The world’s oldest and lamest movie reference aside, I’m starting to realize why I can’t find anyone living on Ancestry.com.


In my search to find my grandfather, I’m noticing a bunch of reoccurring themes when it comes to researching family trees:

  • Every census taker ever failed handwriting class in elementary school.
  • People tended to be very uncreative with names in the past (“You know what’s a good idea? Naming all of our kids after all of our grandparents!”)
  • In the period from 1800 through the 1950s, nobody moved outside of the block they were born in. NOBODY.

When I’m on Ancestry.com, another thing I’m noticing when I’m on other people’s family trees for research is that some names (read: a lot of relatives) are “Private” so I can’t access any of their information.

It looks like this:

Family tree on Ancestry.com that has 4 females and 1 male. The females are all marked "private" whereas the male has his identity revealed as "Virgil Dell Reddrick"

For a while, I thought this was because Ancestry.com randomly chose people on the tree to block in order to encourage you to reach out to the other person — even as I typed that I realized how stupid that sounded.

Well, it sounded reasonable in my head!

However, I recently discovered the truth after some digging (read: a single Google search):

Ancestry.com’s privacy policy says that they don’t reveal the identity of living relatives on family trees out of respect for them.

From their website:

If we’ve determined an individual is still alive, he or she is identified in your tree with a “Living” label. Users who don’t have permission to view living people in your tree will see a “Private” label.

So there’s the rub.

If you’re using a relatives family tree and think you could do with access to some of their living family members, be sure to shoot them a message to ask for permission!

I know I’ll be doing the same with my family trees going forward. 

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