The Family of William Warner and Sarah Leitch

Respecting the Privacy of Living Family Members (your opinion needed!)

Hi Cousins,

I need your input on this one. I hope you’ll let me know what you think in the comment section below (or, if you prefer, a private message through the contact page).

Here’s the problem I hope we can work out together. How does this website fulfill its mission of researching, preserving, and sharing the Warner family’s history, stories, and pictures, while at the same time ensuring that nothing published infringes the privacy rights of family members who are still living?

It may sound harsh, but dead people have no right to privacy. The living do.

Take a look at that family photo above, for example. The ethics of genealogy say that I can tell you pretty much anything I know about the adults, because they are no longer with us. Their privacy rights expired when they died.*

I can’t do that with those super-cute little boys (yes, the one in the dress is a boy … they did that in those days), because they are both very much alive.

Well, actually, I CAN tell you about the older one, because he’s me. I can decide whether sharing this photo affects my privacy. I don’t have the same right to decide about other people’s privacy.

I can’t tell you about the boy in the dress because he is alive, he has privacy rights, and I don’t have his consent.

Here’s the generally accepted rule of genealogical ethics:

No professional genealogist or family historian will ever publish vital information about living people (dates and places of birth and marriage, addresses and telephone numbers, email addresses, etc) which a stranger could manipulate for criminal purposes. Research Wiki

I would even go a little further than that. If I publish the name of a living family member here, with a link to the pages of his or her late parents, then I’m telling the whole world his or her mother’s maiden name.

Your mother’s maiden name is one of those supposedly private bits of data that institutions use to make sure you’re who you say you are. Sharing it here could increase your risk of identity theft.

So here is what I am proposing to do, and I would like you to tell me if it’s enough:

  1. I won’t share any living family member’s key dates, address (physical or email), phone number, or parent’s identities with the world at large
  2. I will only identify a living person in the family tree by his or her initials (for example, I appear as “POW” and my brother appears as “SJW“)
  3. Clicking on those initials will take you, not to the family member’s page, but to a registration page
  4. Only family members and known and trusted friends of the family will be allowed to register
  5. Once a family member or family friend has registered, they will be able to see the same kind of genealogical information about the living as they already could about the dead
  6. In other words, information about dead people is open to the world but information about living people is behind a door that only a few trusted family members and friends are allowed to go through
  7. The names of living people will sometimes appear when I share things like an obituary or an old wedding announcement, but my current thinking is that this is acceptable because such items have already been published and are already available to the world
  8. The names of living people may be mentioned in stories or when citing the source of some information, but it will never be done in a way that puts anyone at risk for identity theft

So, what do you think? Is that the right way to approach it?

I need to know your opinion.

* The adults are my mom and dad, Lorraine Parker and Joe Warner. She was twenty-six in the photo. He was twenty-seven. Today, May 28, 2020, would have been their seventy-first wedding anniversary.


  1. JCW

    That sounds very well thought-out and ethical to me!

  2. Joe Warner

    I’m easy like Sunday morning. Share away… just don’t open me up to too much identity theft

  3. Carol Warner

    Brother Paul: I think you have thought this out well and I like the plan. As usual, you write so well that the issues are clear. Sister Carol

Please tell us what you think

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