Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Pin It
Feed Feed

Jun 12, 201212:00 AMAfter Hours

with Jody Glynn Patrick

Ancestry.com: Identity theft takes on a whole new persona

Ancestry.com: Identity theft takes on a whole new persona

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

I recently entered into a spirited email discussion with a “cousin” (seven generations removed) who was annoyed that my database of 35,000+ individuals related to Gov. John Webster by blood or marriage is classified “private” versus “public” on Ancestry.com. “You are a pain in the butt,” she whined. “Every time I turn around, I have to email you for info instead of just looking it up. You are really slowing me down.”

Boo hoo ... though truthfully, I’d happily email her my entire database because she’s sent me a lot of 1800s family photos. However, she has an old computer and Ancestry.com was only able to upload such a large file after 2012 Family Tree Maker came out with cloud computing capabilities. (Ancestry.com and other Mormon-related corporate compilers use a lot of my work to feed their databases because I have the largest privately compiled Webster database in the U.S.)

This should put me in the catbird’s seat when it comes to people who want to download – in a minute, if possible – linkages I’ve spent 10-plus years establishing and proving, traveling across the United States to find little factoids hidden away in fading mimeographed family records. But that’s not why I keep it hidden away. It isn’t about intellectual property; it’s about legal identity.

Who am I? Depends who you ask these days

In addition to my role at IB, I am a professional genealogical detective (Glynn Patrick & Associates, LLC) who loves the intrigue of it. Recently a client, T.L. Woodmansee, received a detailed report taking his family back 14 generations. He later emailed, “What you did for me was to open a door that I never really thought about going through. As I studied my genealogy, I learned things about my ancestors which, in turn, made me learn things about myself” (shared with permission).

I’m not using this as a testimonial of my work, but rather as an illustration: Many clients report that learning about ancestral secrets is a game changer. Ancestry.com does not create trees; it uploads and links someone’s research to expand or add to existing trees. As a genealogical detective, whenever possible I check it as a clue only, not as an absolute fact, and then seek out first-source documentation like census, cemetery, and church records where the truth most often resides.

Even well-intentioned guesses about people’s birth, death, or marriage dates (no proof required) get uploaded on these membership genealogical sites and then are adopted hundreds of times before someone like me points out that this woman could not have married that man, who actually died five years before she was born. That’s the pitfall of instant genealogy and thinking one will learn their family’s history by paying a $350 annual membership fee to Ancestry.com to do a quick search.

But here’s the rub of sleuthing ...

My own tree is meticulous and detailed. If, according to a death certificate, someone died of alcoholism, I put that in my file ... which upsets descendants. Any piece of information is sacred, filed away for later verification. And so I’m the sort of person who would, and did, invest five years tracking a birth father – a hunt with many a blind alley before my mother finally capitulated and confessed a high school love affair with a college student. She then told me his name, address, and pertinent facts.

The missing link and I have “communicated” in the last 20 years since I’ve put a face and name to an outdated father-figure fantasy. He insists he’s not my father and yet refuses to take a DNA paternity cheek swab that I’ve offered to finance. In turn, I wrote a first-person story (“In Search of a Father’s Love”) about the experience of him rejecting me yet again – and then sold it to Guide Post Magazine for an April 1992 audience of 11 million readers. I thoughtfully provided him with an alias, though he likely didn’t appreciate the signed copy I sent to him at work.

To fully appreciate the genetic material from which I likely sprang, I then researched his family back 15-plus generations and neatly linked them all to my PRIVATE database. I felt no qualms about linking him to my mother and then adding 200 of his (my?) relatives to that tree. But lacking his admission or cheek swab, in my professional opinion one conversation with my mother (a very common “so-and-so said” acceptable source on Ancestry.com) is not sufficient proof to actually publish that information as fact.

What would happen if I changed the database to ‘Public’?

If my Ancestry.com tree went public, linkages to his mother and father and all of their ancestors would be visible as defined by their relationship to me. Lacking a death date, his first name would appear as “Living,” though his true surname would, of course, be revealed. If I connect those dots for Ancestry.com, any future researcher – say one of his (other?) three children searching on that family name – would find me. Pop goes the weasel. That could be a game changer for them.

