Thursday, October 2, 2014

Welcome to the 21st Century

There’s a new genealogy website that seems to be causing much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the genealogy community – especially, it seems, among traditional genealogists who’ve been doing this long before online genealogy exploded into what it is today.

The new site is and the controversy is over its inclusion of Living People.  Privacy concerns have always limited publicly available family history and family trees to include only the deceased. This makes perfect sense – especially since the breadth of our tree may include individuals that we don’t know and who may not even know that we exist.   Mine does.  Birth records are available online, as are marriage and divorce records. It is easy to find the name of a distant cousin’s spouse. But those records are from the past and are usually restricted to exclude the most current data.

Now comes FamilyTreeNow that not only has the usual collection of census, birth, marriage, death, etc. records but also searches for living people.  Horrors!!!

But the fact is that there have always been online people locators.  If you enter a name into Google search, your results are very likely to include one or more search services that will give you address information, phone number and even more. Some are free of charge but some have a fee and include more information.  FamilyTreeNow apparently has simply aggregated these people finders.

Why are people shocked??

Even though genealogists do painstaking searches of old public records, some people are upset to see the trail they, themselves, have left.  Many times we don’t realize just how visible is our trip through life – especially these days.  We pore through old city directories looking for relatives without thinking of just how many public phone directories, church and school directories have registered our whereabouts over the years; and just how many traces we’ve left behind in public documents.

Unless you’ve lived completely off the grid for a few years, any sufficiently motivated person can find you and members of your family.  I’ve read that even the Witness Protection Program has holes.  If you do a web search for a recipe and then go to the site, you may find that in addition to the recipe a sidebar will have ads for grocery stores near you.  They know where you live.  It’s life in the 21st century.

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