Private Ancestors: How to Prune Them From Your Ancestry Tree

Private Ancestors: How to Prune Them From Your Ancestry Tree


Oh Look, It’s Private

As I was working this morning, my cell phone chimed that I had a notification from We’re Related.

Oh look, Stephen Amell is my 9th cousin 1x removed!(For those of you who haven’t tried it, We’re Related is an app that combs through your tree attempting to match you to other Ancestry users, as well as celebrities and famous people. It’s kind of fun to see who pops up as a potential cousin. But these should always be viewed as clues, to be followed up with Actual Proof later.)

Anyway, I opened up the app to see who they’d found for me this time. Lookie: Canadian actor Stephen Amell is my 9th cousin 1x removed!

(Click any image to embiggen.)

Well gosh, I’ve got Canadian ancestors, so this could be interesting! I clicked through to see the relationship details.

Oh great. We’re related through the common ancestor known as Private.

Who Was Private?

Private is Private's mother. Wait, what?As you might have guessed from the name, there are few details to be found about Private.

But we do know one thing for sure: Private was prolific.

You see, I also share Private as a common ancestor with Winston Churchill, genealogy bloggers Michael John Neill and Diana Ritchie, and many others.

What complicates matters is that Private was not only a world/time traveler but also a gender-switcher!

In fact, I’ve seen Private pop up multiple times in the same tree in some kind of weird I’m-My-Own-Grandpa scenario.

And in one case, Private was her own mother. 

It’s complicated.

How an Ancestor Becomes Private

Of course, there is no ancestor named Private.

But s/he keeps popping up all over. 😬

According to a 2012 blog post, here’s what is happening:

So how does Ancestry determine who’s living and who’s not in your family tree? This happens a couple of ways: First, when you add or edit a person on you set whether the person is deceased or living—and we respect that setting. Secondly, if you add someone through a GEDCOM upload or link a tree from your Family Tree Maker software (where there’s not a living/deceased setting), then we calculate the living status based on the following rules:

  1. First we look for death information, anyone with death information (date, place, etc.) is dead—that one’s easy.
  2. If there’s not death information entered we look for a birth date, anyone younger than 100 is considered living.
  3. The tricky part is if we don’t have birth or death information. In this case we look at the birth dates of close relatives to estimate a birthdate; if the birthdate is less than 100 years ago, they are considered to be living.
  4. If all else fails and we can’t make a safe estimate, we assume the person is living to err on the safe side.

In other words, even if a person in your tree is long-dead, there is still a chance that s/he could be showing up as Private in your public tree.

Here’s how to fix that.

Step 1: View Your Tree as a Guest

Living family members and ancestors obviously need their privacy.

But there aren’t too many reasons why a deceased ancestor – especially one who has been dead for a few centuries – would need to be private.

You can fix that.

But, to find the private ancestors, you need to see what your tree looks like to everyone-who-isn’t-you. And to do that, you must view it as another user.

Now, to be honest, I searched and searched for an easy way to view my tree as a guest while I was still logged in, but couldn’t find one.

So I got creative.


Under the Trees menu, select Create & Manage Trees

I invited myself to view my own tree as a guest. To do this, go to the Trees menu and select Create & Manage Trees.


Click Invite Family to invite yourself to your tree

Select the tree you want to check (if you have more than one), and click Invite family.


Enter your alternate email to invite yourself as a guest to your tree

Select the option to send an invitation by email. Enter your email address in the box and click SEND INVITES.

NOTE: This needs to be a DIFFERENT email address than the one linked to your Ancestry account. If you only have one email address, you can always go to Gmail or any other free email service to create a new one.


Uncheck the box so you will not see living people

To keep your alternate self from seeing living people, be sure to leave that box unchecked. 

Once you have completed the invitation process, log out of Go to your new/other email account and accept the invitation.

Now, log into with your new account and track down those pesky private ancestors!

What I Found Surprised Me

I was HORRIFIED to discover that I had accidentally marked my own descendant as “deceased,” and her information had been publicly viewable.

Thankfully, I hadn’t posted much about her, so there wasn’t much to see. I wouldn’t have put her on my tree at all except for the fact that we’ve had her DNA tested. She is linked to my tree for that reason only.

NOTE: This method is also good for catching living relatives who may not have been properly privatized!


John Delaney's wife should not be private

I also found a few long-dead ancestors who were showing as private.

As you can see above, John Delaney, born c. 1840, has a wife who is apparently still living. Either she has found the Fountain of Youth, or she was very, very young when they got married! 😮

However, the more likely scenario is that I’ve simply neglected to mark her as deceased.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to fix these errors.


