Family Tree Now: A Free - And Controversial - People Search Site

Family Tree Now -Is It Legal?
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Family Tree Now is a site that aims to give users the best free tools possible in order to research their genealogy, look up information on other people, or merely find out what is available online about themselves. The service was launched in 2014. 

There’s a wide variety of information you can use this service to find, including address, phone number, email address, name, phone, date of birth, associated relatives, public records (this could include birth records, marriage records, census records, death records, and other information available from public records databases).

 

Note: Users of Family Tree Now should understand that the site does not make any representations that information available on public records is accurate, therefore, the information you find on the site should be fact-checked for accuracy. 

How is Family Tree Now Different?

The most unique factor that sets Family Tree Now apart from other people search sites is the fact that all of the information here is available for free in one place, no registration required. Anyone who has just a first and last name is able to dig up anything: cell phone numbers, work information, relative’s addresses, and a whole host of other information. This information is publicly available if you’re willing to dig in and search for it at a variety of different sites, but Family Tree Now takes it quite a few steps further, putting it all in one place for free. 

What's on Family Tree Now? 

A wide variety of information can be found at Family Tree Now, including but not limited to:

Census records: This includes all information gathered in the U.S. Census surveys, including full name, age, birth year, birth place, gender, marital status, census county, state, race, ethnicity, father’s birth place, mother’s birth place, residence, father’s name, mother’s name, and household members – including their full names, ages, and birth year.

 

Birth records: Birth records show up as per county; click on the county that best corresponds to what you’re looking for and you’ll get the full name, gender, birth day, county, state, and even mother’s maiden name of the person you’re searching for. This information is compiled from public information, drawn directly from county vital records. 

Death records: Death information is pulled directly from the U.S. Social Security Death Index. A cursory search will bring back the full name as well as both birth and death dates. Digging deeper, users are able to discover the general location at which the person passed away; this is mostly limited to the broad zip code but in some cases can be narrowed down to the actual city and state. 

Living people information: This is information compiled from thousands of U.S.-centric public records sources, including property records, business records, historical records, and other sources. It includes full name, birth year, speculated age, possible immediate relatives based on speculated ties (as well as their full names, ages, and birth years), possible “associates” (could include such information as current and past roommates, relatives of in-laws) as well as their full names, ages, and birth years; current and past addresses and the ability to map out those locations, full phone numbers and whether these numbers are landlines or cell phone numbers.

 

Public member trees: This would include information that other Family Tree Now members are perhaps compiling on you or the person that you are looking for. This could especially come in handy if someone is attempting to put together a genealogy project and needs collaboration. You can see all public family trees here: Public Family Trees on Family Tree Now.

One thing unique to Family Tree Now’s public family trees is the level of privacy that users can set on their genealogical searches, thereby limiting the amount of information that is publicly available in the course of these genealogical searches.

There are three main levels of privacy settings:

  • Public with hidden living people details: All information for deceased individuals will be kept public. All information except for last name and first initial will be made private for all minors. For living non-minors, full date of birth, bio, and any media (photos, etc.) are private. "Private" means that only the person who created the family tree and the people it’s shared with can view the private content.
  • Private: Everything in this tree is private including all records, media, profiles, and everything else. This setting means only the person who created the tree and the people it’s shared with can view it.
  • Public with nothing hidden: All information is public. 

Marriage records: An initial search provides the name of both parties who entered into the marriage relationship, as well as the month, date, and year. Going further, users are able to see both parties’ names, their ages on the date of marriage, county, and state. Similar to birth records, this information is all pulled from county public records per county. 

Divorce records: A top level search reveals the names of the two parties who entered into a divorce agreement along with the date the divorce was actually recorded. Going further, it’s possible to see the names and ages of both parties at the time of the divorce filing, as well as the county and state. This information is all pulled directly from public county records. 

World War II records: If the person you are searching for served in World War II, you’ll be able to find that information here.

Military records include full name, birth date, and enlistment date; further investigation reveals this information plus their residence at the time of enlistment, race, marital status, education level, their military serial number, term of enlistment, branch code, and what grade of the military they were (private, specialist, major, etc.). This information is publicly available from U.S. government military records. 

What Does Family Tree Now Gather On Me While I Use the Site? 

In addition to all of the information discussed so far that Family Tree Now provides in search, the site also gathers quite a bit of data on visitors to the site itself. 

Family Tree Now does not require users to register to use their services. When someone registers (it’s free) to become an official user of Family Tree Now’s services, they give the service their name, email, and password, but they also collect information via cookies and other identifying technologies from when users merely visit the site (read Why Are Ads Following Me Around the Web for more information on how this works). 

This collected information includes the user’s IP address, mobile device identifier, what kind of Web browser they’re using, what type of operating system they are currently accessing, which Internet service provider (ISP) they’re using to gain access to the site, and even the websites that were previously being viewed before they came to Family Tree Now. If this sounds a bit disconcerting to readers, note that these personalized details are collected on virtually any website and service you use, especially when you are completely logged in (read Does Google Spy on Me for an insider look at how this is accomplished).

 

How Does Family Tree Now Use the Information They Collect? 

Just like many other sites that gather this kind of data, Family Tree Now uses this to make the user’s experience on their site more personalized and thus more enjoyable. For example, when someone creates an account, they’re able to customize what that person sees to make sure it’s interesting to them. If a user opts in to receiving email correspondence, Family Tree Now will use that permission to send promotional communication. 

While users do not need an account or even registration to use Family Tree Now, all of this information is gathered when using the site. This collected information combined with the amount of data that is publicly searchable and available on the Family Tree Now site could be a potential concern for readers to whom privacy is a priority. 

How Do I Opt Out of Family Tree Now?

You can request that your information be removed from the Family Tree Now website by visiting the opt out page. If that doesn’t work, you can also contact the service directly at their contact page

Note: While you can certainly opt out of your information being up on Family Tree Now, that by no means guarantees that this information won’t be available anywhere online; it simply makes it less available on this particular site. 

How Quickly Does My Information Get Removed From Family Tree Now? 

There seem to be mixed reports on how successful the removal/opt-out process is at Family Tree Now really is, with some readers reporting that their issues were taken care of in 48 hours or less, and other readers receiving errors that said their requests could not be processed. 

Does Family Tree Now Violate People’s Privacy? Is This Legal? 

This question is a difficult one to answer. Family Tree Now is not doing anything necessarily illegal; all the information they’ve pulled into one convenient place is publicly accessible to anyone with the time and energy to dig for it (for example, you can use these free sites to find the same public records online).

However, what really sets Family Tree Now apart is the fact that users don’t have to register to use the services, there is no paywall, and the amount of “speculative” information presented on people’s associations with other people, as well as the fact that the site publicly lists minors’ information, could potentially be a privacy risk. This practice has made Family Tree Now both very popular and somewhat controversial.

How Can I Protect Myself? 

If you’re concerned about how much information you’ve found about yourself on Family Tree Now, and want to make sure that your information is safe on the Web, here are a few resources that can help you stay private and safe online:

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