Family Tree Website Reveals Personal Address, Family Information

Snopes.com reported on a family tree website that is causing a lot of alarm to the general public as it reveals a lot of personal information.

FamilyTreeNow.com claims to be a family history and genealogy web site but seems to be primarily a site that publishes public information about individuals. In fact, there are a number of other web sites that do the same (Spokeo, Intellius, BeenVerified.com and perhaps a dozen or so others) for a fee but FamilyTreeNow.com provides basic information free of charge.

The website allows anyone to enter a person’s name and then displays whatever personal information the web site knows about people of that name. In many cases, results show personal information along with the names, ages and addresses of people they are related to.

I searched for my own name and found that I wasn’t listed. (Hooray!) Several other men with the same name as mine were listed, however. I then searched for the names of several of my friends and family members. Every one of them was listed, usually with their full names, age, the names of their nearest relatives along with current and past home addresses.

The FamilyTreeNow.com site claims to have “...billions of historical records including census (1790-1940) records, birth records, death records, marriage & divorce records, living people records, and military records.” However, when I searched for several rather common names, all I ever saw displayed was twentieth and twenty-first century records with the majority of the displayed records showing names, addresses, and relatives of living people.

While this is causing a buzz on many social media sites, nobody should be surprised at the information being displayed. All of it appears to be public domain information, whether the folks listed like it or not.

Persons whose information appears on the web site can supposedly “opt out” of having their information displayed, but the site says it may take up to 48 hours to remove the information. I would consider opting out to be a waste of time simply because other web sites also have the same information and future web sites will probably do the same. After all, it is public domain information, anyone can legally create a web site and display the same information. I doubt if you can opt out of all of the current and future web sites in this “business.”.

However, if you do want to opt-out of FamilyTreeNow.com’s listings, here’s how:

  1. You need to visit familytreenow.com/optout
  2. Select each profile or variation of your name
  3. Click the red opt out box for that record on the website.

According to the website, removal can take up to 48 hours to remove.

46 Comments

I followed your directions, found myself, including my apartment number, and Opted Out.
A huge thank you for this information.

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Whether we like it or not, the information I’ve seen is all public record. They’ve just collected it and put it on a web site. As you say, there are many others doing the same thing. I don’t like the fact names of individuals who aren’t related to someone are listed as possible relations, including ex-spouses. We may want to opt out to this site, but we could spend a lot of time trying to opt out of every site that lists our public records. Besides, don’t we depend quite a bit on sites that collected public records of our ancestors? Welcome to the information age.

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The information posted on the FamilyTreeNow site about my deceased father is identical to that which appeared on his last credit report over 15 years ago, including all the exact same non-existent family members and associates, false addresses and other erroneous information we never found anywhere else but in that old credit report. We have long suspected that at some point someone (not the people at FamilyTreeNow) probably either hacked into the credit bureau and stole his information or, more likely, obtained it under the pretext of purchasing a list of qualified prospects for a legitimate promotional campaign and then sold it on to others, claiming it had been obtained from “Public Records.” As a result of this experience, I have ever since maintained a “Credit Freeze” on my own information with all three of the major credit bureaus. Could that explain why FamilyTreeNow appears to be totally unaware of my own existence?

Placing a credit freeze on your information may inconvenience you if you want to make an application for “instant credit” at some point, but it will also make it more difficult for identity thieves to get access to your credit history and apply for “instant credit” in your name. For further information, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s excellent FAQ at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

Liked by 1 person

    Clarification: You do not need to place a credit freeze in order to opt out of allowing the credit bureaus to share your data for the purpose of generating pre-screened lists of prospects. The pre-screened opt out process is also explained on the FTC’s FAQ.

