second cousin requested that I remove the tree. It is my mothers line of family that came from Germany and not very much is known about them and they do have an unusaual last name.If the D-I-L hadn’t told me to remove it and I would have left it public. I have phots and documents,obits etc. on my public trees and also i try to source all my info. If someone wants to copy it, that is fine with me.
    My only complaint is ,is that I have found about 18 trees out there that have the wrong information on my Father. I have contacted these people and have asked that they correct it, and have given them the correct info.I come from a large family> My GGGrandfather was a LDS pioneer.
    I have had several persond contact me that have copied these trees with the wrong info. and tell me that my info is wrong. I had 3 people send me very nasty notes when I informed that that my info was correct and the others were wrong, and that I ought to know what is correct and whar is wrong being that he was my father, and I should know when & where he was born and died and who he married. I have even sent the the documation to proof it.

  89. Paula

    My tree is public. I have no problem sharing information with others and having documents and pictures copied. Others have helped me the same way! I even met someone on Ancestry that was once married to a second cousin of mine and she helped me find out where my great great grandfather was buried and that after my great great grandmother had died in childbirth, he had married three times!

    Also, I had the autosomnal DNA test done and it frustrates me to no end when I have hundreds of matches, but more than half of them are private trees or no tree! I have several brick walls that I am trying to break down and unfortunately have not been able to do yet with DNA.

  90. Mary

    I do agree with Brian’s comments about identity theft and having parents names on a family tree on the internet is a concern. However, when given a choice, I do not use either of my parents names for security questions. I do have my family tree public but I have blocked two names from being able to view it. That is another choice you have which I do not think anyone has mentioned. I blocked one person, who controls another tree under a different name. I took this action because he copied people from my tree that really had no connection to him or his family. The family connection was really a weak one – he was a cousin of the first husband of my uncle’s second wife. However, he copied my parents, and my grandparents as well before I blocked him. I sent him and an email and got a very rude response. I decided he was someone collecting names to have the biggest tree on Ancestry — 20,000 people and counting, attaching even the remotest connection. To me, this was not sharing but abusing the privilege of sharing. It is people like this who spoil it for those who are sincerely interested in finding living relatives to communicate with as I have, or finding more of their family history. So, I think there are pro and cons to having a tree public or private tree; you have to decide what is best for you.

  91. Cindy

    I would not want to wade through all the thank-you’s for all the pictures I have posted, nor the time it would take to thank all I have copied. I am happy to see them used. I was delighted to read that even after you no longer have an account (when I die) my tree will still be there for my descendants. I hope people who wanted a thank you are in the minority. I am not going to worry about it. I am addicted and not fighting it.

  92. Bonnie

    I have a Public tree and a couple of Private trees. The public tree has all my well researched info (as much as can be) I am happy that people might find a connection.
    My private trees are another story. I have one for my grandfather who we think was married and maybe not divorced from 11 women. I keep the ones I know for sure on my public tree, the rest are private. I don’t want to be giving out incorrect information.
    I also have one for my grandmother who supposedly has Native American blood and she is very elusive.
    I love to post pictures of my ancestors hoping that others can benefit from them. I have cousins that had never seen pictures of their grandfather.
    I am still trying to figure out the DNA matches. I was contacted recently by someone that showed a relationship with me. She wanted me to email her GEDCOM of my tree. With a few messages back and forth I found that she did not have a current online tree and she had taken down ALL her photos because people were “stealing” them. I explained nicely that I would not send her GEDCOM as it had all my family on there including the ones still alive. She was welcome to look at my public tree. I also told her, again nicely, why my pictures were public. I never heard from her again.
    I am very careful about what info from family trees that come up and the information in them. I hate when I find a tree with no supporting records and each child is listed multiple times. These people have not done any research and just add people willy-nilly.
    I have had some great message conversations with people that I have connected with and hope to have many more.
    I love and recommend it to any one doing genealogy research.

  93. I have 2 public trees and 2 private ones. The private trees consist of my childrens’ father’s bio families. I submitted his DNA with his blessing and was able to not only determine the id of his paternal line but also verification of his maternal line previously found via his adoption record. Have been in contact with some members of his maternal line (a 1st cousin and and aunt). They were thrilled about the discovery. However, the paternal line is a sensitive issue making me reluctant to contact any of his DNA matches after a not so pleasant encounter with a 3rd cousin match who initially contacted me through Ancestery. Now I am reluctant to try and contact anyone else even though he has half-sibs on ancestery. Long story short, this is the reason I made the trees private all the way. I have tagged a few pics from other trees but no one has questioned me about it. I have met some of the nicest people in the world during the past 2 years that I have been on ancestery. Even made contact with a close cousin and we email each other and were able to meet in person a few weeks ago.

