Yesterday I voted to close a question about Learning personal history of Asmus Nicolai Clausen? because I think it is about celebrity genealogy, and that is explicitly off-topic according to our Help Center.

I notice that it has two re-open votes, and it is the prerogative of those users to vote that way.

Apparently, Asmus Nicolai Clausen was the commander of the U-182, a German U-boat, and from the initial wording of the question it looks like its asker is trying to trace the living descendants of this person.

They give no indication that this commander is part of their own genealogy or family history.

Am I correct to adjudge this to be an example of celebrity genealogy?

  • 1
    I think this could be a really helpful question in terms of clarifying site policies. Exactly what constitutes 'celebrity genealogy'? Would the commander of a German U-boat qualify as a 'celebrity' in this context? More importantly, do we limit questions here to those about our personal genealogies or family histories? I have researched a number of families to which I am not related in any way as part of a few historical research projects. None of those individuals were 'celebrities' (at least in my opinion), so would questions relating to that research also be off-topic on G&FH:SE? Jan 24, 2019 at 1:51
  • @sempaiscuba we made microhistory like house histories, ship histories, etc explicitly on-topic and I'm comfortable with non-relative genealogy and family histories until they start heading towards identifiable living persons and our privacy policy.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 24, 2019 at 3:31

4 Answers 4


I voted to reopen the question.

I see it as a legitimate question, whether the OP asked it because the man is part of her/his own family or because the OP is doing historical research or researching people from a particular town, etc.

Anyone with a page about them on the internet is not a celebrity. My own father is far more famous than Clausen (though still not a celebrity) and I have deceased family members who are in books, in articles, etc.

While it is true the original version of the question did ask about tracing living relatives, that doesn't make it celebrity. That part needed to be removed, and it was. And that to me was enough to vote to reopen.



I think the definition of 'celebrity' we adopt should be based on present-day mass-media attention -- so typically entertainers, politicians, sports people, royalty, mass murderes... Not just on whether the person who asks the question tells us some useful piece of information about their person of interest that indicates they may once have appeared in the newspaper for a while.

So, I can't see that the individual named is a celebrity -- who had heard of him before this question, unless they were around during his 'career' or had come across him as part of a research project.

Would the question be handled any differently if it had been about a rating on the same submarine?

(I'm positive we had a question about a 'famous' mine captain in Namibia that was subject to the same celebrity challenge, which seemed equally odd, but I can't find the question now.)

Whose family history?

Unless somebody is going to start checking my family tree (looking over my shoulder on my PC for the most up-to-date version) there's no way they'd ever be able to tell if I'm researching my own genealogy or somebody else's and frankly why should we care as long as the question is on topic?


I have voted to re-open the question under discussion because from answers and comments here I now think that:

  • it should make no difference whether a question is about a captain or a rating aboard a U-boat
  • it should make no difference whether a question is about a celebrity or any other person
  • it should make no difference whether a question is about your own genealogy and/or family history because it is fine to ask questions about researching the genealogy and/or family history of others, as long as our Privacy Policy is observed
  • we should remove celebrity genealogy from subjects considered off-topic for G&FH SE
  • I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater -- is this question had been editied to not be 'too broad' would you have been happy to leave it open? genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/3557/…
    – user6485
    Jan 25, 2019 at 6:41
  • @ColeValleyGirl I think that one represents three marked and multiple unmarked questions and mentions multiple people by name who are not only born less than 100 years ago but who are also still alive.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:17
  • "How can I find the birth certificate of the Premier League football player who died in the English Channel a few days ago." No names (but everyone in the UK will be able to identify him if they've been following the papers); known to be deceased; asks about family history -- so it's on-topic. Allowed?
    – user6485
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:27
  • @ColeValleyGirl In the absence of a convincing background as to why it was being asked, a question like that is one that I would delete and then get peer review from my fellow moderators as to whether the action was appropriate. If undeleted I would downvote it as being disrespectful to ask so soon after a tragic event.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:40
  • So... we do care why a question is being asked in some circumstances? Would it make a difference if I asked "How can I find the birth certificate of a recently deceased Argentinian?" Because if that's OK, the only thing wrong with the previous version is that it's celebrity genealogy.
    – user6485
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:44
  • When generalized to being about an Argentinian rather than an easily identifiable Argentinian it is less problematic but I don't think celebrity needs to be invoked. A British tourist murdered in Australia's outback would not be classed as a celebrity if asked about here a few days later but would be easily identifiable and my previous comment would apply.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:57
  • As per my answer, "I think the definition of 'celebrity' we adopt should be based on present-day mass-media attention"
    – user6485
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:58
  • Your example is about people who are identifiable due to mass media but we already confer special status to identifiable living people under our Privacy Policy so I don't think we need a special case for celebrities. Sure we are talking about recently deceased rather than living people here but I think we need to be respectful of their families and friends for a period that is hard to define but I think should be many years rather than weeks.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 25, 2019 at 8:08
  • good luck explaining why you close a question that meets all the on-topic requirements but 'is in bad taste' (to summarise what I think you're saying. I think you'd find it much easier if you had a celebrity get out clause.
    – user6485
    Jan 25, 2019 at 17:09
  • Neither this answer or any of my comments on it suggest closing "a question that meets all the on-topic requirements but 'is in bad taste'". It would either be minor bad taste and downvoted or major bad taste and deleted (with referral to our mod room).
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 26, 2019 at 2:19
  • OK -- just point me to the bit in the help centre that supports the actions of deleting in those circumstances? (Downvoting is another matter).
    – user6485
    Jan 26, 2019 at 6:21
  • It's in the Art of Moderation as exception handling.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 26, 2019 at 7:48
  • I still think it would avoid argument simply to explicitly forbid celebrity genealogy.
    – user6485
    Jan 26, 2019 at 7:52