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Thank you, Dick. I’ve found myself, my husband, relatives, etc. I realize this is all public info, but nevertheless I’d like to opt out. BUT, there is no “big red OPT OUT button anywhere. I looked at the opt out directions they give and the site, too, refers you to a “big red OPT OUT button.” I’ve sent an email to the site about this. I’ve always told my family that I have never posted anything about living people online. Since this looks like a genealogy site, people could naturally assume this is information I have posted. If you have any more suggestions on how to opt out, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Thanks.

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Thank you for sharing this information. Would you please help by telling me exactly where the big red “Opt Out” button is? I’ve gone through my records several times and cannot find it.
Thank you,
Julie

Step 3: After you are 100% sure this is your record, click the big red ‘Opt Out’ button that is on the page.

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    —> Would you please help by telling me exactly where the big red “Opt Out” button is?

    I couldn’t find a red button but there is a big GREEN opt out button near the bottom of the page at https://www.familytreenow.com/optout

    HOWEVER, when I clicked on it, the opt out procedure didn’t seem to work. I was never asked for my name or any other identifying information.

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    You have to click on the “privacy” link at the bottom of the page on any page of the site, then do a search on your name, then when you choose yourself it should show you your info with the opt out button at the top of the page. I had to do it, from the beginning with the privacy link each time, for myself twice for my name and my nickname. I probably ought to check again for my maiden name.

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Thank you. That was the problem. You have to click on the big green “opt out” button on the opt-out page first. That will take you to do a new search. When you find and open your information, you will then see the big red “Opt Out” button they mentioned.

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I saw this info on a facebook group this morning and got curious. It is mostly stuff that you can find online through other sources, but the one thing I found that did worry me was in my adopted son’s info they also listed him as his birth name. Since we adopted him as a teenager, and when he first came to live with us, before the adoption was finalized, he still used his birth name, this is probably public information that you could find through paid sources, but it was kind of shocking to see that so easily found on a free site. I have opted out for him and for my spouse and me, and will check back to see if it works. Funny thing is that his brother, whom we adopted at the same time, does not show up on a search on this site, even though he has an easily found criminal record on a basic google search. That may give some clue as to where they are mining their data from.

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I also suspect that credit reports are one of the sources of this information, although how obtained I don’t know. In 2000, our daughter spent a few months with us before moving to Michigan. When she moved, she attempted to have her mail forwarded to her new address, but instead the entire household’s mail was forwarded. By the time we figured out what had happened and got it fixed, the post office had notified several creditors who then reported it to the credit bureaus.
The error has been remarkably resilient, but note that this erroneous address, which familytreenow is perpetuating, never occurred in any real public record.
We’re also given an address in Lufkin Texas, a place we’ve never even visited, and a “possible associate” who may have been the purchaser of a home that we sold.
Anyone concerned about having their birthday published should note that Ancestry.com’s been doing it in their public records listings for years, although there is a lag of a few years before it’s published.

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Thanks Dick. Website sure looks genuine though and could easily fool people. Guess anybody in the business of ‘information gathering’ can create a site, throw in a bunch of old photographs, some warm brown sepia colors, some official links and “”start your own Family Tree by entering your information here”. Most likely will catch a number of people as they bounce around the Internet looking for their roots.

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Perhaps change the name of title, which is misleading. When I see the words “Family Tree Website” that to me means Family Tree DNA, so I clicked to see what this article was. The title should have said “FamilyTreeNow.com website.”

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    —> When I see the words “Family Tree Website” that to me means Family Tree DNA

    There are dozens of web sites and products with the name “Family Tree” in the title: Family Tree Maker, FamilyTree DNA, Family Tree Builder, Ancestry Family Tree, Family Tree Magazine, FamilyTree.com, MacFamilyTree, FamilyTreeSearcher, FamilyTreeNow.com, FamilyTreeWebinars.com, FamilyTreeUniversity.com, ShopFamilyTree.com, and probably a bunch of others. Of course, all of them are family tree sites or services. The words “family tree” are generic, not referring to any particular web site

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Thanks for the information. I know it’s public domain information, but I appreciate the opportunity to opt out – especially when information with my addresses is shown. I opted on on the record I found and it seems to have worked. But, as you said, they say it takes 48 hours to ensure the opt out feature works.

