One of the most challenging tasks for genealogists is locating living relatives. The lack of available personal information on living people ensures that the task of finding lost family members is difficult. Resources available to genealogists for finding lost relatives for free have pretty much been non-existent.
Privacy laws in the
U.S. require that personally identifiable information be held private for a
period of up to 72 years (in the case of U.S. Census data) before it can be
released to the public. The basic
concept behind such privacy laws is to delay the release of personal
information until the subject is dead and can’t be harmed by its release.
However, there are hundreds of publicly available databases populated with information filed with government agencies by ordinary people that are not held to this strict standard. Many companies make a business out of mining, organizing and selling this information. Genealogists searching for living relatives have little choice but to pay for the services of these information brokers.
One exception to this rule is the website FamilyTreeNow.com. Now genealogists have a tool to find lost relatives for free. This website allows users to look up a living person by their first and last name without even requiring an account to be created.
Information about the named person, obtained from public records, includes age, month and year of birth, immediate family members, associates and past/current addresses. These are just the juicy bits of information genealogists need to help make family connections. What the website is doing is nothing new, but not charging for the information is what differentiates it from all the others.
The site was launched in 2014 with the mission of “taking services that typically cost money and making them free so everyone can use them”. While their “100% Free Genealogy” pledge is a boon for genealogists seeking to find lost relatives for free, it does come with its own share of controversy.
Recently, a buzz was created on social media about the website being used to target law enforcement officers. Although the website does not specifically target members of law enforcement, someone armed with basic information about a police officer (or anyone else for that matter) could use the website to retrieve personal information about that person.
There lies the ethical dilemma of providing free access to personal information without encouraging its misuse by those with harmful intent. Although the site was built for genealogy purposes, it could also be used by criminals as a tool to target their victims.
It is similar to condemning gun manufacturers for the crimes committed by their owners. The only difference is that guns can be tracked by their serial number. All control of data is lost when you give it away for free with no controls on who you are giving it to. Most of the other information brokers have the ability to tie their transactions back to a customer profile and credit card charge.
If you are opposed to having your information appear on their website, you can choose to “opt out” and have your records removed from their database at http://www.familytreenow.com/optout. I realize that this approach may seem unacceptable to many because it requires you to somehow know about all the sites containing your personal data and take action in order to protect your identity. Also keep in mind that your personal data will still remain in the underlying public record sources that these types of sites use.
If you are looking to find lost relatives for free,
FamilyTreeNow.com is definitely an option you should consider for discovering
their digital traces. Why not keep your
hard earned money in your pocket when you can get what you need from a
free website? If you know of other
websites like FamilyTreeNow, which do not charge for their service, use the
e-mail button on my homepage and tell me about it.
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