Step 2: Do a Quick Edit to Change Status

Do a Quick Edit to change an ancestor's status

Once you are logged back into your regular account, simply click on the person you want to edit and then click Quick Edit. Select the Deceased radio button under Status and click SAVE.

Or do the reverse, if a living ancestor wasn’t marked private.


Private Ancestors: How to Prune Them From Your Ancestry TreeFACT: Private ancestors are the leading cause of We’re Related-related rage. 😡

Ok, not really, but they definitely ARE frustrating.

Apps like We’re Related are fun — and often good for a laugh — but don’t completely discount them. They can provide CLUES to ancestors we may not have discovered yet.


So, make your cousins happy by keeping your tree pruned of private ancestors who don’t need to be private. 😊


This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I will earn a very small commission, but it does not affect the amount you will pay. I appreciate your support!



Why I Like Google… And 9 Ways to Search Smarter

Why I Like Google, and 9 Ways to Search Smarter

I am a very naughty genealogist.

In fact, if there was such a thing as genealogy school, my report cards would say, “Does not follow directions.” “Colors outside the lines.” “Runs with scissors.”

Yep, I’m that genealogist that your parents told you about.

The reason? I like to Google.

Just randomly. With no plan at all. I just type stuff into the search box to see what will come up.

I’m a search engine renegade.


Oh, I know: a genealogist should always have a plan. And I do have a plan.

But sometimes, late at night, when nobody is looking, I toss out the plan, and I Google.

You should try it. It’s really very liberating!  😀 

Are You a Naughty Genealogist? Me too, sometimes!

And you know what else? I’ve made some terrific discoveries with my crazy, random Googling!

Sure, there are times when I get nothing. Or just a whole bunch of the same.

The worst is when I get links to my own blog like I’m the only person in the entire world searching for that particular ancestor/place/search term.

But then other times… BAM! A county history book mentioning an ancestor will pop up!

BOOM! An obituary naming a whole family will pop up!

BANG! I’ll find another blogger writing about my ancestors! Wait… that has never happened. 😭

But you get my drift, right?

I Google because I find stuff. And vice versa.

My most amazing discovery to date happened late one night when I decided to search for my great-great-grandmother, Louise Faivire. The first item that popped up under Books was a link to a textbook about 19th-century drunks and the women who loved them. Just what you want to find about your family, right?  😯 

After my initial shock wore off, I found the book on, and after thumbing through a few pages of the LOOK INSIDE! preview, I found myself staring at a photo of my great-great-grandfather, Andrew Faivre. I had never seen a picture of him before, and yet, here he was in a book. On the Internet. Without fingers.

I found this photo of Andrew Faivre by doing a random Google search

This lead to further research, of course. I eventually learned that Louise was the litigant in a case that would not only make headlines across the country, but would also help fuel the temperance movement, and possibly contribute to the passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. I wrote about some of that story here.

I would never have known any of this if I hadn’t sat down one night and typed “Louse Faivre” into a Google search box.

9 Ways to Search Smarter

If you don’t like to live on the Googling edge like I do, here are a few tips to help make your searching experience a little more productive:

  • Use quote marks “” to search for a specific phrase.
    Try looking for “Bartemus Crouch” or “Barty Q Crouch” instead of just Barty Crouch. This will bring up the exact name or phrase you need and is especially helpful when searching for common names.

Note: Google has replaced the + sign with quote marks, so using quotes around a term has the same effect. For example, +Barty +Crouch would now be “Barty” “Crouch” or “Barty Crouch” if you want the exact phrase.

I found this book with my ancestor in it while doing a random Google search

  • Use a minus sign – to eliminate stuff you don’t want.
    Looking for Harold Potter, not Harry? Try searching for “Harold Potter” -Harry to prevent unwanted results.
  • Use Boolean expressions to narrow results and search multiple terms.
    Use AND, as in “Ron Weasley” AND “Lincoln Nebraska” so you won’t wind up with that other Ron Weasley cluttering up your results. Use the OR operator, as in Hogwarts OR Durmstrang, for results containing one or both of the search terms.
  • Use a wild card * search when you don’t know all the words.
    Can’t remember a word or words in a phrase? Try using the asterisk * symbol for a wild card search. Example: “never trust * think” (see the actual quote).
  • Use DEFINE: to find out what a word means.
    Google will pull up a dictionary definition for most words, and will also search for the meaning of slang words and acronyms. DEFINE: expelliarmus.
  • Filter your results with tabs.
    Those words under the search bar? They filter your results. Try clicking “Images,” “News,” “Maps,” or my personal favorite, “Books.” You can even specify a date range by clicking “Search tools.”
  • Not “Feeling Lucky?”
    If you’re not getting the results you want, try an Advanced Search, located under the gear icon at the top right of the screen.
  • The Google News Archive still exists.
    Remember the Google News Archive? It’s still out there, but you have to look for it. Try searching this free newspaper archive here.
  • Alert yourself.
    If you find yourself searching for the same term(s) over and over again, consider setting up an alert, and let Google do the work for you. When new content is published about your search term – for example, when a blogger writes about a specific ancestor of interest – you will receive an alert by email letting you know.