  94. nfr

    One thing that really bothers me, is I found a cousin in England, and someone was copying her photos and records to a person who was NOT related. I asked her if she shouldn’t tell them they were wrong. She didn’t think how her family genes/genealogy were being mutilated by a connect to someone not related. She later told them they had a wrong connection. But people love photos, they want instant gratification without the work. Not me. I work hard making sure my family is my family. I have had to delete people a number of times. I am working with a “cousin” now, who just may not be a cousin. I have a whole Bible full of records, but when the one son moved South, all records were lost. Is he or isn’t he? We have no way of proving his James is my James.
    BTW, I do Find A Grave, and photos on memorials are copyrighted by the person who added. But no one cares. I have had people get photos for me and they remain their property. But everyone adds them anyway. Ancestry even includes photos on their attachment. Per Find A Grave, all photos have a copyright, you have to ask permission to use the photos or the memorial bio. Just a FYI.

  95. Sandi

    I found all of this wonderfully informative. Thank You all. I am a researcher and I am guilty of adding a person that other trees claim to be in our line with out checking it out first…IF the dates and relatives are in the acceptible range. I do this so that I can investigate it further and I won’t forget them. Then I try to “prove or disprove” them. I try to remember to put “don’t copy” in the name, but occasionally forget. Some of you seem to have found a better way to do this…please share.
    I understand the desire for private trees, someone told me that they worked too hard for the info and refuse to give it to the lazy. Yeah, there is some of that here, but there is also the inexperienced who don’t know how to search creatively or have the money to travel. I guess if that is your attitude you shouldn’t share what others put on. I have gotten a great deal of info from my cousins on here…especially the ones I didn’t know. They have gotten a great deal of info from me. One cousin has the finances and ability to travel…she shared what she found. I can not travel far, but am a good researcher and don’t mind paying county historical society members to check out records. We both share what we find. Those who can not do what we do, share their thoughts as sounding boards and memory.

  96. Sandi

    Sorry, I forgot. I am a Find A Grave Contributor, I have photographed over 8000 graves…and added over a thousand death notices. People like me do this to help others complete their ancestry. Most of us don’t mind our work being used for family purposes. Most of us don’t mind it going on Ancestry Trees. If you do not have time to ask permission, at least make sure to give the contributor credit for their work and list the memorial number.

  97. Danni

    I have two private trees on Ancestry, I also have a tree on FamilySearch. Basically I use Ancestry and FamilySearch to collect records which, may or may not, belong on the various people in my tree. Then I use the genealogy program on my computer to document my family research. That is where the most detailed and accurate proven family records,documents, photos, stories, etc. are with proper documentation (following Evidence Explained).

    BTW, when someone contacts me on Ancestry regarding a possible family connection I do not have a problem giving them access to my tree. If we determine we are really related, I am very happy to share additional information I have in my real genealogy files. Personally I think it is more productive to put forth some effort to make a family connection and share information than to just anonymously access and blindly copy information from a public tree.

    That being said, excuse me while I go and copy all of the family trees of all of my 4th-8th cousins that are matches to my DNA results!

  98. rhonda

    Some of my distant relatives using have incorrect information in their trees – so I hope that by having my tree public I can offer better information to others who are related or at least point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, rather than just attach my photos to their trees, a few people have copied them to their computer and then reattach them to their own tree, so that there is no longer any connection to my tree. That means that if someone has questions about the photo, I’m not the person who will be contacted. Now I also have a private tree that has most of my photos in it. I would like to share those photos with other relatives, but I want to maintain my connection to them in case anyone has comments or questions. Another problem I recently discovered with photos in a public tree, is that they are accessible to anyone who happens to google the person’s name. Those photos are available to people who do not subscribe to ancestry, and to people who are not even logged onto ancestry. I think that is outrageous that ancestry would do that – sharing with other subscribers or users is one thing, but I don’t want my personal photos shared with everyone online.

  99. Rodger D. Reddish

    Hola Yo’ll,
    A I read this I too felt that folks with private trees should not be able to copy anything from another public tree. They only way for them to do so is to now have their once private tree automatically converted to be “A Team Player”. This should be with no questions asked or anything.

    The second item is if you have completed The DNA Test — you should have a public tree. For Ancestry to post a private tree and the person has done the DNA Test is kinda dumb because they too are siding with a Non Team Player.

  100. Patricia Keoughan

    I met an Irish Cousin because her family tree was not private and showed up with my searching. That completed the #1 item on my bucket list. Can’t wait to meet her.

  101. West

    My tree is private. But those who worry about the “unfairness” of my being able to see their trees while not sharing mine — never fear, I also avoid looking at anyone else’s trees either. In the early days I did take info from other people, and almost every time I ended up regretting it, as I spent hours on end trying to separate the good info from the bad; hunting down and deleting mistakes. I upload my tree for the convenience of having it backed up online, and for the ability to have it readily accessible to my family, but I have no interest in contributing to the avalanche bad information out there.