Following up on this:

I think the definition of 'celebrity' we adopt should be based on present-day mass-media attention -- so typically entertainers, politicians, sports people, royalty, mass murderers...

We already are up to our ears in people posting ordinary "I want to find anything I can about my person" questions, where the focus is on the specific person rather than on the genealogical problem that needs to be solved. With a celebrity as the subject, will it be even more tempting to focus on the person in the question, rather than the record set or needed research skill which the questioner doesn't know about?

When I first read the help and saw this set of guidelines for questions:

  • Starting your research or improving your methodology
  • Finding a source or understanding how to use it
  • Documenting or presenting what you’ve learned
  • Breaking down brick-walls in your family tree
  • Using technology to support your research

... followed by the 'not about' list that included celebrity and biblical genealogy, I understood from context that the prohibition was intended to prevent the community's time from being wasted by drive-by people who were just nosy about famous figures and wanted someone else to do their homework for them. If people want to be genealogy paparazzi, let them do their own work.

My other question is: Are we willing for the site to become politicized? For an example: the "Resistance Genealogy" articles, shared via Twitter, where genealogists investigate the backgrounds of anti-immigrant politicians whose ancestors were themselves immigrants. Are we willing to host questions about a politician's grandfather, for instance, and the unpleasant consequences that might result?

  • We already require people to focus their "I want to find anything I can about my person" questions about non-celebrities so I think questions about celebrities should be treated no differently.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 26, 2019 at 1:12
  • I think the politicisation is an excellent point -- anyone want to handle a question about Elizabeth Warren's DNA? cc @PolyGeo
    – user6485
    Jan 26, 2019 at 11:57
  • Elizabeth Warren is clearly a living person so if she was identifiable in a question about some DNA by name then I would redact, and if it was by describing her by circumstance rather than name the I would delete or downvote depending on the question.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 26, 2019 at 21:17
  • That's not the point. If someone posts questions about the grandfather of well-known individuals, and the grandfather's name is instantly recognizable because of the resistance genealogy movement showing the living anti-immigrant descendants are hypocrites, will we attract trolls? Who wants to clean up that mess? Note that I am carefully not mentioning the obvious surname which is in the US news every bleeping day.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jan 27, 2019 at 1:15
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    @PolyGeo You're not looking at the big picture. I could not in good conscience discuss the problem of Elizabeth Warren's DNA test, or anyone's attempt to hook up with Native American ancestry, without introducing a good deal of material in the answer which more properly belongs on an Anthropology site. (DNA Explained has already covered Warren's particular test and it's a complete waste of bandwidth for us to try and address it here.)
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jan 27, 2019 at 1:19
  • I guess I just don't see why celebrities should be treated any differently than all other people here.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 27, 2019 at 2:01
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    @PolyGeo, it's not for the celebrities' benefit that we're asking they be handled differently, it's for the good of the site.
    – user6485
    Jan 27, 2019 at 6:38
  • What I think is good for the site is less exceptions to deal with rather than more. My thinking here has nothing to do with trying to benefit or disadvantage celebrities.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 27, 2019 at 8:50

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