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David Paul Davenport January 12, 2017 at 12:28 pm

On a related note let me “ask” why people want to exclude information about living people in genealogy. For example, the BCG requires Certified Genealogists to exclude living people in any research conducted for a client while also requiring that all client reports submitted to them for certification be identical in every respect to the client report submitted to the client. Assuming that the client wants to see the proof argument connecting him or her to his ancestors it seems impossible for any researcher to do both. Obviously, if there is no proof argument the research about “John Smith” could be about the wrong “John Smith” and the client wouldn’t know this because the “professional” has been required by the BCG to exclude proof of the client’s connection to his alleged ancestors.

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    David, I am not sure what your source is for the blanket statement, “BCG requires Certified Genealogists to exclude living people in any research conducted for a client”

    But it might be worthwhile to go back and check the source again as this statement is not correct. I, for example, am board-certified and the only work I take is for some legal implication, cases which almost always involve living people. I am certainly not the only board-certified genealogist that has work involving the living.

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    The NGS guidelines describe ethical ways to handle information about living persons.
    http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/galleries/Ref_Researching/Guidelines_SharingInfo2016.pdf

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    Yes, and the Standards of Practice and Conduct of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy focus more closely on the needs and circumstances of forensic genealogists. http://www.forensicgenealogists.org/standards/

    All the existing genealogical associations and societies have standards, but they all fall a bit short for those who must identify living people in almost every case. CAFG’s Standard 8. As far as legally and reasonably possible, I will protect the privacy of my Client and that of living people discovered in my research or named in my reports;

    The advanced professional specialty of forensic genealogy is not the same as the work of the family historian. Our reports are used for legal purposes and often under the direction of a court or a governmental agency. Many of the reports are recorded in public records, some of which wind up online. Or clients may share them with opposing council or other staff members or researchers. We have no control over this. These special needs and circumstances were the primary reason CAFG was established – to set ethical standards and best business practices for this advanced specialty.

    A report identifying 138 presumptive heirs between the paternal and maternal moieties in a probate case, with accompanying contact information just isn’t the same as the family historian identifying 138 cousins.

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    David Paul Davenport January 16, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    response to Dee Dee King: the portfolio I submitted to the BCG or certification in August of 2015 was criticized by all three judges and rejected because I included the names of living people I identified on behalf of a client who wanted my help in finding descendants of a common civil war era ancestor for purposes of organizing a commemorative reunion. On the basis of your comment I now conclude that the judges were/are unfamiliar with your work (and certification standards).

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    We are also taught in genealogy not to make assumptions. My guess would be that the portfolio failed to meet the criteria for including the living in your report. Not judging, just wondering if that was an issue. Did you include releases from all the living people mentioned in the report?

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    Let me clarify. You also seem to assume my portfolio submissions include living people. I do more than 100 cases a year and always struggle to find work to submit to BCG that does not include the living. It’s impossible to use the military repatriation cases because of federal privacy laws. And not likely that I could gather releases from all the living in the other types of report. So I do not even consider submitting reports with living.

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I have seen this site before, about 3 years ago. Still same stuff. If I remember right, Eastman mentioned it then.

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    —> I have seen this site before, about 3 years ago.

    Same stuff but a different web site. There are a number of web sites providing this sort of information. The one difference with the FamilyTreeNow.com web site is that it provides a lot of information free of charge. Most of its competitors charge money for this information.