Unraveling an ancestor’s life often is akin to solving a who-did-whom mystery. Fast-forward a couple of years, and I’m expecting an entire new practice of law, suing people around the common practice (today) of publishing undocumented ancestral links. The stakes are higher in this game than a television program or a slick ad campaign would have you believe. Can you imagine the ramifications of making my tree public? I can, so I’m not going to do it.

Meanwhile, my irritated online cousin will have to continually email me, or spring for a very large external disk drive.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.

Old to new | New to old
Sep 2, 2015 10:40 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Can i sue mormons for taking pri ate info amd storing it on micro film amd blessi g my dead family members? Im not mormon and nerver want to be apart of a fake religion created by some guy

May 2, 2016 04:59 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I can certainly relate to the propagation of errors once a genealogical connection has been published. Indeed, this extends well beyond the current age of "pop-genealogy" on the internet; in the course of my own research I have found several errors in 19th century books that, in at least one case, was picked up by two later published genealogies. Needless to say, these errors are multiplied on sites like ancestry.com and I've even had related researchers send me "corrections," based on those same flawed sources. (Of course, I sent them my documentation for the relationship in question.)

However, going so far as to suggest that someone could be sued for publishing an "undocumented" ancestral link is absurd. Genealogical documentation is widely varied. Defining what would constitute sufficient documentation would be a nearly impossible task. Even then, documentation is no guarantee of accuracy. Several studies have been published suggesting that at least 2% (and perhaps as high as 10%) of people living today were not fathered by whom they think they were. This is further complicated by ad-hoc adoptions in a time when prenatal care was almost non-existent and certainly undocumented. (In my own tree, I have found more than one instance where I suspect an unmarried daughter had a child who was subsequently "adopted" by her parents, all without documentation.) The deeper the stigma of unwed motherhood, the more likely this outcome. Not coincidentally, my instances occur in rural Dunkard communities where this stigma was ingrained into the religion.

Even with the support of abundant documentation, parentage can still be wrong, a fact that we genealogists should always bear in mind. DNA is the best tool for resolving such inaccuracies; litigation, conversely, strikes me as among the worst. We have more than enough markets for the sue-happy; we needn't create more.

Apr 7, 2019 09:31 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Now here we are 7 years later in 2019 and this problem has only exploded due to the new "community" genealogy sites (Geni, LDS and WikiTree being the most prevalent)(as of today). They try to promote "oversight" but there is none. The bad "hints" accepted as fact have now exploded by a factor I can't even fathom. It is has truly screwed up the entire field of genealogy and those of us who actually back up the fiction with fact. I initially submitted corrections to the sites and/or users until I realized how few actually gives a sh*t about FACT and gave up. For a depressing number of people, convincing themselves they're related to so and so is more important than who they're ACTUALLY related to.


I found this article in a search when I started seeing a disturbing amount of personal information on the new sites about living people and those recently enough departed to be a veritable trove to those with nefarious intentions. First, it raises grave concerns about a whole new wave of identity theft--that sites like WikiTree BADGER ignorant users for information on living people citing the positive "benefits" of "cousin bait" to connect with other "genealogists" I find downright alarming and highly suspicious. Second, we've seen via Facebook what bad actors can do with a bunch of benign facts, what will the WikiTree people do with such important information if they are, in fact, bad actors, which in the modern day is more likely than not. Talk about lawsuits waiting to happen...

They also claim that this very private information becoming public provides "health benefits" to users... more like health insurance company benefits if you ask me.

This has all been insightful as I continue my consideration to make my tree PRIVATE... I think I talked myself into it.

I hope that future users who find this post will add to it so others can see just how haywire this whole thing goes. It's not looking good in 2019.

~ A random girl, of unknown age, in Florida xo

Add your comment:
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Pin It
Feed Feed
Edit Module

About This Blog

IB Publisher Emeritus Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from her other writing for In Business magazine. Awarded national recognition for both her previous work as a newspaper columnist and her journalistic leadership at IB, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often!

Recent Posts

Archives

Feed

Atom Feed Subscribe to the After Hours Feed »

Edit Module