    I used to think that if a piece of information was cited on 20 different trees, that meant it was more likely to be accurate. I’ve learned my mistake the hard way. I find the same mistakes repeated again and again and again, as people copy each other with no discrimination whatsoever. Yes, I found one or two good leads on public trees, but the signal to noise ratio is so low that it’s not worth it to me to even look at them any more. And, as others have said, I really don’t want to make it worse by putting my own unproven theories out there. I am happy to trade info with any serious researcher who contacts me, and I love discovering long-lost relatives, but I have no interest in being part of the torrent of misinformation.

  102. satlcat

    I have read every one of the comments above and was bothered by a number of the statements made.

    First, when I started Ancestry my tree was public. I just didn’t copy from someone’s tree to make it look like I had great information on members of my family, but when I saw something different I would contact the person find out where they got their information and still did my own research to find the accurate version or to confirm what they had. All was going great till one day this person on Ancestry started copying a certain branch of my family from my tree and two of my cousin’s. I looked at her tree and saw that she was just coping to copy. Putting wrong pictures with wrong people, marriages, children etc. When we tried to contact her….nothing. On her profile she blabbed about her and her sister writing a book with this family name. Well finally when she did respond, she was, needless to say, not the nicest person. Not even listening to us telling her that we were in no way related and to please correct or delete what she had already copied so as the wrong information did not get passed on. One of her responses was that she liked the pictures, another that she might write another book on the “—-“ family. After contacting another new cousin to Ancestry we had to let her know that what she had copied from this persons tree was wrong and we would give her the correct information, her tree is also now private. Well that was the icing on the cake for me, if anyone is thinking about writing a book on my family, it’s going to be me and not someone who copies information, isn’t even related and writing about them as if they knew them. After that my tree went Private. I have put too much time, money, research and documentation into my tree to have it as accurate as possible and not have information copied and attached to wrong people from one tree to another and so on.

    If someone is SERIOUS about their genealogy and interested in someone in a private tree, all it takes is writing a nice note to them and not just ignoring them. There are those of us with private trees that will respond and share the information, not necessarily grant them access but help point them in the right direction. Keep in mind if you have a private tree and grant access to someone with a public tree, whatever they may copy is once again in the public eye. I have had more people contact me and make connections since I went private then when it was public and just out there to copy. They are also more comfortable to share information knowing it’s not public.

    Second: You also have to understand that when your tree is public it is open to the World Wide Web, not just limited to those who are on Ancestry. Try for yourself and Google a title or person with a picture on your tree and I bet you find it, along with the census records. So please don’t criticize anyone who does copy your photo, at least your login and tree are listed on the photo when a person copies it to their tree from Ancestry, they could very easily get it off the web. Unfortunately there are still some who will save it and put it in their tree as if it were their photo and you wouldn’t even know it was copied.

    Third: I also want to thank all the volunteers from Find a grave. When I do copy a photo from them I make sure to indicate Courtesy: Find a Grave, and their name under the photo description, same goes for photos/documents from family members as to its origins.

    Fourth: People were talking about working off line, but making a tree just for people to find them without having to duplicate an online tree. The 2014 Family tree maker is great in that you can now ‘sync’ your online tree with the offline and vice verse. I use it all the time to send relatives the latest family tree and register report.

    Last: I find that while Ancestry is phenomenal with its documents for instant access, with the World Wide Web as it is today and is so easy to do Genealogical research, some expect others to feel the same as them and put everything out in the open. I think that some have forgotten how to do research the good ole way, like our ancestors did and some of us still do. Going to libraries, towns Vital Record department or cemeteries.

    Each and every person’s tree is personal to them and their family and how they want it to read or be shared. So whether a person chooses to have a private vs. public tree is their prerogative and I respect them, not condemn them for their choice.

  103. I would like to thank Ancestry for your service. My story is that I could not find any thing on my birth mom that didn’t dead end. However, I discovered one of the forums and asked for info. Within 1month I was reunited with my brother; which didn’t know I existed, and my mother. We will be reunited for the first time in 49 years this year. Thank You! 🙂

  104. Greg Szybala

    95% of our family tree on was created by me and a couple of ladies I met via the net years ago when info and genealogy sharing was free. Today, I or others can’t access that information I submitted years ago with out paying a fee to access this site. Public? Private? That’s a relative question. One I find very frustrating since my family info is no longer mine and not accessible (public) unless I or others are willing to pay to access what was once shared freely and truly public.

