Genealogy reporting respects living relatives
My obligations to honor the privacy policy set forth by, and/or any other holding of, Inc.
(e.g.,,, etc.)

This website is hosted by RootsWeb. As such, I intend to abide by the guidelines they have set out. If you are interested to learn what these guidelines are, then I suggest that you read them. They are here, for your convenience. Pay particular note to the parts near the end of that page, regarding "Policy on the Living", and "Policy on the Deceased". If you can show that I have violated any policy, then please let me know, and I will fix the problem.

I also have some WorldConnect databases at Rootsweb. The same guidelines will be followed for these databases as for the website, as per the above note.

My obligations pursuant to the Privacy Act of 1974
(as amended)

It would seem that some people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Privacy Act of 1974, and all the amendments since such time that have been made thereto. Why was the Privacy Act passed in the first place? Why was it passed in 1974, and not earlier or later? The Privacy Act was a direct result of the incidents surrounding the Watergate scandal, and that is why it was passed in 1974, and not some other time. What happened in Watergate was that records collected and maintained by a government agency were being used against certain individuals for political advantage. Congress decided that it was wrong to have people arbitrarily gaining access to information held by a government agency. So they decided they would restrict the availability of information coming out of the government agency by passing a Privacy Act.

The Privacy Act restricts the ability of a government agency to disseminate information. Since neither am I a government agency (viz., I am not the NARA, the FDA, the BIA, the CIA, or anything like that), nor do I accept funding from the government, I am not subject to the limitations required by the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act simply does not apply to individual citizens, private corporations, or other entities that are neither a government agency nor accept funds from the government.

If you disagree with me about this (and are reading this), then there is about a 100% chance that you have been attempting to invoke the Articles of the Privacy Act without having ever bothered yourself with the trouble of actually reading it. I am happy for you to take the time to do so now. You can find the Privacy Act at the Department of Justice website. To make it easier for you I have added this link. Just click the link, and you can read it for yourself. Be sure to read the sections on "Civil Remedies" and "Criminal Penalties" (the parts that talk about what can happen if the Privacy Act is violated).

My obligation to not trample your Constitutional rights

Privacy is a Constitutional Right. I do not have the right to violate your privacy. The standard to reach is that of "reasonable expectation" of privacy and "reasonable safeguard" against something I do leading to a violation of your reasonable expectation of same.

I do not violate anyone's reasonable expectation of privacy, and I have taken reasonable safeguards against the data found in my files and other public databases from being used to violate someone's reasonable expectation of privacy.

My reasonable safeguards

If you look at my RootsWeb WorldConnect file, for example, you will notice that it has already been "privatized". I choose a cut-off of 1930 for the privatization of information because I believe it is a reasonable safeguard. In fact, it exceeds the 72-year moratorium on census records (for example) established by the census bureau. Also, I do not include notes and sources for my cousins (only for my ancestors and their siblings). Finally, I cut off my ancestor's descendants list compilations at one generation prior that which I believe persons are still likely to be living. Again, note that this is not a requirement of the Privacy Act. I do this because I believe it is right to keep some material out of the public domain, but not because I am required to do so by law. Still, some mistakes are made sometimes, and I may want to remove from public view some records. My intention is to not display in a public way any of the following associations between particular information and individual identifier:


Particular Information   Individual Identifier
1. A living person's birthdate, AND/OR
2. A living person's educational data, AND/OR
3. A living person's financial transaction(s), AND/OR
4. A living person's medical history, AND/OR
5. A living person's criminal history, AND/OR
6. A living person's employment history,
associated with A. Person's name, AND/OR
B. Person's Social Security Number, AND/OR
C. Person's fingerprint, AND/OR
D. Person's voiceprint, AND/OR
E. Person's retina scan, AND/OR
F. Person's GPS chip ID
Notice that the above is tantamount to a de facto observance of the Privacy Act.
If you find that I have included any of the above associations in any of my files for a living person(s), then please inform me, and I will be happy to remedy the situation.
I will not remove any information from my online databases that is described in one column of the above table that is not associated with a corresponding component from the other column of the table. For example, I will not remove the names of living persons from my database where they do not have an associated birthdate, and/or social security number, etc. What I WILL do is remove the associated particular information from its association (identification) with a particular living individual.
Reasonable requests and adamant demands

From time to time, there will appear in my files something that others may find embarrassing (this is true for both living and deceased persons), or may think is a violation of privacy (in addition to those associations listed above). If you find such a thing in my files and want it removed, then e-mail me and ask me very nicely if I would be so kind as to remove it, even though I have zero obligation to do so. I will remove most things, if you just ask nicely enough.

