Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Understanding FamilySearch Family Tree Private Spaces

There is a background pervasive concern in genealogy online with privacy. The first questions that arise when I am encouraging people to put their family trees online are all about privacy. Part of this concern comes from a constant barrage of quasi-news articles about the dangers of being online. I say "quasi-news" because a large portion of the so-called news about online security is nothing more or less than an attempt to sell products. Finding information about privacy that is not based on an agenda is very difficult. The problem is that the subject referred to as privacy is also wrapped up in a lot of other issues such as cyber-security, hacking, scams and loss of data. Here is a sample from the United States Government "Protect Your Privacy Online."
Cyber security, phishing, worms, firewalls, Trojan horses, hackers, and viruses seem to be in the news every day. Plus warnings to update your virus protection, watch out for online scams, protect your privacy, and watch what you click on are everywhere. But what does it all mean? And what can you do to safeguard access to your computer and to protect yourself and your family? What is this all about?
You will have to read the article to see why I think that there are too many different things being covered by the umbrella of "privacy." I can illustrate this by asking a couple of questions.

  • What can you do to stop foreign governments from hacking U.S. companies?
  • If your computer gets a virus, does that mean you have lost your privacy?

Now, notwithstanding all this, there is still a core issue of privacy that has nothing to do with all that other stuff. In fact, there is talk of a "right to privacy" but no one, even most of the courts seem to agree as exactly what that is or means. If you want to get started down that road, see the Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute article on Privacy.

Unfortunately for those of us who are somewhat older, the level of privacy and concerns about what we would call privacy have been largely abandoned by the younger online computer/smartphone user. I can go onto almost anytime and read posts that would be considered scandalous only a few years ago; things that were not even the topic of polite discussion.

Now, we have adding a Family Tree program and, as I have mentioned already, this becomes a monumental privacy concern for some people. Before going any further, I must mention that dead people do not have any rights of privacy, but apparently many genealogists do not appreciate the difference between being dead and alive.

The fundamental issue is whether to put genealogical information about live people online. Note the word "genealogical." We are not talking here about medical or health data, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, banking information or any similar information. We are talking basic birth, death and marriage information. I find it peculiar that so many genealogists get upset if they think about putting their own information online, while at the same time, they become distraught if they can't find that same information about a relative.

Given this is an issue and given that it will not just go away, had to do something about people's expectation of privacy and any possible laws that may govern the subject. What they have done is create a "Private Space" for each living person. Here is the technical discussion on the subject and a quote from the Introduction:
Private Spaces and Data Access Control
The FamilySearch Family Tree provides access to person records, relationships, and other data that is regulated by law. FamilySearch controls access to the Family Tree data using a variety of access control mechanisms. Private Spaces is one such mechanism. 
When FamilySearch implemented Private Spaces in August 2014, all regulated data was copied into the private space of individual users. Now, every FamilySearch user has a private space of their own. Data in a private space can be viewed and managed only by the assigned user of the private space. This document presents the ramifications of the migration of regulated data to Private Spaces.
There are some important things to know about this Private Spaces environment. Here are some of the issues addressed in the article:
  • The Family Tree no longer receives automatic updates contributed by internal systems, such as the Church Membership system. For example, a child’s record in a parent’s private space is not automatically updated when the child is married and the child’s spouse is recorded in the Church Membership system. Each user who has a copy of that child’s record in their private space is responsible to update their own private space record with the marriage information. Depending on the timing of the Church Membership record update, users may receive hints that suggest changes to their private space data.
  • Users can view the change history for their own private space data. No user can view the history of another user’s private space data.
  • Private Spaces has implemented a Living Status flag for all private space person records. This is an additional mechanism to help restrict access to regulated data.
  • Beginning December 10, 2014, when creating a new person record in the Family Tree, the living status of that person must be specified as living or deceased. If the living property is not specified, then the person is created as a living person in the user’s private space.
  • If a private space person record is flagged as deceased, then the person record becomes public for all to see. If a deceased record is discovered to be in error, a FamilySearch administrator is required in order to flag the person record as living. This is the case because a public person may be included in the pedigree of several users. Changing the living status from deceased to living represents an access control restriction, which removes the view of that person from all but one user, therefore creating a gap in some pedigrees. When the deceased person is flagged as living, the administrator creates a copy of the person in the private space of all users who have that person in their pedigree. Each copy placed in an additional private space has its own unique person ID. For this reason, the copies lose artifacts such as photos or stories that are attached to the person being copied.
Essentially, each living person (or anyone who is not marked as deceased with a date of death) becomes part of the Private Space. A new, separate PID (Personal Identification Number) is created for each new living person added to the program. It is left up to the individual users to migrate the data and combine the duplicate individuals when someone dies. You will have to re-read this a few times to actually get what it is saying. 

So, if you add an ancestor and do not specify a death date, that person is considered to be living. You cannot do the Temple ordinances for that person and no one else can see that person. Here is the screenshot of the entry form with an arrow showing where you have to mark the person as deceased or living. 

If you would like to know more about this subject see the following articles:
Here is the clincher: Family Tree does not compute the likelihood of people being living, even after they are older than 110 years. Users need to mark individuals as deceased and then search for any possible duplicates.


  1. FS software engineer, Ben Baker, reported in a meeting with us last week that they are thinking of expanding the Private Space to include those from an immediate family. So a family like mine of me, my husband, our 7 children, and 33 grandchildren could all be shared, so we could post stories, photos, audio, etc, just once and all could see them. When this is implemented, it will be really much better.

    1. I have heard this for some time now. It would be an improvement. I am looking forward to seeing Ben's presentation at the UVTAGG meeting.

  2. How do I access my private space in order to enter death information for an individual?

    1. Everything about living people that you can see is in your "Private Space" you don't have to do anything to access it. Just change the status of the person from living to dead and put in a death date and place. Then look to see if there are any duplicate entries.