Identity Theft

Identity theft is a fairly new concept, at least within the last generation or so. It’s come about due to careless handling of your personal documents as well as Internet use. The term means that someone steals your identity, and commits theft or fraud while pretending to be you. That can mean making purchases with your credit cards, or using that identification to take out new cards, join organizations or do banking.

Are you at risk of identity theft from your genealogy information? Many people worry about this, and are not happy seeing their “personal” information in databases or on websites. While it is a possibility, it almost never happens that way.

The reality of identity theft is really closer to “credit card fraud” more than anything else. People aren’t trying to be you or steal your whole identity. They just want your money. So they work with bank statements, spam emails and other tricks to get your personal information as it pertains to banking. Creating new ID documents in your name is seldom a problem.


The thing is that most genealogy information that is going to be online is pretty benign anyway. Nobody is going to care who your parents are, or who your grandparents are. This isn’t going to help anyone steal, so it’s not important. The only piece of information that would matter is your birth date since that is frequently used as a base-line detail.

Even so, there are a few typical points to follow when posting genealogy information on line to protect privacy. The most common method is to hide birth, marriage and death dates for 2 generations. You can also block this information out just for anyone who is still living, but that can be an issue with still-living spouses. Two or three generations is the safest bet, regardless of whether the people in question are living or deceased.

Any current genealogy programs will allow you to do this with just a click or two, when exporting your information to a Gedcom file or uploading to a website. It should leave vital statistics blank or marked with “private” for the generations you want to block. I would highly recommend doing this (that’s what I did with my own tree on this site).

Another good practice is to not give out personal information unless you know it’s a legitimate organization. Someone could get a hold of your name/address in connection with genealogy and send bogus offers for family tree materials. You end up providing all your personal vitals, and who knows what happens to the information. Just take care who you share with.