  105. Donna

    I agree with West above. I also had my tree public for many years, but had many people copy information to the wrong family and wouldn’t correct it. The wrong information goes viral and it’s always hard to stop the further spread. I personally do not use other trees. In fact, I have that option turned off in my hints. I find there are more trees that have little or no documentation. I’ve also had photos and documents posted to Find A Grave that have upset people in my family. I do keep a “bare-bones” public tree on Ancestry for connecting with cousins and for DNA matches. This is a little extra work, but by using Family Tree Maker, it’s not a difficult thing to copy my main “working copy” private tree, remove the things I don’t want public and update it every month or two. This is an option that works for me. I would much rather go to a little extra trouble to make sure that what I publish is accurate for others to use before I make it public. Genealogy is a scientific endeavor that has huge emotional value. But like any scientific research, it needs to be proven or disproven before you publish. It’s exciting to find new branches on our tree, but make sure they belong in your tree before you chop them off and blindly them add them. The thrill of doing this research is the search itself. Do your own research – don’t just blindly copy what someone else has done. I do believe in the spirit of sharing and I am happy to share with anyone who asks me, but I do think we all need to be courteous to each other and work cooperatively. If someone asks to you review your research because they think you may have an error, it’s a great opportunity to work together to find new leads. I’ve collaborated with a few people this way and the old saying is true — two heads are better than one!

  106. Chris

    My tree is public, but I put in my tree comments, that I know there are some errors and everything is not sourced, copy at your own risk. I inherited 2 totally separate branches of my tree that were fairly well researched but not documented and went back 9 generations, so when I started, there were some tempting places that were not good for a beginner to start with. I am fixing them gradually. If someone yells at me, I feel sorry for them. Just look around your neighborhood and count the number of strange/different people you see. The proportion is the same on ancestry. Don’t let them bother you any more than if they lived down the street. I only look at public trees when I hit a brick wall for ideas of places to research. I add trees from the hints page if it agrees with factual data that I already have or is by someone that I know and trust. Photos before 1989 are not covered by copyright unless the photographer registered them and then the photographer owns the copyright, not the family member. That argument “It’s mine!”sort of sounds to me like a three year old with a new toy. Unless they took it, it is not, they are only the guardians of history. They can choose not to share, but should not get mad if they share and someone plays with their toy. I don’t want to play with someone like that anyway. Delete the photo, ignore them and anything they do or say. Something better may show up tomorrow from someone with better manners. Block them if it makes you feel better. Of the myriad number of private trees that I have contacted in 2 years on ancestry, only 1 has let me see his tree, but did not respond to a further email and 1 sent an email of part of the tree but not including the branch that I was asking about, so I no longer contact private trees other than the DNA matches and they still do not respond. I just quit counting them or counting on them. If you are private,you do not exist for me. You do not want to play. That is your right and I am fine with that. I have made contact with several family members that I only vaguely knew existed but have never met and probably never will meet, but it is great to talk to them when one of us finds a new lead we have both been looking for! Ancestry is a huge diverse community, some are helpful, some are greedy, some have strange motives, but that is what people are like. Enjoy the show. It is fun in it’s own right!

  107. One stumbling block is the fact that newbies don’t look at their Ancestry mail! I attempted for a long time to tell a newby to quit claiming MY parents as HERS! She finally did reply and fixed the gross error, but in the meantime, how many other people could have copied her error as the gospel truth?!

  108. Nancy

    I wouldn’t mind private trees if Ancestry’s system worked correctly. One person I am closely connected to by DNA tried 5 times to share her private tree with me and it went nowhere. When there are DNA hints with a private tree it is very frustrating almost as frustrating as DNA hits with no trees at all.

  109. Evelyn McMullen

    Enjoyed reading all the comments. Since I can’t travel to do my own research I have to depend on others but I do try to be diligent on checking relationships. My question is: how does one deternmine relationshipo of ancestors on cencus when names are listed as “servant” or something similar. I sort of ignore those hints. Any help to my question would be certainly appreciated,. Thanks.

  110. Don

    I average about a dozen people taking several dozen pictures from my tree every day. Not one person has ever asked permission, and I thank God every day they do not. If they did that would be the reason I would make my tree private. I have also never asked permission when I add other peoples pictures to my tree, and see no reason to do so. If you’ve put it out there it is there for all to use. Same goes for the pictures I’ve uploaded to find a grave.

    We all started out not knowing what we know today, so of course my tree also has errors. Most trees are unsourced (as mine was at first) with many errors. Common sense alone lead me in the correct direction when I started out using others trees. Luckily for me being Acadian even in the few cases I’ve found I added the wrong parents for someone. There was no need to delete that branch of people because they are always to some degree cousins at least one way.

    If you are unwilling to put the correct information in a public tree, than you have NO right to complain about incorrect trees. Why would anyone withhold a tree with the correct information, because there are trees that have incorrect information out there? I just do not understand this thinking. If your tree is sourced, and incorrect trees obviously are not correctly sourced. Than people that want accurate trees will copy yours and not the incorrect ones.

  111. Gloria

    Those with a private tree are able to submit DNA and collect data and long searched for information from matches on public trees — but their own private information is not available to others. Not fair!
    If you want to submit DNA, you should have a public tree, that all parties have the same advantages and benefits. Sharing is a two-way street.

  112. Gloria

    An answer to Evelyn McMullen above. The census was not intended to help ancestors find one another. But it was (and still is) simply to count the people, along with some data about them for government purposes.

    Many years later, it is your job to connect the dots and find other corresponding records to see if a person is an ancestor.

