A Few Musings On Internet Security and Netiquette

Someone has recently done something very silly – and rude (in the sense of having neither manners nor common sense) on an on-line family tree.

Online security is a matter which concerns us all, so this week I thought I’d share a few musings with you.


Yes, we’re all aware of my feelings on spam – like the pressed meat in the blue tin, it’s incredibly boring, usually tasteless  and a total waste of time.

If you have a website/blog, make sure it has a spam filter and a Captcha code requirement: this saves you having to sort out the rubbish from the serious comments.

If you happen to be a spammer, and you’re reading this: spam away to your hearts’ content, you poor deluded fools.  Because you’re wasting your time – I never get to read it.


I’m not going to woffle on about phone numbers and addresses and stranger-danger here: we should all know about that.  But, if you have an on-line tree, make sure that there is nothing on it that could identify you or compromise your identity.

Think about it – what’s the standard banking security question?

Details of Living People

Many genealogists advise that you should not include details of living people in an on-line tree without their permission.

I go further than this, and advise that you should not, under any circumstances whatsoever, include details of living people or their parents in an online tree which other people may see.  Why? – see ‘Security’ above!

Photographs of Living People

Never, ever publish photographs of living people without their permission even if you took the photograph yourself. It’s a breach of their privacy.

Photographs From Other Websites

Never upload photographs from other websites without permission.  Firstly, it’s bad manners – secondly, it may well be a breach of copyright.

It is also a breach of copyright to upload census images or copies of GRO certificates. In this instance, the information contained in the census return/certificate is within the public domain and may be freely copied – but the actual form itself is copyright.

You do not escape the copyright restrictions by merely stating ‘Copyright belongs to…’


If you’re contacting someone for information because you think you’re related, say so!  Blindly copying someone else’s work is bad manners – as is publishing information which does not appear on their tree and which may identify them (as happened to me only yesterday).

What If It Happens To Me?

If you have any worries about online security, you can always contact me.  And if someone does make any stupid/inappropriate/security risk comments on your online tree, ask them to remove the post.  You’ll usually have the option to remove the comment anyway. But if the worst comes to the worse, make a formal complaint to the site administrators. And keep on complaining until something is done about it.

What If I’ve Breached Security/Netiquette Rules?

If you’ve made one of the above blunders, and the person in question contacts you and asks you to remove the information/photograph/whatever, please do so immediately and apologise – don’t get on your high horse and start arguing (which again happened to me yesterday!)

What was the result of this argument?  Well, the person in question is now blocked from contacting me; and they haven’t got the information they (eventually) asked me for.  Whose loss?  Not mine!

So – Is It Worth Me Having An Online Tree?

Basically – yes.  I find my online tree very useful when I’m out and about in archives – it’s easily accessible and saves me having to lug my laptop everywhere.  

Should I Make My Online Tree Public Or Private?

A public tree is very useful – it enables other researchers to contact you (usually because you’re related to them.) But you should be aware that an lot of free online trees are not very secure – some allow anyone at all to gain access, whilst if you read the terms and conditions of others, you’ll find that by putting your data on their system gives them the rights to deal with your data however they wish.

I name no names.   But one tree site which I do recommend (and other sites are available) is Tribal Pages, which allows you to make your tree private or public, hides a lot of the information from casual browsers until you are asked to supply them with a secondary password (which is not the same as the access password, so no-one else can make any alterations to your  tree) and which does not – until that secondary password is given – show details of any living person. The default setting is ‘Living Person’ (as I discovered when I realised I’d forgotten to tick the ‘Dead’ option for a relative born in 1670!)

Rant over. Have fun with your researches and stay safe.

About kate

Experienced genealogist but virgin blogger...
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