This is in reference to What-does-it-mean-to-be-a-part-of-xyz-battalion-in-world-war-1?. The original question included an image of a newspaper clipping listing the names of the deceased and his children. (I intended to ask a further question later about the copyright, Ts & Cs and Fair Use issues raised by this).

The response from one of our moderators included: "Are all the named survivors listed in this clipping deceased? If not, the image should be removed from the question and replaced by a transcription of the relevant portions. The deceased's sons and daughters aren't relevant to the question and shouldn't be exposed here"

I have several concerns here. The apparent implication of the question is that it is forbidden to give names of living people. This cannot be true - many of us have referred to living genealogical experts here and elsewhere. In fairness to Jan, she justifies her stance in the 3rd sentence by saying "The deceased's sons and daughters aren't relevant to the question and shouldn't be exposed here." Their non-relevance is correct. However, relevance is a question of degree and in this case a transcription would immediately have invoked questions from me about what was the regiment (there isn't one - either in the article or in real life) and had Battery and Battalion been confused (no)? So I can make a good case for an image being better (setting aside copyright, etc, etc).

Issue 2 - where exactly do we say that names of living people are forbidden (or any variant thereon)? So far as I can see, we don't. There is a section in the Help Centre on "What Topics..." that refers to "How to ask questions about people born less than 100 years ago". That section is not relevant to the posted question as it referred to a chap born in the 1890s who died in 1960.

Issue 3 - immediately above the section referred to above, it states "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". Sorry but I'm going to be really pedantic and point out that listing a name, even in connection with a parent, does not constitute identification. It doesn't say anything about that person other than their name (in this case). Identification means that I can use the information there and associate it with one particular (living) human being with a reasonable degree of certainty.

If we want to forbid the naming of living people, then we need to make it clearer by saying, in its own section, something like, "Do not name living people or provide any other information ... " Make it simple please.

Issue 4 - if our policy is to forbid the naming of living people - how do we justify it? I worry that simply forbidding it runs into the response (my response on numerous occasions) "So telephone directories are illegal then?"

Issue 5 (sorry, but I think these are all linked) - if we have a breach, how do we handle it? If the justification (see issue 4) is not clear, we drive people away from the site. In this case I would like to thank ColeValleyGirl who redacted the image. It's hard work, perhaps, but is that the way forward?

  • To be honest, redacting the image was only a few minutes work.
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:33
  • What did you use for the redaction @ColeValleyGirl ? I've only got the basic Windows tools - no need for anything else - I do occasionally try to highlight bits in an image but I can't get a straight line!
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:43
  • Irfanview -- I just cut out the bits that weren't wanted. Windows Paint with a rectangular selector and then cut would have done the same job.
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:47
  • Cut out? Oh thanks @ColeValleyGirl - my brain was coming at redaction all wrong!
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:51
  • I've had those moments too :)
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 12:06
  • @AdrianB38 For the cases where you do want to highlight particular bits of an image, a lot of people use the (paid) software SnagIt. (I don't own it, yet.) SnagIt makes it easy to clip out (for example) the headers from a parish register book image and a single entry and line them up for a presentation slide, to mark out a name or other word with a red underline or box, and so on.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:39

2 Answers 2


My admittedly hasty question about redacting the names was prompted by two things -- first, a general desire to remind people to think about what information they post about living people online, and second, the terms and conditions issues which we can talk about in a separate question. My thoughts were running along the lines of the current practice of redacting the names of DNA matches in match lists (to choose one example) when showing them in a presentation slide unless you've asked them for permission to show their names.

Here are two points from the The National Genealogical Society's Guidelines for Sharing information with Others. The guidelines recommend that family historians and genealogists consistently:

• require evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing or publication of information about themselves;

• convey personal identifying information about living people—such as age, home address, genetic information, occupation, or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to;

One could argue that the survivors listed in an obituary have already agreed to be listed as such (although in my experience, the people writing the obituary don't ask).