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SOURCE: FAMILYTREENOW.COM. LIVING PEOPLE RECORDS [ONLINE].
ORIGINAL DATA: FAMILYTREENOW.COM. COMPILED FROM 1000’S OF U.S. PUBLIC RECORDS SOURCES, INCLUDING PROPERTY, BUSINESS, HISTORICAL AND CURRENT RECORDS.I copied this from the site. It is such a scam and it is scary to know how easy it is to get people to connect to others on this page. They will sell the info later when they get a large data base and in the meantime, it costs them virtually nothing to gather pulic info and have people give up their family data for free. Just think of how many folks will add birthdates, death dates, and places, and addresses to ‘build a family tree” and put the rest of us at risk. I want to go off the grid. I will OPT out as suggested. We will never be able to undo the damage that is being done

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The thing that interests me about this site is that if you accept their offer of putting in a name to look for records it goes straight to Ancestry.com. Are they back of this?

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I tried to log on but received an error. Has the site been taken down?

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Thank you for this warning and the information to opt out. This is not ethical. I have been contacting family members throughout the afternon and evening and telling them to go and opt out from this site and to do a search for themselves and opt out of any other sites that putblish this kind of privacy violation. There were some significant errors I found in my “profile”. I believe that if enough people opt out, complain and otherwise make a stink, there will be some positive action taken. My major concern is that there are some people listed who should never be betrayed in this fashion. I realize they aggregated public records, however, this will end up being abused. If the Social Security Administration was concerned about the death index, they should be just as concerned about this site and others who publish this kind of information without the knowledge of the people listed.

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Reblogged this on Lineage Hunter and commented:
Do not use this site for your famiy tree.

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Thanks for letting me know about this site. I now have what I hope is a current address for a cousin in Florida. I have tried other avenues, but they all lead to those pay sites with rather dubious methods. Unfortunately the USA does not appear to have a comprehensive free Whitepages Telephone directory online like we have in Australia. That avenue seemed to be old information for any free data I could find. I understand peoples dislike of this site, but it is only giving public information for free.

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To all the folks upset about finding their personal information on the FamilyTreeNow website. If you are serious about having your info removed from this type of site, you can do an internet search using terms like “people search sites” “people finder” “address finder” “skip trace sites” and other such terms. 100s of such sites will come up with varying degrees of information aggregated from public record sources that are already online at the source or in published databases available in hardcopy or download format – voter registration lists, property tax sites, county clerk records, etc. And there are scores of new such information aggregator sites coming on line every week. Almost all these commercial sites I have seen have opt-out links.

Keep in mind that many of the genealogy sites we rely on every day for finding those new cousins also have this same information online. For example, ancestry has my full maiden name, complete birthdate, name of parents and their birthdates, name of siblings and their complete birthdates, name and complete birth dates of my past and current husbands, their parents and birthdates, the names and complete birthdates of both my kids, the name and complete birthdates of both their husbands, and many of our past and current addresses and phone numbers.

This has far more potential for damage than a partial birthdate and list of often dubiously accurate “possible relatives” found on FamilyTreeNow and 100s of other such sites. I realize that some will say the difference is that sites like ancestry are subscription-based and some info aggregator sites are free. However, dishonest people bent on committing a crime probably would not think twice about the relatively inexpensive subscription fees. I recall two cases in the news in recent memory in which people used their subscription to ancestry among other sources to compile enough information to submit fake tax returns and obtain refunds in the millions. Their expense of the subscription to the genealogy sites being a very minor “cost of doing business.”

Almost all of these sites receive at least some of their information from a division of LexisNexis that aggregates and publishes public records not protected under the law. Credit reports, SS numbers, and employment information, for example, are protected and at least theoretically available only to “eligible” subscribers like attorneys and law enforcement. These types of information and a WHOLE LOT MORE on people is published and distributed in that LexisNexis legal-use service. And LexisNexis has competitors for that market.

Some of these info aggregator sites go further than a subscription to LexisNexis and actually buy databases from sources – exactly as do our favorite paid genealogy websites. These might include annual birth, death, or marriage indexes, for example.

The only way that I can see to stop the re-publishing of already public information is legislation governing these sites. My bet is that they would argue that info came from public record sources and they are merely republishing; therefore, the only way to stop public records from being re-published is to not publish them in the first place. Oops.

