Best Practices for Use of Private Address

I'm struggling a bit here on when [private address] and/or [private e-mail] should be used. I am working on embedding citations for my personal family documents before I upload them to my public tree. I want to share these records with other relatives but also want to ensure that the records can be traced back to me as holding the original copies. I think it is important for me to provide this information rather than using the private phrase.

In the past, I have uploaded originally held documents (without citations, yes, a very bad practice). Other relatives have attached those records to their trees using family tree software and then syncing to Ancestry. The problem I have noted is that it now shows that person as providing the document. There are now multiple copies of my original records floating around on Ancestry, which keep generating hints to my ancestors. This effectively loses any connection to me as the holder of the original records. For example, if I use the following citation and someone else uploads it to their tree for syncing, how would someone be able to contact me about the record?

Josefine Hansen to Ole H Rude, handwritten letter, 14 March 1949; transcribed and translated by Ingrid [private email], June 2008; original privately held by Kristina Gow Clever [private email], [private address], 2002.

Submitted byEEon Sat, 08/03/2019 - 10:41

Kristina, I see two different issues in your query.

  1. How to record personal addresses in our citations so that they do not print out when you publish or share your work?
  2. What to do about others who “take” our postings and present them as their own?

Issue 1 depends upon the software that you’re using. Evidence Style citations call for identifying people fully within our research notes. When we publish or share, we should strip out the addresses of living people and just leave the city and state/province. EE’s citation models, in that position, use brackets with an instruction: [“address for private use”].

  • If you’re using a relational database based on EE citations, the creator of that database should have written the program so that whatever address you put into those brackets will print out as the generic “address for private use” instead of the address. Not all do.
  • If you’re creating your own citation in Word or a similar program, then before you share or publish a copy you would need to manually strip out the private information.

Issue 2 is one for which there is ultimately no solution. Some people take things that don’t belong to them. Some people think that anything they find on the Internet is theirs for the taking because it’s been published. So-called researchers who don’t care where something comes from—e.g., those who don’t identify their sources—don’t even consider why the provenance of a photo or a document is important (to evaluate whether it is legit). If it appeals to them they grab it and fly with it.  We can use photo-editing software to create a label in the margin of a document or a photo, and people without ethics will crop off the citation. We can use editing software to put a watermark across the document or photo, and people without ethics will still use it anyway.  The truly naïve will think, “Okay, the watermark gives credit to the owner, so I don’t have to.” 

The only way we can prevent the unethical and the naïve from taking an image (to which we own the rights) and present it as their own is to not put it online to start with.


Submitted byKristinaCleveron Sun, 08/04/2019 - 12:09

The reason I asked this question is because a few people have advised me not to include my address or email on my personal family documents/photos. I have no issue with sharing my documents, as that is the reason I upload them to Ancestry or other public trees. My only desire is that my direct contact information remains with the document/image as it is shared among other trees so that I can be contacted if needed/desired. For example, I have an original wedding photo of my great grandparents. I want to be sure that my dad's cousins and their descendants have access to this photo. We don't all know each, but if one of their grandchildren comes across the photo online, I would for them to able to contact me to learn more about our family. There is a family story that one of my grandmother's had a baby boy that was given up for adoption. If the story is true and one of his descendants looks for us, I want him/her to able to make contact. 

I use Family Tree Maker and have found their template citations to be lacking. I'm not sure that my custom citations would strip my address or email when uploaded to Ancestry. I have also noticed that if a document/image is attached to my tree from an Ancestry hint within the Family Tree Maker program and then synced to Ancestry, the original poster information is lost. It will show that I am the original poster, which is not the case. This has become a major problem because I now cannot trace back to find out who originally posted it.

Submitted byEEon Mon, 08/05/2019 - 09:50

Kristina, if you want to include your email address on your postings, so that others can contact you, that is a time-honored practice. EE's recommendation to not publish street addresses but include city and state is a compromise between the perils of society and the need for researchers (future, as well as present) to identify the person who has done a block of research or owns certain non-public records. Identifying city and state provides a starting point for that identification.

The flip side of your problem, those who intentionally strip away your identifying information so they can claim credit, is a lack of ethics or morals that we can't control. A watermark splashed across a critical part of the image is the most effective means, though it does mar photos.

As for whether identifying information buried in custom citations will be stripped away when we upload from personal software to the web, I know of no software we can use that would enable that. Perhaps, before uploading, you can create a duplicate file in which you run a global search for those identifiers and strip them out yourself. 

The problem with "original poster information" being lost amid alterations and transfers is one that exists at FS-FT as well. I've noticed that when I post carefully reasoned proof arguments on a profile, someone will alter a point they disagree with and--since they are the last person to tinker with that block of text--FamilySearch will credit them for the whole posting. On occasion, when others have discovered that proof argument at my personal-research website where the proof argument originated, I've stood accused of plagiarizing the FS-FT contributor to whom FS re-assigned my work!

Technology is wonderful, but it definitely has created ethical problems.

Submitted byKristinaCleveron Wed, 08/07/2019 - 07:10

As usual your advice is incredibly helpful. I'll have to decide whether I want to change my personal document citations going forward to exclude my street address. Although a simple internet search will provide that LOL.

On the other issue, can I ask you to take a look at two public trees that I have posted so that you can see how easily original poster information can be stripped between Family Tree Maker and Ancestry? I think it is good for people to be aware that this can and does happen with no malice intended. I created the first test tree on Ancestry and attached two images that my cousins have attached to their trees and one upload from me. You can see that Ancestry shows them as the original posters for two images, which is not the case. However, these are my people/cousins, so no issue with them attaching the photos.

The second tree was downloaded to Family Tree Maker, unlinked, and uploaded to Ancestry. You will note that all three images now show I am the original poster and all info indicating my cousins posted it is gone. This is how original poster info gets stripped and why so many documents and images from my personal collection are showing they have been uploaded by other people.

This is the dilemma I am facing that has made it LOOK like I have stolen images and documents from other trees. Due to tree corruptions over the years, I have had to re-upload my tree several times. I cringe to think my relatives would think that I intentionally did this. I am going to slowly work on identifying and contact the original posters of documents and images that I know are not in my personal collection. 

Submitted byEEon Thu, 08/08/2019 - 09:33

Kristina, have you taken up the issue directly with Ancestry and with the new owners of FamilyTreeMaker? Have you also raised awareness of the problem through discussions in their social-media forums?  I sympathize greatly with your problem, but only software companies can resolve the problems with their software. Group pressure from their users is the best impetus.