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This question is prompted by the recent question where a new user asked how to find the burial place of his grandfather who was killed in WW2. I have singled it out for discussion because the topic is of special interest to me. I grew up in a Navy town, where many of my friends were military descendents, and my husband's father, grandfather, and brother are service members. I also have service members in my own family, although none of my immediate family members saw combat overseas.

There are a lot of military dependents, and descendents of those dependents, who might need the answers to these questions. So I want to make sure they feel welcome, and that we can give good answers to their questions.

How do we balance the privacy requirements outlined in the Help with our desire to have enough information to answer a question?

Those privacy requirements are currently stated as:

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.

For your review, I'd also like to add this link to the (USA's) National Genealogical Society's recommendations on Standards for Sharing Information with Others. I would like to see similar links from other genealogical organizations.

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  • I was thinking about asking a similar question so you saved me some work :-). WW1 should not create any privacy issues with combatants because they would all have been born over 100 years ago, but many in WW2 would not. – PolyGeo Oct 19 '14 at 23:12
  • The 'in practice' element was introduced because otherwise we would either have to (1) accept an unsubstantiated statement that an individual was deceased (risky) or (2) do the necessary work to verify that the information set out to prove that an individual was deceased did in fact relate to the individual in question (potentially onerous). – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 9:18
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    I'll add here my concern listed on the "recent question", just so we have it in one place:- I don't have a problem with the policy proper. It's the "in practice" bit that doesn't help because it expands the coverage. The original poster (OP) is clear that their GF died but the policy's "in practice" tells us to disregard their opinion. The "in practice" bit is not helpful (because ... it makes the question harder to phrase) and disrespectful to the OP. – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 9:41
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    To try and expand my comment above - (1) It would have been perfectly possible for the Original Poster to have asked a generic, non-specific question along the lines of "How do I find the burial place of ...?" Except - we know it doesn't work like that. Many of us here are perfectly happy to work in the abstract but lots of people out there, including many in our target "audience", can't work like that. That's exactly why we, the abstractionists, often finish our theory with practical examples from real life. To require our Posters to anonymise their qns makes their qns harder to phrase. – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 9:49
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    @AdrianB38 I completely agree that qns that aren't anonymised are easier (and so more likely to be asked). I don't know the answer here ... we've been around the loop before at meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/65/104 and meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1682/104 – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 9:56
  • I also believe that the "in practice" element is disrespectful to the OP because it said, in effect, that even if you can demonstrate to us that your grandfather is dead, we're not going to take any notice of what you said. That's actually what the "in practice" bit says - it doesn't allow them to demonstrate that the person is dead. @ColeValleyGirl is very right to point out the risks, let me be clear on that. – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 9:59
  • @ColeValleyGirl - I'm not surprised we've been round the loop before. In prev. items, 2 bits stand out - you being honest enough to say "I don't have an answer" and someone saying they were unconvinced that we should have a policy. I would have thought that there is little risk of the answers using material that isn't in the public domain. Sure, people could research into private data but in practice that won't happen for reasons of time and cost. Note also that in the UK information about the living is not forbidden - else phone directories would be illegal. Is this the case elsewhere? – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 10:13
  • From memory, we adopted the current policy in part because it was capable of being applied without any judgement/discretion needed. One option would be to make it even blunter: "In practice, this means details about anyone born in the last 100 years." i.e. leave it the same but omit any suggestion that we're going to ignore what an OP says. – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 10:17
  • @ColeValleyGirl - seems likely that you are right about why we adopted it. But can it possibly be right that we refuse to answer any questions about people who died in (to take the specific case here) WW2? (or Korea or Vietnam or...) Especially when our aim is to protect the privacy of the living. If we apply the strict "anyone born in the last 100y" rule then the OP could refer to the evidence of their death in the Commonwealth War Graves web-site but we refuse to answer the question on the grounds that they might still be alive. Doesn't make sense to ignore good evidence of death. – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 16:29
  • @AdrianB38 I understand where you're coming from, but it begs the question: what is 'good' evidence of death? An entry on the CWCC site? Somebody telling us their ancestor is dead? And who makes the judgement calls? – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 17:18
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    @AdrianB38 Also, we wouldn't refuse to answer -- we'd edit the question to remove identifying details and create a generic answer that would steer the OP to what they need to do. – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 19:09
  • @ColeValleyGirl - an entry on the CWGC site, or a death registration index on a number of sites, have to constitute good evidence of death. The issue of whether or not the entry really is the OP's GF or whatever is a separate issue - if we were to work on the CWGC individual only, then there is no issue about privacy of the living. I'm sure someone can come up with someone declared as dead on an index who isn't - I would advocate that finding someone dead in an impartially sourced index counts as us doing due-diligence. Would that work - requiring evidence of death impartially sourced? – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 19:24
  • @AdrianB38 So, if the OP believes an individual is dead but can't prove it (to GPS standards?), the question has to be anonymised? – user104 Oct 20 '14 at 19:32
  • @ColeValleyGirl - re editting for removal id and creation of a generic answer. OK - that's good - it wasn't obvious to me from the policy that would happen. So yes, if the OP can demonstrate death, let it stand. If they can't, then anonymise it. Sounds good to me. It would help if the anonymising was not overly brutal. If the OP asked about "Theophilus P Wildebeest who survived the war, fighting in the UK artillery", then removing TPW is necessary, removing "artillery" would be a pain because FindMyPast has artillery files on open access. – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 19:44
  • Yeah - I said "demonstrate" not "prove". (grin) – AdrianB38 Oct 20 '14 at 19:46
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I did try and comment in "Comments" but they lose formatting, so with still more apologies here's my version of @PolyGeo's assistance:

