I'm asking to get some clarity on the topic of living individuals. When we've discussed it previously, we've been very clear that info that identifies potentially living individuals on the site is very definitely not allowed, but we seemed to be OK (https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1416/104) with techniques for identifying potentially-living individuals.

(Note: previous iteration of this question said locating not identifying, which was sloppy wording on my part).

There's a question which illustrates this dilemma: Looking for my grandfather in Germany.

If the OP had said (just suppose for a moment) that she had been told her grandfather was dead, would that make the same question acceptable? If somebody is looking to connect with cousins researching the same lines, is that acceptable?

If we're going to draw a line in a different place from where it's drawn at present (Not "locating identifiable living individuals" -- which, when I wrote it, was meant to convey not locating individuals who are identifiable from info given on this site) where do we draw it? Can the off-topic guidance be more clearly worded?


I've modified https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic to include the following wording about identifying living (or possibly-living) people. I believe this reflects the point on which we are able to reach consensus (no information that identifies living people) but doesn't change the on- and off-topic wording.

Please note: You must not include here in any circumstances information (including name, date and place of birth or any other details) that would allow identification of any living (or possibly) living individual by somebody reading this site. In practice, this means details about anyone born in the last 100 years, whether they are believed to be deceased or not, and whether or not they have given their permission.

  • I am looking for a man who owes me money. Can you suggest how I might find him? Or perhaps I am seeking the man who made my sister pregnant (to give it a genealogy link). That is a pretty important line you are trying to move.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 13:24
  • @Fortiter, so where would you draw the line differently than it is now (which to remind you, is: identifiable living people, no; unidentifiable possibly-living people, yes). And how would you answer the question I posed: would it make a difference if the individual was stated to be dead, since the same techniques can apply equally to the living and the dead.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 16:02
  • @Fortiter, there's also (to my mind) a clear difference (say): how can I find my mother's birth records (born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1926); and: how can I find the address of somebody living in Birmingham England in 2013. The first one is genealogy, the second one is (possibly) debt-collecting or stalking or looking for your niece's father to collect child maintenance.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 16:05
  • @Fortiter, I've changed my own sloppy wording to make it clear that this is about identifying and not locating individuals.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


My proposed way forward (although it still needs some work) would be:

  1. To disallow explicitly the posting of any identifying information about living or possibly-living individuals. We would need to agree where we draw this exact line -- born less than 100 years ago and not known to be dead? What if it was posted with their permission? How would we know if they were dead/had given permission?

  2. To allow questions about techniques for researching the genealogy/family history of individuals born in the 20th/21st centuries (but see next point).

  3. To disallow explicitly questions about finding the current location or contact details of living individuals. we would need to agree exactly how current is current -- is it OK to ask how I can learn where my parents lived before their marriage in the 1950s, for example? What about in their address in the 1990s? And the address of my niece 5 years ago?

  • 2
    You can't prove they gave their permission, so I don't think we should go by that. Death could be shown with a death cert, but I'm not sure if recent death certs are available in all countries. aside from that, I agree with you.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 18:22
  • 1
    It is an interesting dilemma that I can not publish identifying information about myself (to facilitate off-line contact) but we would contemplate posting the same about others "with their permission". That is simply not practicable.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 0:24
  • @Fortiter, I don't think the "permission" loophole is practicable either -- as Luke says, we can't know if they've given their permission. I mentioned the possibility to get it out in the open and discussed, because it was bound to be raised. By the way, you can publish any identifying information you wish about yourself in your profile.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 6:43

As the person who I think cast the first Close vote on the example question , I feel it only proper to provide an answer.

I have been thinking hard about your well-raised question and proposed answer - it is a very thorny issue, and one to which a clear answer is difficult, if not impossible.

I cast my Close vote because I felt there might be privacy issues, but I am not well versed in privacy or overly sensitive about it. Perhaps "international privacy protocols" could be invoked to guide a new definition, but a quick Google search did not reveal anything I was prepared to advocate.

Consequently, I am inclined to say that we should stick to the current wording, and when the grey area questions come up, let the Close and Re-open vote system be used to let community consensus (at the time, on a case-by-case basis) decide whether it is off-topic or not.

When I read the question used as an example, my first thought was "we don't want this site being used to find people when they may not want to be found" but, at the same time, I figured the gentleman in question was probably no longer alive, and was glad to see that some helpful advice had already been offered.

My Close vote was therefore intended to "say" to any readers that such questions are not the "core business" of G&FH SE, and my accompanying comment was to ensure that the asker was aware of our/my empathy.

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