There's a bit of an overlap between genealogy and "people search", such as adopted people looking for birth parents, and people looking for long-lost relatives who may still be alive.

Sometimes, these searches may be fakes, from people trying to find somebody who doesn't want to be found (abusive spouses, skip tracers, witness protection, etc).

For example: "my deceased father said he had a long-lost younger sister, born Mary-Jane Doe in Chicago in 1932. How can I find her?".

Should there be a policy or FAQ in place to make clear that anything relating to finding possibly living people, or adoption birth parents, is off limits (however sad the story), since there's no way to know how genuine it is?


3 Answers 3


On one hand, we could be excluding people who aren't sure if a relative has passed away and who is looking for closure. On the other hand, we could be leading people to persons who are not interested in being found.

I feel like Genealogy SE is more geared towards finding answers than shutting people down; therefore, I'm not sure excluding potentially living people would be a good move. We'd possibly be excluding people who are legitimately looking for a death record.

For instance, had our family still not known of my uncle's passing in 2011, who vanished over 23 years ago, we wouldn't be able to seek help on this site for this question: Why did my Uncle's Death Certificate Not Appear in the Family History Library's Archives?

  • If you didn't know of his death already, I can see that you could be asking "how do I find if ... has died?". The answer could come back: "no he hasn't, here is living at ...". If you were not family, and hunting for him, that would be very useful, but he may not want to be found! It would also be great if you were family and could then get in touch with him, so is family reunion within the scope of GFH?
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 4:13
  • 1
    Well, I guess we could also attract a lot of bounty hunters too, pretending to be a long lost relative. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 4:18
  • I should add that we suspected he had died. But we really weren't sure...
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 4:30

Based on some comments I've read and thinking about it more I'm going to say that we should not have a policy any people or what information can and can not be said. This should be left up the the posters discretion.

My main reason for this is that each country has different items that are considered sensitive. Having a massive list of whats not aloud for each country would be unwieldily and most people wouldn't look through it before posting anyway. The person posting the question from whatever country should know best.

I don't think we can outright ban personal information at all from the site either as it would make asking questions exceedingly difficult if not impossible. When viewing a question and seeing a SSN number I'm going to assume the person posting knows what he or she is doing and that SSN is for a deceased individual where the SSN in already listed publicly. If its obvious that the person is still alive or recently deceased a comment regarding the wrongness and the potential consequences of identity theft can be made.

If I see a Tax ID from other countries I have no idea if its sensitive or not, same with any other information being posted.

My vote is not to have any policy other than "Be careful what you post" same as any other forum, blog, social site, etc. on the internet.

  • That's not really relevant to this question, which is about what should be permitted to be asked for, not what should be written in replies.
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 2:20
  • In that posts about potentially living people and the information it contains, it does. As to allow posts about specific people and research specific to them, no it doesn't.
    – Justin808
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 6:36

After much discussion since this question was originally asked:

We settled on the privacy policy below which is found at https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic

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.

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.

If you see any postings which appear to contravene this policy then please flag them for moderator attention. If you do not feel confident or do not have the necessary privilege level to edit the offending parts out then the moderators will do that. Please do not leave the task at just editing though, because the moderators also need to ask the Community Team (via a moderator tool) to redact the wording from all versions of the question.

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