Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Cheap Will Family Tree has created an interesting privacy mode. Any information you enter into the program about living people is visible only to you. Any personal information you put into the program is supposed to be visible only to you and no one else. Once exception to this policy has been made for photos. All photos are available to be viewed, by anyone accessing the program. But what about documents? FamilySearch is currently urging living people to document their own lives. Here is the current policy statement from the FamilySearch Help Center:
Records of living people will be visible to you if you entered them, but they will be hidden from everyone else, including the individuals themselves. This answers the frequent question, "Why can't my spouse see records for her living cousins that I can see?" The answer is that you entered those records and she did not. The fact that different people see different things can seem confusing at first, but it is necessary to protect the privacy of living people. 
You cannot do a search to find a living individual using his or her name, even if you contributed the information. However, if you contributed a living individual, you can do a search by ID number to find him or her, by clicking Find and clicking ID Number.
There are slightly different policies for photos, documents and stories from the Help Center:
Photos, Documents, or Stories for living persons that you have added to your tree:
  • You can add photos, documents, or stories for a living person to Family Tree. However, before doing so, you should be aware of local privacy laws and, when necessary, obtain permission from those persons to post the information. Go to his or her Person page, and click Photos and Documents to add a photo or document from there, or click Stories to add a story. (The photos, documents, and stories connected to that person are those that are numbered on his or her summary card or shown on Photos and Documents or Stories on his or her Person page in Family Tree.) As long as you have the rights to see that living person in Family Tree, you will also see the photos, documents, and stories linked to that person.
  • NOTE: If you upload and tag a photo, document, or story for a person, when you click on his or her name to link the tag to the tree, you cannot use the Search option on the pop-up window, Identify this person in Family Tree, to link a living person. Search filters out living persons. Type or paste the ID number into theID number field, and click Link.
  • If the photo, document, or story of your living person is one you added, only you will see the items linked to the person. This is true for your ancestors, spouse, or children.
  • If someone else adds a photo, document, or story to a living person whom he or she has added to his or her tree, even if it is your ancestor or relative, you will not see that living person or his or her photo, etc.
OK, so let me give a hypothetical situation. What happens to my invisible documents when I die? Supposing I put a personal document online, it appears that when I die and a death date is entered into the system, then the documents become public. So, what if I decide to make a will and put the document on Family Tree? Then the will would become "visible" at my death and could be used for probate purposes.

Hmm. I can hear the screams of complaint already. A will is a formal, legal document and has been for thousands of years. But the formalities of making a will have changed and differ from state to state and country to country. There are legal types of wills that fall into the noncupative and holographic categories. Both these types of wills, oral or nuncupative and holographic, are recognized to some extent in almost all (if not all) U.S. states. Given the change in technology, isn't it inevitable that the validity of an online will is something that will be decided at some point? Writing a will online is hardly a new issue. See "How to Write a Will Online" from U.S. News and World Report. 

I am certainly not challenging the methods of validating wills, I am merely pointing out that here is a cheap and easy way to deliver a copy of the valid will to heirs. Create an online will and put a copy of the will into Family Tree and when you die, your heirs can retrieve the copy of the will from Family Tree. Of course, all the same issues remain about validity, will contest, etc. but putting a will online is really no different that having a copy of a will when the original cannot be found. 

I doubt FamilySearch has thought through the consequences of using Family Tree as a post-death delivery system, but that is an interesting sidelight development created by the way the program is designed to work. 


  1. FamilySearch has the potential to become a time capsule, getting information during the life and make it free after dying (or after 110 years). But they should improve the privacy when a living person is tagged, and they should let that familiars share their hidden information if they want.

    It's how I think FamilySearch would work better.

    1. I would not be surprised to see a way to share with close family members.

  2. I can see the Memories (photos, documents, stories) my sister has attached to our living parents. She can see what I attach to them as well. I cannot see what she has attached to herself and she cannot see what I have attached to myself. However, our parents can see what each of us have attached to them and to our own records. We are able to see Memories for everyone who is listed on our individual LDS Membership records. This follows "As long as you have the rights to see that living person in Family Tree, you will also see the photos, documents, and stories linked to that person."

    1. This may change somewhat in the future as FamilySearch Family Tree becomes separated from

  3. There are still many people who won't put their family tree on the internet because of privacy concerns. I don't think there will be many people in the near term who are comfortable enough with internet security to put their wills online!

    1. Hmm. I am certain that you are correct. But the idea of the post was that whatever we want to preserve on Family Tree will become available to our descendants when we die.