How to ask questions about ancestors born less than 100 years ago

Our privacy policy is designed to prevent "identification of any living (or possibly) living individual by somebody reading this site" and is not intended to prevent you asking questions that may relate to someone born during the past 100 years. However, to ask such questions we ask you to proceed cautiously.

  1. If you already know that your relative was born more than 100 years ago, simply by stating that means that the privacy policy will not apply so that you can provide details freely. Including the name, date and place of birth, etc is fine and usually very helpful.

  2. If you already know (or suspect) that your ancestor was born less than 100 years ago, and you know that they are dead, then you may include identification details such as name, date and place of birth, etc., but you must also provide evidence to us that they are dead.

  3. If you know (or suspect) that your ancestor is still alive, then under no circumstances should such identification details be included.

Acceptable evidence of death needs to come from some official or semi-official source such as an entry on a death-registration / grave / cemetery / obituary site. A website link (URL) should be provided wherever possible. Regrettably personal recollection is not sufficient to show that we have done our best to protect people's privacy.

If you are in any doubt as to whether your evidence of death would stand up, then hold back the identifying details, and describe the type of evidence so that other users can help you assess it via comments.

The figure of 100 years has been chosen as a "best-fit" with policies across the globe.

(end of my version)

  1. Note change from "ancestor" to "relative".
  2. I tried to reduce the number of steps at the expense of having an "AND" in there.
  3. I removed the word "proof" and substituted "evidence". "Proof" seems too onerous, not to mention, freighted with significance in the world of genealogy.
  4. The comment about 100y being a best-fit is there in case clever so-and-sos ask or help in finding themselves in the 1940 census. "If it's fine for Uncle Sam to include living people, why isn't it fine for us?", someone might say. Yeah, me probably if I were in it.
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  • +1 I very much like the improvements you have made to the wording but I think we should address the possibility that the evidence presented that a relative is dead comes to us in the form "I know she is dead because I went to her funeral when I was a little boy", "There was definitely a Death Notice but I cannot find it now", etc. I've added an update to my answer suggesting some wording that might work. – PolyGeo Oct 21 '14 at 22:15
  • I have editted my wording differently in response to @PolyGeo's concern and suggestion. I freely admit that my wording is not as emphatic as his. – AdrianB38 Oct 22 '14 at 11:26
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    I think it's very close to sufficient - perhaps change "done our best to protect people" to "have done our best to protect people's privacy" - and change "then hold back those details" to "then hold back those identifying details". – PolyGeo Oct 22 '14 at 12:18
  • Agreed - editted above as per your suggestion. Slightly amused to see I originally wrote, "We done our best", omitting the "have". Brain reading what was supposed to be there, not what was. – AdrianB38 Oct 22 '14 at 15:47
  • Excellent - I'm keen to hear whether JanMurphy, ColeValleyGirl & anyone else keen to be involved thinks this could work and, if so, ideas for where in our help it could sit. – PolyGeo Oct 22 '14 at 22:30
  • Referring to genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/6587/… do you think it would be OK for the photo to be posted, and help given about what uniform is being worn, etc, on the strict proviso that no name, date of birth, etc is included in the question or its answers/comments, unless/until some evidence that he is no longer alive becomes available? If he was 12 in 1945 then he may very well still be alive aged 81 and so I think we have to be extra careful with this one. – PolyGeo Oct 26 '14 at 22:33
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    I can see no reason whatsoever for worrying about the publishing of a photo, minus name, etc. There are, after all, plenty of photos of current street scenes with people in newspapers today! So long as anything to identify said person is omitted, that's fine by me. – AdrianB38 Oct 27 '14 at 10:23
  • I just incorporated the answer above into genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic – PolyGeo Mar 12 '15 at 22:30
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I would like to try and answer this in a more generic sense than just the two world wars but by incorporating the specific World War 2 example.