  113. Dana

    As a result of my tree being public, I was contacted by a relative in Italy who I never knew existed. After learning how we were related, we exchanged photos and I found out a branch of the tree that was unknown to me, since I’d thought everyone had immigrated to America. I am going to Italy on vacation in Oct 2014 and plan to actually meet them! This would never have been possible without

  114. Melissa Perry

    Thank you to all those who share, private and public. Everyone has their own reason for sharing or not sharing. I am happy with whatever piece of information that I can get. I am currently working with 4 other members on a common goal. One of us is providing pictures, one is making phone calls, one is visiting cemeteries and court houses. The other one is searching family Bibles and notebooks. We have accomplished quite a bit. There really is strength in numbers. is a very secure site. At the end of the day it is a judgment call. If you don’t think it is worth the risk than don’t sign up. In my case the reward has far outweighed the risk. I recently had my bank account hacked into and I don’t even bank online.
    Finally, if you have taken a DNA test, then please make your tree public, if you know who your family is. There is nothing more frustrating than to get a 98% DNA match and not be able to see the match. If you go to the trouble of buying a test, taking it, and waiting for the results, don’t you at least want to see who your DNA matches up with? A special thank you to those adopted members who have helped me in my search. You have given me great advice that has led me to find my birth mother. Be patient when you send a message. You don’t know what is going on in that person’s life. A lady just recently emailed me after almost a year. As it turns out, her husband had been in the hospital . That lady just happens to be one of the 4 members that is working with me on my tree. She has provided me with wonderful pictures that I never would have gotten otherwise. Patience does pay off.

  115. Dawn

    I find myself listed, with incorrect information, in several trees. I have also found my husband, children and brothers listed. All of us living. My tree is private and I have not put any of that information in, not even their names. So I don’t believe the claim that living individuals are not shown.

  116. Dee

    Dawn, it is quite possible that the tree owner simply researched online obituaries to get the names of the living people. It is very easy to do. Once you get the name and age and location, it is easy to google that name and find quite a bit of information about them.

  117. Fran

    I have been with for years and it has been a tremendous help in my searching. I still go to the courthouse and library and the cemeteries that I can locate. My tree is public and I don’t mind helping someone else. If I save a picture or story from someone else’s tree I always send a note to thank them for sharing. But like a lot of another people have commented, I don’t like or understand another person sharing just about everything I have in my tree to theirs and then not telling me how we are related. I have looked at one person in particular, at their tree and they are in no way related to me. They seem to just be making it up as they go along. I emailed the person twice and she never responsed and then she blocked me. I think the next time I encounter a person that does this I will post a public comment on the family page that has my ancestor. I guess they can delete it but maybe someone else will see it first. I wish could take down the trees where the person is just copying my or someone else’s info into their tree but their is no relationship.

  118. Joyce Kintzel

    I’ve only been researching my tree for about 17 years. I’ve spent a lot of money and endless time on it. If my information can save others time and money, they are welcome to copy whatever they want. I’m in the twilight of my life now and it’s comforting to know all my hard work will stay available to everyone long after I’m gone. If I dropped dead tomorrow having my tree private would be no good to anyone and my work would be forever lost.

  119. Cindy

    Maybe Ancestry could have a prearranged option to make a tree public if the owner is deceased. This way it would not be forever lost.

  120. vern

    info from our trees have been copied by owners of private trees. When we politely request info regarding their connection or perhaps ask about a specific deceased person in the tree, they do not respond. If they are able to copy our info, they should be willing to provide a little assist now and then.

  121. Rebecca

    I have a public and a private tree. The way I look at it is, if I put pictures on a public tree anyone can pick those apples because it’s “Public”. If I don’t want to share photos until I’ve vetted someone, or been asked, or I want to restrict my photo to blood relatives, then it behooves me not to put them on a public tree. I currently have over 8,000 people on my private tree and I am not related to all of them, but I am related to people in my tree that married into those other family lines at some point in time, which I have chosen to document on my tree. And if I see a leaf for one of those folks that leads me to public tree that has photos, I will attach the photo to my tree, and that photo serves as a visual representative of that family line. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

  122. Julie

    I think Brian said it best (his comments Aug 15) regarding identity theft being a major reason to keep a tree private. This has always been a concern of mine and surprised it doesn’t appear to concern too many others however this is only one of the reasons I would not make a tree public.

    Many speak of others copying their research but worse is so many copy it incorrectly or just arbitrarily change it so that it “appears” to fit their family. I just don’t get why people have so much guess work in their trees, if something is speculative, put it in the notes until further research can be done. Admitting, I have consulted public trees for clues of where to look for something but until there is a documented source in hand, nothing goes in my tree. There are trees where folk have an exact birth date for someone and the show a source as a “census”. I’ve yet to see a census that gives exact birth dates so why do so many call this a “source”? A census is a “guide” that may (or may not) lead to a source document.