It is a difficult balance for genealogists who fight for more and more access to records and for more open records, unless of course it is “in my backyard.”

Liked by 1 person

    Well put. The problem with passing legislation to stop publishing info like this is that such legislation would be broad brush. It would eliminate ALL information including that genealogists seek. We can’t have it both ways. Either there are public records or there aren’t. Additionally, public record laws vary by state. There would need to be a push for legislation in each state. That would happen. Neither will Federal legislation from a Congress like we have now.

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    Yes, we’re already fighting some states and federal records sources that have or want 100-125 year rules.

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Yes, the information may well all be in public domain. However, it being in public domain does NOT mean it is so easily compiled. There is an article in the Washington Post about this site in which one person claims to have found information about her 3- and 5- year old children associated with her. It is at best irresponsible to publish that kind of data (public domain or not) on the web. For those interested the Post article is at:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/01/12/youve-probably-never-heard-of-this-creepy-genealogy-site-but-its-heard-all-about-you/?utm_term=.dc095827f894&wpisrc=nl_p1most-partner-1&wpmm=1

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    Would you mean “so easily compiled” as both the fee-based ancestry, which sometimes offers free trial periods, and the free FamilySearch sites having all the following information at just a few clicks:
    my full maiden name, complete birthdate, name of parents [including mother’s maiden name] and their birthdates, name of siblings and their complete birthdates, names and complete birth dates of my past and current husbands, their parents and birthdates, the names and complete birthdates of both my kids, the name and complete birthdates of both their husbands, and many of our past and current addresses and phone numbers.

    We have to look at all sides of this issue. The only way to stop the hundreds of sites doing this now and the hundreds more sure to pop up is through legislation. And I am still willing to bet that would backfire into effecting our access to open public records online. Just look at the hysteria over the Social Security Master Death File and identity theft. I participated in congressional testimony, folks from all kinds of professions who need the resource testified. There was no evidence that the folks who testified against it were harmed by genealogists. But we’re all locked out of a significant portion of it now.

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I did find my information on this site, but what I find interesting is that a lot of it is incorrect. I don’t know where they are getting their information, but someone out there has incorrect information on me that I think I will just let sit for now.

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This is definitely a real cause for concern and I see it challenging the dialogue in the genealogy community. Thanks for taking the effort to talk about it!

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Indian River Genealogical Society posted this article. I want to Thank You for this information. So far, I have opted out for myself & 5 other family members. I’m spreading the word throughout my neighborhood & on my facebook page. Thank you again!!

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Thank you! for the balanced, well reasoned review. Today I received a query from our local (central Wis) TV/media person about this new website. I referred her and our genealogy club members to your article. What I added: to me your article sums up as “It is not the complete answer to finding your family history.”
“Doing genealogy” involves much, much more than simply searching for names. Marathon County Genealogy Society has been helping members, and the public, research their family history since the group organized in 1975. We feature an educational program at each of our monthly meetings and work with other organizations for historical and cultural events.

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    I love your comment. I think looking beyond the current ‘crisis’ of public information being released and letting them know about what genealogy really is, is so important.

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Do they actually HAVE a physical database with all this information or do they just have a sophisticated search routine that returns information from the other websites? Do we know?

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    I have no idea how it works internally.

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    Many of the hundreds of such sites on the internet subscribe to the data aggregation service that LexisNexis provides to the non-legal community. Many of those also aggregate information from sources other than the LexisNexis subscription. And to correct another post. This is not a new site, I have used it for 3 years or longer. Also a misconception seen in other threads – removing your info from this one site will not remove it from the hundreds of other such sites online. Nor will it stop information from appearing on the new sites that pop up daily.

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I get that a majority of personal information is shared so freely online. I can’t even describe how overcome I had become with rage when I found such private information on my child that is still a MINOR on familytreenow.com

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