I will do so by describing my thought process whenever I see a question that either mentions someone who may have been born less than 100 years ago by name, or looks like that may shortly be the case.

At the moment, if there is a name and other identifying material, then I delete that name, leaving dates and things like regiments, and post a reminder about the privacy policy e.g. Finding service history of ancestor in Abwehr during World War 2?

If there is no name or birth date mentioned, but the question makes me think such an individual may be involved, then I simply post a reminder about the privacy policy e.g. Finding the burial place of British service members killed in WW2

Rather than change, or make any substantial changes, to the current policy I think we could instead direct them to some assistance on how to work within the policy.

I'll offer some thoughts on what that assistance might look like.

How to ask questions about ancestors born less than 100 years ago

Our privacy policy is designed to prevent "identification of any living (or possibly) living individual by somebody reading this site" and is not intended to prevent you asking questions that may relate to someone born during the past 100 years. However, to ask such questions we ask you to proceed cautiously.

  1. If you already know that your ancestor was born more than 100 years ago, simply by stating that means that the privacy policy will not apply so that you can provide details freely. Including the name, date and place of birth, etc is fine and usually very helpful.
  2. If you already know (or suspect) that your ancestor was born less than 100 years ago, then it is strongly advised that you do not include such details in your initial question. Unlike other genealogy sites, G&FH SE permits you to edit your question to add these data later, and in the meantime to clarify how to proceed with its users via comments.
  3. If you already know (or suspect) that your ancestor is still alive, then under no circumstances can such details be included.
  4. If you only suspect that your ancestor is dead, then under no circumstances can such details be included.
  5. If you know (i.e. can prove) that your ancestor is dead, then the onus is on you to provide that proof within your question.
  6. If you are in any doubt as to whether your proof of death would stand up, then hold back those details, and describe the type of proof so that other users can help you assess it via comments.

To me the hard part is defining what constitutes proof of death. Clearly a death certificate would, but I suspect that these cannot necessarily be posted here legally. Since we are a reputable website, then I think we should be able to rely on information available on other reputable websites. For example, if war dead are listed on a website, then providing that as a link that shows your ancestor's name should be proof enough. Alternatively, if a newspaper archive contains their death or funeral notice, obituary, or an article about their death then that too should be proof enough for our purposes.

To me, the above would constitute due diligence.


Having now seen the wording of @AdrianB38, I now prefer that over mine, but I think this bit:

Acceptable evidence of death needs to come from some official or semi-official source such as an entry on a death-registration / grave / cemetery / obituary site.

should be changed to something more like:

Acceptable evidence of death needs to come from some official or semi-official source such as an entry on a death-registration / grave / cemetery / obituary site. Please do not just write that such evidence exists - you will need to include a website link (URL) and ideally a picture of a newspaper cutting, headstone, etc that enables independent verification to be quickly and easily performed.

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  • I understand the concern but am still concerned that the suggested addition could be read as being overly bureaucratic. And suggesting a picture of a newspaper cutting dumps us firmly into copyright issues! I shall try to modify my answer. – AdrianB38 Oct 22 '14 at 11:14
  • To my original text I added "A website link (URL) should be provided wherever possible. Regrettably personal recollection is not sufficient to show that we done our best to protect people." What do people think about the alternative texts? – AdrianB38 Oct 22 '14 at 11:22

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