    Many mention they have their tree public to meet cousins. I see public trees where the owner has my family in it…. many of these people may think they are cousins but are not. There often is an ancestor of theirs who has the same name as one of mine but if they looked at the actual records (birth documents) in many cases there were 3 or 4 people all with the same name, born the same year, in the same village. Unfortunately, they find only one reference to the name and assume this is their ancestor so sometimes they “think” they are meeting cousins but really aren’t. There are much better ways to meet cousins and have had no problem doing so but it has never been through making a tree public nor social networking. Good old letter writing and putting a stamp on it can get more attention than one might think.

    I have been an Ancestry member about 15 years. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t even have a tree on Ancestry and then only put in a few people for a special project, the tree is private and will be removed in a few more weeks when the project is complete. I prefer using a full version, off line tree program over anything and save Ancestry for simply doing some of the research coupled with the many other resources that are available which Ancestry does not offer.

    There are many good researchers out there with public trees but personally just can’t see a reason to make a tree public if for none other than identity theft. It’s a can of worms that folk are opening themselves and their family members to.

  123. Ginni

    I have found it a joy to work on my own and my husband’s family trees and have found so much information on Ancestry, particularly for my husband’s side of the family, and am now in semi- to regular contact with several of his relatives, relatives he does not remember or has never met. This is the wonder and miracle of our internet area. However, I do see other people’s trees listing incorrect information as sources simply because that researcher may not have taken the time or effort to double check dates and names to see if they make sense. If one is not sure of a possible source, don’t post it as a source; simply add it to your shoebox until you have had an opportunity to look it over. Also, some Canadian records are in French, and for those researchers who do not read or understand French, or any other language for that matter, please take the time to contact someone who does speak or read the language so that you will not attach incorrect info to your tree. I can honestly say that no one I have communicated with on Ancestry has been rude or unkind. Most people are willing to share their expertise or gently correct if you have made a mistake.

  124. Barbara Pierson

    I am truly amazed reading all of the different comments re Public vs. Private Trees on I had a Public tree 5 years ago when I began on After putting in 2 years of my blood, sweat, tears, money, etc. into my tree and watching tree newbies just aimlessly copy incorrect pics to people, giving deceased people children way after their deaths, and NEVER doing their own research, I got so disgusted that I made my tree Private. Just because I have a Private tree does not mean that I do not share or interact with others. If someone is interested in comparing notes regarding a high % DNA match, then without granting access to my Private tree, we can talk or email our remarks. If those of you who don’t think my Private tree is “fair”, then make your tree Private and only share with others you choose to share with. Some people are just too lazy to make any additional effort to contact anyone. I don’t know why some of these people who have commented think that they are entitled to have access to MY TREE. It is MY FAMILY TREE. I have done the hard work connecting the dots, not them. is not a Democracy. It is not a free depository of others work to be copied. It is a tool that one pays a subscription for, so that they can work on their own genealogy. No one else pays my subscription, so why would they think that they had a right to my PRIVATE TREE?? The audacity and entitlement of some people really amazes me!!! My tree will FOREVER REMAIN PRIVATE, and in saying that, I also look forward to being in contact with “family” that I have yet to “meet”, and those that I wish to share my information with.

  125. Martin Moore Sr

    in addition to the linking of ancestry – and the all-important documentation of each fact – I find the Ancestry photo displays (which seem unlimited) a perfect way to share my plethora of photos back to the early 1800s. I always felt it sort of selfish for me to retain all the old daguerro, ambros and tin types – as well as all the family photos – and not share them. So I numbered and scanned each photo and placed all of them (some 500) into my tree. File names start with the number assigned along with a short description of content. This way – anyone desiring a copy can either copy the photo from ancestry or – notify me for a higher resolution version for their use. Numbering makes it easy for them. I retouch all photos so they are clean. I get a lot of requests and comments on the quality and number entered. everyone can share and I feel more giving.

  126. DianeFenton

    I have learned much from reading all of these comments. I actually did not take my tree online even as a private tree until very recently. Therefore, I am one of those people who has benefited without returning the favor. That part has been unintentional and I apologize to anyone who I may have offended. However, I think that in this day of so much identity theft, that just having the still living people masked is not sufficient. Ancestry has got to be a gold mine for a hacker who wants private information. And I am lazy. I do not want to have to update several trees. Although I do most of my genealogical research on line, I try to be meticulous about sourcing the info. When I realized that merging trees that appeared to be well-sourced was then showing up in my tree as a generic Ancestry tree source rather than the sources like census, etc., that were in the original tree, I quit using the merge. It takes a lot more time, but if I can’t see why I put information in my tree as trustworthy when conflicting information comes to surface, I have to go back and re-research everything. And I have found that the hints may have a dozen trees, all of which relied on each other and no way to tell who the original was and whether it was sourced correctly. I do not want my tree to get lumped in with the other trees like that. I finally decided to at least upload the tree to private but searchable, but have had no inquiries. After reading these comments, though, I think I will start making inquiries of private tree owners. Like me, it appears they are private, not out of an unwillingness to share but a concern for the privacy of not only themselves but a lot of their family members. I do appreciate the pictures that are posted. Some I have found I would have no way of knowing what the ancestor looked like or who some of the other family members may have been. So thank you to all of you who have been so generous with your research and thank all of you for the suggestions about how to go public without getting mixed up in disseminating erroneous information or taking the chance that you are subjecting not just yourself but other family members to identity theft. And if ancestry would change the way the merge of sources works, it my reduce some of the errors that get repeated endlessly.

