Bill Katz <wabillkatz@...>
I would like to post a caution about the privacy of information on family trees created online with Geni and about the use made of profiles of Holocaust victims by the Mormon church aka Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and its members.
I have been researching both sides of my family for nearly twenty years. Much of the information I learned came from Jewish Genealogy. Other details from Yad Vashem. A few years ago I started using the online family tree tool Geni. This week I learned that the details about my ancestors on Geni are neither under my control nor safe from what I consider to be abuse by the zealous Mormons.
About a week ago, while researching a family member, I came across an entry made for him on Geni by a stranger. I emailed this person and asked how he was related and what he knew about my relative.
He evaded my questions about how he is related to that particular family member and my family in general. Soon afterwards, he started making additions and changes to my Geni family tree. He eventually admitted he is not a relative and sent me a strident note claiming the right to make any changes he wanted to the Geni tree I had created. He also told me his goal was to "memorialize" Holocaust victims.
This is a term used by the Mormon church to designate a ceremony in which Jewish victims of the Holocaust are baptized by the Mormon church.
I made a complaint to Geni about a stranger changing my tree and tried to delete it. I found that there is no option to delete a tree once it is set up. Frantic to preserve the privacy and respect for the living and deceased family members on my tree, I removed birth and death dates and removed each person's name and photo from my tree.
Today I received the following email from a support person at Geni.
"I'm afraid it's you who have broken the rules, here. There is no prohibition -- legally, or on Geni -- on creating genealogy profiles for persons living or deceased, no matter how distantly related they may be. Geni is a shared family tree and everyone is invited to collaborate. I've undone the vandalism that you initiated three days ago.
Not only does Geni not recognize the tree as the property of the person who set it up, but it considers the tree as just a branch of its “global tree”. And the property of Geni. In my case, it told me through matching records, that I am related to 13 million people on Geni. It achieves this astounding number in its unique way – my tree has a distant relative who is married. My relative's wife has a tree with her own family, none of whom I am related to except her husband. And this multiplies exponentially as members of my cousin's wife tree bring in other trees through their spouses.
When Geni finds a matching record, e.g. my cousin, it links both trees. When I agreed to a Geni prompt that the matching record in his wife's tree and in my tree were the same person, I did not expect Geni to decide we had one family tree. This is an insidiuous way of taking control of a person's family tree. One reason Geni gives for not honouring my request to delete my tree is that other users – my cousin's wife – are connected to my tree.
There is a page on Jewish Genealogy – The Issue of Mormon Baptism of Jewish Holocaust Dead and Other Jews - that describes an LDS promise in 1995 to desist from this practice, and its subsequent failure to do so. Here is a link to that page -
The article references a database containing the records of Jewish martyrs held by LDS, steps to search this data for your relatives and an address to write to demand removal of your ancestors from it.
Be aware as well that LDS/Mormon church maintains databases called Vital Records which have data on Holocaust victims by region. There is a Vital Record page for #David-Horodok, the shtetl that my family came from in what was then #Poland and is now in #Belarus. My great-grandfather and several members of his family who were murdered in the Holocaust are listed in these records. It is my understanding that Vital Records lists Jews who have been baptized by the Mormon/LDS church.
After my Geni experience, I caution others about the implications of maintaining family records on Geni. Be aware that MyHeritage, also used to create family trees, is part of the same company. MyHeritage is supposed to be more private but I read an article that suggests that it may be possible to see MyHeritage records under certain circumstances.
Victoria BC, Canada