Should I Make My Ancestry Tree Public Or Private?

It’s a matter of trust! Should I make my Ancestry tree public or private? Here are several issues that will help you decide how you control access to your family information. Ancestry’s tree settings are basically like a light switch: it’s either ON or OFF. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more control over who gets to see what, to regulate access at a more specific level?

I’ve always thought it would be convenient to be able to choose a certain branch of a tree to exclude from public access or any ancestor before a certain date and be able to set similar specific parameters from the user’s side. However, that does not exist.

Here are 3 perspectives on choosing to make your Ancestry tree PUBLIC or PRIVATE. Why 3? Well, just keep reading. Just for the record I keep all of my family trees on Ancestry set to private.


The fear I have in making my tree(s) public is that others will be free (no pun intended) to steal information from me, to pilfer all of my hard work and claim it as their own. While this may sound a bit stingy, it is common knowledge that this practice exists and it does not always have positive outcomes.


While I do not mind sharing the results of my research with other serious researchers and family members, I prefer to maintain a modicum of control over who and how that information gets accessed. I will be more than happy to share with others as long as there is an understanding of what is proprietary and what is not, because, once information is ‘lent out’ to other interested researchers it now becomes a free-for-all if they do not exercise similar discretionary standards. It’s the ripple effect, plain and simple.

If your intention is to have anyone on Ancestry or the wider interweb have access to your entire family tree in the spirit of sharing and groovy flower power, then that’s awesome! That’s your choice and I support you.

While I don’t mind sharing birth, marriage, and death dates (BMD) as much, what I do mind sharing are old family photos. I prefer to maintain strict scrutiny over who can access these.

I learned a valuable lesson from a cousin of mine who taught me everything I know about genealogy – she is the documentation guru and the penultimate researcher. She shared this nightmare experience with me about someone who copied information wholesale about a person from her public tree and then misrepresented that research on their own family tree by attaching it to people who were not even related! To compound the matter, that information was erroneously accepted as gospel, in turn, by other non-fact-checkers. This is where bad information becomes systemic.

That’s like buying a car that is a blue 2014 Ford F-150 with 10,000 miles and turning around and listing it on Craigslist as a 2012 Red Chevy Corvette with 50,000 miles. What the what?!?


While I understand public trees ‘benefit the community,’ and I agree they do, I prefer to keep my family information private. If other researchers would like any information, they can simply ask and I will be happy to oblige. I find the value not so much in the information being exchanged but in the relationships we build through dialoguing with one another. To me, getting to know other potential family members and their research interests ‘benefits the community.’


If you look at Ancestry’s privacy settings there is are 2 layers to this level of security. The first is simply setting the tree to “private” which is explained in the dialogue box above. The second is the checked box below which will not only keep your tree private, it will exclude it from showing up in search results. That’s the ultimate privacy!


Using Ancestry’s strictest privacy settings works both ways and is a double-edged sword. Not only does it prevent others from finding you, it also blocks that potential person who might want to contact you with information that you may need or have been searching for. You eliminate yourself from the community base that really drives family history research.

A THIRD option is to create a duplicate copy of your tree on Ancestry, populated only with information you don’t mind others accessing, and then making it public. Depending on the scale of your family tree this might involve a lot of work; however, the benefits can be massive. It will involve more set up but you can still add single resources to multiple trees in your future research.

It’s an idea you may want to consider. Think of it like a movie preview where you get to see all of the best parts without having to explain the deeper intricacies of the plot line and give away the fantastic cliff-hanger ending. You can give out specific BMD dates but not upload all of the valuable family photos. It’s one foot on the public side and one foot on the private side. What are your thoughts on the matter? What is your Ancestry tree set to: public or private?


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