  127. This has been an interesting read. My trees are public. Had the benefit of my wife working on her trees for 20 years before I started my lines. What I post is sourced and its available to the world. Its my work and if anyone wants the data, go for it. Once complete, if ever, will donate to my hometown historical society and with Ancestry availability, Future generations will be happy to find the old phot’s, true stores and family data, some good, some not to good – its only the facts. thank you.

  128. Sally

    My tree is public and I believe Ancestry is a wonderful gift for everyone interested in genealogy to use to preserve and share their research in their tree. The website is all about sharing and I am happy to share mine and help others find their heritage. I have helped many others and many have helped me. I’ve met many cousins and love the concept of it. I do find it really frustrating, though, to know someone has the same ancestor and has a private tree and won’t share. Especially with the DNA common ancestors. At any rate, I feel we’re all in this together and its about give and take. I believe in “paying it forward.”

  129. kathy

    I have a public tree and in response to all the complaints about “unrelated”people, I have a very large tree filled with unrelated persons. One reason is because it’s always been important, in our family, to know about the families of our original immigrants. My 2great grandparents arrived with 6 of their children and I have followed the descendancy of those 6. I was very fortunate to find a Mormon “cousin” who shared her gedcom with me. She, too, had followed the 6 lines. Another reason I have so many “unrelateds” is that I don’t just stop at a certain person, I investigate all family members surrounding that person. It is amazing how often the trail hooks back to the original person I am researching, for example finding nephews or nieces living with their aunts and uncles, or finding a brother I didn’t know about. Truthfully, I don’t care what other people have in their trees – accurate or not. It is none of my business if someone wants a “fictitious” family by borrowing mine – it’s their loss, not mine

  130. Dawn McArdle

    I had my tree public until I had a few unfortunate encounters. I’m always happy to help people and I’m not easily offended. I changed to private settings because I was fed up with people adding my close relatives eg my grandfather to their trees when we are not related. I tried politely pointing it out but I was either ignored or told I was wrong. Some people are very rude.

  131. Jeff

    My main tree is private. Not for the reasons of stopping people from stealing pictures, or taking credit for my work and a lot of other reasons I have read. Although these may be valid reasons for others. I have information in my tree that has yet to be proven. It may be info that I used from a public tree as a lot of others do or a common name that could easily be mixed up with someone else with the same name.Those records are easily mixed up. However I don’t want someone taking unproven info and posting it to a public tree as fact. I believe that hurts the genealogy community and adds a lot more work for researches. Unfortunately, there are ton of trees out there that show no sources. I don’t want to make that worse because someone added my thoughts, ideas or theories to a public tree. I have been very lucky and have had awesome responses from private trees when I have needed info. I would be happy to share info with someone if they were to ask and had a legitimate reason for having the info. By being private, when I share info or a tree, I can tell that person what I am doing where and what may only be theory. Although it is not a perfect system, at least I am trying to keep it with factual info. As a researcher, it is my responsibility to verify every person I put in my tree, even if I add it from another tree with no sources. That is my 3 cents.

  132. Judy

    My tree is private. I’ve had some people contact me for info, and after I give them some info I never hear from them again. They don’t share any info with me and never even say “thank you” for the info I’ve given them. On the other hand, I’ve made some wonderful contacts with people who I’ve shared info with. I have given permission to a “select few” people to access my tree because we’ve established a good working relationship.

  133. Cindy

    I’ve been a member for 20+ years and have always had a public tree. I have shared and been shared with. I always thought that ancestry was about sharing. I have sent requests to “private” trees and been successful, and sometimes no so. Maybe “private” trees should be separate from “public” trees? I enjoy sharing and have met many wonderful people and long lost relatives!

  134. I only add photos that I don’t mind sharing. I have connected with other family this way who were not lucky enough to have family photos. I have also enjoyed and added photos from other trees. I keep my tree public for this reason. Of course there will be those who just add on without research but why close the door on such an enormous opportunity to connect, educate and learn?

  135. Chantel

    If Ancestry really wanted to encourage sharing, they would allow Guests (those whose subscriptions have expired) to contact other members and view public trees. I understand that we are paying for access to the records, but the way the system is set up now, we have no way to contact other users. So, I’m sorry to say I switched my tree to Private. If I can’t contact anyone and can’t see their information, I get no benefit from having a Public tree. When I can scrape up funds to renew my subscription, I will make the tree public again since I do like the collaborative nature of the process. But I will not watch people save my photos and stories when I have no way to contact them.