I will not honor adamant demands of any type. The criteria is "reasonable"; I have no obligation to satisfy the paranoid fears of anyone. As a matter of example, let's say that your ancestor is living, and is in my transcription of the 1930 census in which they appear. If you ask me to remove that census transcription, and my ancestor is also living in the same household, I can guarantee you that I am not going to remove it. Firstly, the record is public - that's how I got it in the first place. Secondly, nobody can reasonably expect that the 1930 census is going to be used for any nefarious purpose. It doesn't have the kind of information required for identity theft (date of birth), for example. A request to remove such a record is based on paranoia, and I will not be held to satisfy someone else's irrational fear.

The wedding announcement / birth announcement / phone book criteria

The fact that private enterprises and individuals are free from the obligations imposed by the Privacy Act can be seen in your local newspaper. Every day, there are notices of wedding announcements, divorces, births of children, and all kinds of things that associate specific details, including dates, with particular living people. From a legal requirement point-of-view, I, as an individual, am at least as free to publish material of like kind as the newspaper. An even better example might be the phone book. Not only does it list names, but also phone numbers, addresses, and other sensitive information, such as "childrens' phone", e.g. I am certainly publishing information to a much more rigorous standard than that, from a privacy perspective. So in spite of the fact that I have no obligation to do so from a privacy perspective, I nevertheless privatize some aspects of my file because I think it is the right thing to do, and I am an all-around good guy. And I think that I am deserving of credit for going out of my way to do so.
Last Updated: October 03, 2006

dennicegoudie at gmail dot com

  • I will protect my living relatives' right to privacy.
  • I will not share any personal details about them without their express permission.
Perhaps you have never thought about privacy issues regarding the living relatives in your family tree or you do not consider this a valid concern. Either way, I urge you to read some of the materials others have written regarding this urgent matter. Then, if you agree your living relatives do have a right to privacy, please join me in this effort to make all genealogists aware of the dire consequences inherent in a share-all attitude. How? Simply copy one of these logos, paste it into your web site and adhere to the simple principle it represents.

Unfortunately, too many Internet genealogists overlook the critical issue of privacy and their living relatives' fundamental right to privacy. Before uploading or E-mailing your family's personal details, please read on. 

Would you post a sign in front of your home, announcing your relative's names along with their birth dates and locations or any other identifying or personal information?

Would you submit this information to your local newspaper? Would your local newspaper even be interested? Their goals are similar to ours (Internet genealogists) in that they need their articles to be of interest to the broadest range of readers. I am certain they would not waste any ink printing my family's personal data. It's not newsworthy or even the least bit interesting, except maybe to con artists or identity thieves that can and do use these personal details in many illegal ways. 

So then, what is the goal in publishing your family's personal information on the web? I can think of only one; you wish to reach as many cousins as possible. You can easily accomplish this by simply listing all your related surnames without giving away a single private detail.

Even if I did wish to share my family's details with the rest of the world, it would be morally incorrect (even illegal in some regions) if I did not have each member's explicit permission to do so. Yet, unless I was related to somebody famous, why would anyone 'normally' care to know when little baby 'X' was born or Uncle 'Y' filed bankruptcy or about Aunt 'Z's' botched nose job? Their personal information does not add value or interest to my family tree.

I realize many genealogists already feel as I do and are careful not to expose anything about their living relative

NEW Genealogical Standards

  National Genealogical Society established the following set of "Guidelines For Publishing Web Pages On The Internet"

"Exposing Our Families To The Internet"
by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG.

spaceholder The author cuts right to the bone and offers a few related links.

"How Much Is Too Much?"
by Terri Lamb

spaceholder Terri Lamb targets 6 important reasons genealogists shouldn't tell all.

"Home-page Snoops"
U.S. News Online

spaceholder Additional cautionary advice - read on...

Identity Theft
Prevention & Survival

spaceholder Mari J. Frank. Esq., an identity victim herself, offers concise advice to help you fight back, should you find yourself a victim of this fast growing crime. She currently estimates there are 500,000+ identity theft victims each year! Considering the phenomenal growth of the web, I cannot imagine what this figure might be next year!

Privacy Survival Guide
How to Take Control of Your Personal Information

spaceholder Although this site was written for California residents & mostly references California law, it is still an excellent list outlining what any individual can/should do to safeguard their privacy.

(Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility)

spaceholder Addresses privacy in computing and the Internet. Includes many links to other web sites dedicated to privacy issues.


Wanted Dead Only