Thursday, July 26, 2007

Privacy Issue in Ancestry One World Tree Database

One of the attendees at the CVGS Research Group on Wednesday described finding her name, her husband's name and the names of her children on the Ancestry "One World Tree" database. The names have no birth dates or places, no marriage date or place, and no death dates or places (obviously, they are all alive!).

My colleague was upset that her family names were available online and she didn't understand how they got there. But she was happy that she was able to find information about her ancestry from the database. She has no idea who submitted this database.

Ancestry describes the "One World Tree" database as:

"What exactly is OneWorldTree?

"Its one big community family tree. OneWorldTree takes family trees submitted by Ancestry members and "stitches" them together with family trees and historical records from other sources. OneWorldTree identifies probable name matches between these sources and displays consolidated results in a worldwide family tree that can help you with your family history research.

"Its a great place to find hints. OneWorldTree can give you hints about your family history but not necessarily facts. There are a number of sources consolidated in OneWorldTree and its impossible to know if there are errors in member-submitted family trees. Also, occasionally the computer algorithms in OneWorldTree can incorrectly link people with similar names.

"In addition to the overall community tree, OneWorldTree also maintains the original family trees and source records submitted. See original source information for any person in a tree on the "edit person" page. Use the "connection service" if you want to anonymously contact the Ancestry member who submitted a family tree or record."

Ancestry also says this about privacy issues:

"Is everything in OneWorldTree available to all members?

"Certain information is never shared. OneWorldTree never shares information about living family members born after 1930. Any information in your family tree regarding living people born after 1930 will show up on your personal family tree but will remain hidden from other Ancestry members.

"Your personal privacy is always protected. OneWorldTree was created to let Ancestry members benefit from the combined research efforts of the community. Even so, your personal identity always remains private unless you choose to share it with other Ancestry members on your own."

I found my colleague's name in One World Tree because I knew what it was, and sure enough, on the family page, after you click on the name in the Search matches, you get the living family with all the names, with a pedigree chart. Going back one generation at a time, the names of all of the children show up, even if they are living.

When I click the link for "1 User-submitted tree," the first name changes to "Living" for many of the entries (which is good). If I click on her name, then the database goes into Ancestry World Tree format with the first names as "Living" (which is good). I downloaded the GEDCOM file for this database, and all of the potential living people come up with a given name of Living (which is good!).

I don't see any link to the "connection service" noted in the About OWT page ... perhaps I missed it, or perhaps it has been eliminated and the About OWT page was not updated.

There must be some sort of glitch in the OWT software that can't figure out if a person is living or not if there are no dates for several generations. That may not happen too often, and therefore this problem has gone undetected.

I tried to find a way to show who submitted the particular database but had no luck. I do know the database number from the GEDCOM download.

Perhaps someone from Ancestry will see this post and advise me what to do. I would be happy to put them in contact with my colleague so they could protect her family's privacy. My email address is rjseaver(at)

Any other ideas out there?

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