  136. Kari

    I keep my tree private because I have so many personal photos and stories that I don’t want attached to the wrong family trees. Too many people don’t understand the importance of “proving” that an individual’s info or photo belongs to their “family line”. Photos of people with common names are attached to the wrong family lines creating nothing but an invalid family history and a problem and confusion for the true family line. I take pride in the accuracy of my family tree knowing that my descendants will have as accurate as I could get it history of their true family members. I wish could educate the users of their website to be careful in what they attach to their trees as I’m sure everyone wants an accurate family history. My nephew took my tree for one day and added a century worth of people who did not belong. I want my info available for searching family members, but it is more important to me to keep my photos and stories attached to my true family line not the wrong ones. Maybe Ancestry could find a way to allow photos and stories to be taken with the owners permission only.

  137. Barbara

    What an interesting discussion. Being fairly new to genealogy I have kept my trees private, mainly to keep others from repeating my mistakes. It never occurred to me that others would be upset about my private trees. I never intended to offend anyone. While I’ve never copied other trees, I have used the info as clues for further research. Like others, I assumed that photos and stories in public trees were shareable. My solution is to start a public tree containing only info I’m pretty confident about and things I’m glad to share. This gives me a way to share items such as obits that may not be on-line yet.

  138. I am fairly new at Ancestry altho have been searching for years. I am public, want to share & love it when someone contacts me about anything, wonders if I have more or to tell me I have something wrong. There is an awful lot of errors out there on my line,can’t seem to do much about it but hope people will look at mine & reconsider what they see elsewhere. I inherited a lot of pictures, relatives, their relatives & friends. Wondered what to do with them, hated to see them destroyed. When I found Ancestry it seemed the ideal place to put them so they will live in posterity. I didn’t realize people didn’t like to have you copy their pictures, sorry I am guilty of that also but feel free to copy from mine.

  139. Janet

    I have only been seriously attempting geneology for about three months. I plan to keep my trees public. Howerver I have noted obvious mistakes on trees with people I am researching. It has made me want to see actural proof of an entry. Sometimes I am guilty of using what seems to be “majority” concensus entries. I keep looking for additional authentication. I have discovered a recent love for geneology, but I have much to learn and mistakes to make.

  140. Diann

    After about 1-1/2 years on Ancestry (I still feel like a newby) I’m still happy with my decision to make my tree public. I’ve had the same problems that are mentioned above but the good outweighs the bad. I have happily met several cousins, one of whom is the great-granddaughter of my great grandfather’s twin brother, a side of the family we had lost track of, and another whom I remember from the mid 1960s but have had no contact with since. Working with another distant cousin we discovered a common ancestor’s fate in the Civil War. These alone are worth the aggravations. Yes, I would like to hear from those who copy photos and information, have found mistakes in my tree or just want to compare notes, and I wish some people were more careful in researching and documenting, but as they say – it is what it is.

  141. Marylee

    KEEP IT PUBLIC, please!!!
    I see no benefit to anyone in making a tree private. It is a pain to have a strong DNA match and find the tree is private. It takes extra time to contact the owner and ask permission to see their tree. And if someone has a picture or information that relates to someone in your family tree why is it necessary to get permission etc. What harm is it to anyone if someone copies a picture or document they have posted? I have gotten a lot of my information the hard way going to cemetaries, court houses, libraries over the thirty some years since I started researching. I do not care if someone copies my information or pictures as I have done also with others. It has led to great discoveries and progress.
    And I also want to know that this information I worked so hard to get will always be available to future generations.

  142. Michael

    One thing I would love is to be able to mark some people in my tree as “speculative,” or potentially even hide that person. I’ve seen people take some of my wild guesses and integrate them into their trees.

    I guess I could mark them as “living” but that seems like a kludge.

  143. Catherine

    I like to keep my main tree private as I post some things that it’s none of anyone’s business on there; however, I do invite people to view the tree. The one thing I do not like, though, is when an invited person takes a photo and adds it to their public tree without asking. Trees that I have formed for other reasons I always keep public so members of that family can find them.

  144. Michael

    Dear Catherine,
    Do you have any, I mean any information in your Private tree that you have obtained from public trees or even public records. If you do, it is time that you go back and remove it. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Don’t you think.

  145. Jennifer

    I agree that making tree’s public is good thing. It allows us all to share and relish in memories. I really enjoy seeing others trees. My question is, when I attached a photo to my tree from another tree and then later I go back to view the pic. It tells me that I originally added the photo. It does not have the name of the person who put it on ancestry or “originally” shared it. I don’t think this is quite fair, as if I was the person putting pictures up I would want my name to stay with it for credit issues and in case someone where to reach out to me for more info. Am I doing something wrong or is this how ancestry works?

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