In general, what I'd like to see on the site as a whole is that as much as we can, we include the information that is relevant to the question. It's not friendly to make new users jump through hoops when all they want to do is ask a question, but it's also not friendly to the community to plop down a whole image of a document and ask them to pick out the information from it.

I agree with your comment that it is helpful to see the image of the newspaper itself to avoid any confusion about how the military service was written about. For the purposes of answering that question, we only need the two sentences about his military service and organizations he was a member of after his discharge.

  • I think the NGS guidelines are a useful reference -- and something on which we can 'hang our hat' so to speak (as genealogists concerned with following standards.)
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:58
  • I'd be happy to see links for guidelines from around the world in any guidance we offer -- when I wrote my recent answer to genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/15849/1006, I cited guidelines from US organizations because they're the ones I'm most familiar with.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:43

For discussion, having read the responses: How about, in Help Centre / Asking / What topics can I ask about here? ....

Suppose we replace the paragraph starting:

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 ...


Please note: We need to satisfy privacy requirements across the globe. Therefore we ask that you

  • Never include the names of living people in your question or in a transcript or in an image;
  • Never include any other information such as birth details, relationships, addresses or anything else that can be clearly matched to a living person.

This applies whether you are asking questions about living people or whether the living people happen to be referred to in a question about a deceased person.

I am not sure yet whether this should be part of the box highlighted in pink that currently starts How to ask questions about people born less than 100 years ago. I suspect that it should be part of that box because the box misses the target - it's not asking questions about people born less than 100 years ago that's the issue, it's any reference to living people. The rest of the text in that box probably needs altering to match the above.

I believe that the full version of the text above would deal with my issues 2 & 3.

Other possible format - Help Centre / Asking gets a new pinned section explicitly about Data Privacy to contain the above stuff.

I am unsure about how to deal with my Issue 1 - we may wish to quote people like Elizabeth Shown Mills. That ought to be allowed as an exception at the bottom of the above but I'm unsure what the text ought to be.

Issue 4 - justification - I think that is covered in "We need to satisfy privacy requirements across the globe. Therefore ..." I would happily go on writing and writing of course but I think "across the globe" is the important bit because it suggests that we have to take a "best fit" / "worst case scenario" view. Should this be made clearer?

Issue 5 - how to handle breaches - I don't think we can rely on the original poster to comply. On some forums OPs seem never to look again, apparently relying on psychic connections from the software. So do we need to remit the moderators to edit and / or redact after X hours / days?

  • I think a reference to genealogical standards might be better than an appeal to global privacy standards -- less open to challenge by 'it was in a newspaper' and also reinforcing the fact that we want to endorse standards/best practice were possible.
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 15:41
  • Maybe include some wording along the lines of 'Naming living authors of blogs, books etc. is fine when attributing anything you quote from other experts in the field.'
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 15:43
  • 1
    Breaches -- no , we can't rely on an OP complying but anyone with editing privileges (moderators) should edit as soon as they spot something of the concern (hopefully leaving the information needed to answer a question intact) -- the OP can always come back with Great-Auntie Pennyloap is dead and here's her obituary, in which case we can roll back.
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 15:45
  • @ColeValleyGirl I don't think rollback will always be possible because when our Privacy Policy appears to have been infringed the details should also be permanently redacted (by moderators) not just redacted via an edit. However, once the privacy concern has lifted the asker will be free to re-include those details.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 22:18
  • @PolyGeo, can you actually permanently redact -- moderators used to have to task TPTB to do that. And of course ordinary editors can't prevent rollback.
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 6:52
  • @ColeValleyGirl Yes - there's a mod tool for doing it that just needs the approval of a second moderator - involvement of a Community Moderator has not been needed for 2-3 years (I think).
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 8:55
  • @PolyGeo so anyone who redacts should flag for mod attention as well? that might be hard to ensure
    – user6485
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 8:56
  • We just fix 'em when we find 'em but if users flag upon redaction then that would be better.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 8:57

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