And a Few More

  • Why I Like Google, and 9 Ways to Search SmarterRemember, new content comes online all the time. If you don’t find anything the first time you search, try, try again another time.
  • The reverse is also true: content is removed from the web all the time. If you do find something useful, be sure to save a copy to your hard drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or other storage medium so you will have it if/when the original goes bye-bye.
  • If something you had previously found has gone away, try searching the Wayback Machine. Yesterday, I managed to find an old website I built on Geocities back in 1998 (ugh), so even stuff you might wish was gone forever could be archived by the Wayback Machine.

CAUTION: Random Googling may lead to reckless behaviors such as wandering through the stacks of libraries and archives “just in case” you’ve missed something or venturing into closed rooms and attics of courthouses without permission because “that’s where the good stuff is.” Google at your own risk. 😉



How To Download Your Family Tree

How to download your family tree


Better Safe Than Sorry

It is never a good idea to leave all of your precious genealogy research in the hands of a third-party website, even if you believe the website can be trusted not to lose it. You just never know when a website will go offline, lose access to a particular database, or even be sold to another company.

Leaving you high and dry.

So, if you’ve been keeping all of your research online at, you will want to download a copy of your tree to your computer, just for safe-keeping.

Download Your Ancestry Tree in 4 Easy Steps

Step 1: Under the Trees menu, select “Create & Manage Trees” at the bottom (Note: click any image to enlarge). 

Step 1: Create & Manage Trees


Step 2: Locate the tree you wish to download and click “Manage Tree.”

Step 2: Locate the tree you wish to download and click "Manage Tree."


Step 3: Click the green “Export Tree” button. This will compile your tree into a downloadable GEDCOM. Be patient, as it may take a few minutes.


Step 4: When the GEDCOM is finished compiling, click the “Download Your GEDCOM File” button. This will open a window allowing you to select a place for the downloaded file (Note: if all of your downloads automatically go to your Downloads folder, be sure to check there). If you have any problems, click the “download tips” link for assistance.

Now What?

How to download your family treeNow that you’ve downloaded your family tree GEDCOM to your computer, there are a few things you can do with it.

If you do not have a genealogy database on your computer yet, you may want to consider investing in some software. Several brands of genealogy software are now able to sync directly with your tree. These include Family Tree Maker 2017 and the latest version of RootsMagic 7. Be sure to download a trial copy before you buy!

You could also upload a copy of your tree to another website, such as FamilySearch or WikiTree. Both are free to use and make excellent “cousin bait.” Keep in mind that these sites are considered “one world trees,” so be prepared for others to possibly make edits or contribute information to your tree.


This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I will earn a very small commission, but it does not affect the amount you will pay. I appreciate your support!



Find and Fix Your Blog’s Broken Links

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress a few years ago, I made the critical error of not redirecting my domain quickly enough, so about eleventy-zillion of my links are now going to error pages. How do I know this? I installed the Broken Link Checker plugin.

Day after day, this awesome tool does the tedious task of crawling my blog for broken links, so I won’t have to. And every 3 days, it emails me with a list of more broken links to be fixed (345, at present count, ugh). This task would have taken me forever to do on my own, post by post. I know; it’s going to take me forever as it is, but at least I know exactly where to look.


You can vary the amount of time between updates and have the emails sent to whichever email address you prefer. Make these changes in the settings for this plugin.

So why should you care if your links are current? Well, for one thing, you might be losing readers who have already clicked onto your blog, especially if you have posts that are cross-linked. Readers who wander onto a 404 Not Found page will most likely click away rather than stick around and use your search feature (assuming you have one of those).

Also, broken links are bad for your SEO, and you are losing readers via search engines. You want to make sure that your important posts are being found high up in searches, not buried under other, irrelevant stuff, right? And lost readers = lost cousins. We don’t want cousins to miss the bait. 

So give this plugin a try, and let me know what you think. And now, I’ve got to get busy fixing those 345 broken links… ugh.


Tech Tuesday: Irish Genealogy Toolkit

Since today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and I come from a long line of Irish immigrants, I thought I would spend some time noodling around the interwebs to see if I could find something new about my Irish ancestry. I’ll tell you right now that their secrets – whatever they might be – are still safe. From me, at least.


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