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How is living persons who die information treated

When a member dies, who can access their information? Especially if they have uploaded memories and documents that are restricted by the deceased member? Can these be downloaded or shared by the deceased member’s representative (heirs)?


  • Who can mark a living persons record as deceased?

  • edited March 25

    @JohnOvittDabel If the person deceased person is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the ward clerk needs to change the membership record to Deceased. A period of time elapses for several reasons before that actually shows up (for good reasons not needed to be discussed here in detail), but once the record is officially changed to Deceased, the member's FamilySearch account that was directly associated with his/her membership will be changed to Deceased.

    However, other family members may have added that person into their own FamilySearch accounts so they'll show up on that other family member's FamilySearch view (such as I've added my wife to my FamilySearch account, and our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, while she also has her own account associated with her Church membership. In my OWN FamilySearch account I would need to go in and mark her Deceased if she pre-deceases me since I manage that "Private Space" on FamilySearch that only I can see because I'm the one that entered it. And if our children had also entered their mom on their FamilySearch accounts in the Family Tree, that's also in a "Private Space" viewable only to them when they are signed into their own individual FamilySearch accounts.

    As a result, there may be many instances of one person suddenly show up on FamilySearch once the various instances of their record are changed from "Living" to "Deceased." So once those are moved out of individual "Private Spaces" into the publicly available Family Tree as viewable deceased persons, anyone can merge the potential multiple copies of that person. If merging is done carefully and well, all of the data, including Memories, will be retained in the surviving record after a merge of two records. Obviously, multiple merges will potentially need to be done as each "Private Space" instance of that person is finally marked "Deceased."

    If the person has marked a Memory as "Private" in their own account, it is my understanding that those will not become public even after a living person is marked deceased. They are memories that the original contributor wanted to keep for themselves while living but not share with others (perhaps very sensitive information and information not generally known even among family members). So don't count on Private Memories as surviving a change from "Living" to "Deceased."

    For those Latter-day Saints wondering about ordinance data, those also are included with merges.


  • edited June 9

    I think this submitter was asking about what happens to the contributions of a user when they die--particularly their private memories (or private individuals). This has been asked by other users and not addressed in a satisfactory manner. FamilySearch presents us with source documents that contain living individuals. I support keeping that information in a private space. However, there needs to be a way for users to assign an heir for their account so that all the living individuals and private memories can continue to be worked instead of just becoming inaccessible. Otherwise, we are wasting our time entering all the information on individuals who may still be living.

    Family history research is collaborative and continuous within families. We pass down to our children and they continue the work. Why can't it be that way in FamilySearch?

  • @Sheryl Neal Slaughter I agree. I've searched many articles, and have not found anything that definitively explains what happens with "Memories" once he or she dies. I've finally gotten an authoritative and rather complete answer from Ron Tanner himself. He is the Portfolio Director for in the Family History Department leading a team with responsibilities for Family Tree, Search, Hinting, Memories, Mobile, Temple, Homepage, and other companion products. Before posting this, I received his permission to post his response for everyone's benefit. In his email he made his answers a different color to stand out from my questions but this format does not appear to allow colors. Therefore, his responses are bold.

    This should answer almost any questions on the subject.

    -- Chris

    === Ron Tanner's response below ===

    (1) When I die (I'm a Church member) and the clerk finally updates my membership record to reflect my death, is FamilySearch also notified so that my "Private space" record becomes visible on the Tree? If not, then what happens to all the memories I put on my own page? And if it does become visible, do all the memories go with it to the visible Family Tree that everyone can access? If not, is there ANY way to preserve my own memories in FamilySearch for future use by descendants? 

    If you are a Church member then we get notified when the membership record is marked deceased and we do move your home person to the public area as it is marked deceased. Therefore, other users will see all the memories that you have attached on yourself. Except for the ones marked “Private.” We are still discussing if these should happen when a person is marked deceased or if the user should be able to specify a timeframe (e.g., 1 year after death).

     Currently we do not make your gallery public. However, we are also discussing this and are considering putting a link on your person page (now deceased) to your gallery so others can see the images and attach them. They will not be able to delete them as you are the owner regardless of your living status.

    (2) My wife, my children, and at least some of my grandchildren have entered my wife and me in their own FS accounts, thus creating multiple duplicates once all those become "Deceased." At least some of them will have their own unique memories about me that won't be the same as the ones I put in my own version of "me." What happens once I'm dead and family members begin the merge process? And do they need to determine which record is my "original" FamilySearch record with the PID assigned when my FS account was first created - and use that as the one into which all the others are merged? Or will all of the memories combine and be preserved from all of the different "Private space" instances of "me?" Any need for a specific merge strategy in such cases?

     As other family members or others who have created a copy of you in their tree mark them deceased, your home person will show up as a duplicate. When they merge the two together the memories will all be copied over to the surviving person. It doesn’t matter which one is the survivor as the memories all come over anyway. No special merge process needed.

    (3) It's easier with those of us who are members of the Church upon death, because a ward clerk will normally change our membership records shortly after death - if for no other reason than to reduce the "ministering" list assignments (hah hah!). But assuming that change in membership record also ends up being reflected in FamilySearch as a now-deceased person, that takes care of most Church members. What about non-member accounts? How do families notify FamilySearch about an account holder's death so that the original Private space record can be changed to Deceased, thereby allowing the merge process to begin? And the same question arises as with Church members: ideally, should all the records be merged INTO the original record created by the newly deceased FamilySearch account holder, or won't it matter once all of the Private space instances are marked "Deceased?"

     This problem has not been solved. We have had many discussions about allowing family members of public users to notify us that the person is deceased and we could mark their home person as deceased. We have not settled on how we can do this. We are also interested in looking at the dates of the people in these private areas in order to determine if they are most probably dead, because they are over 110 years old.

    (4) If the questions above have NOT resulted in a good job of programming to allow for preservation of Memories in FS, and recognizing the need to avoid tornadoes, theft, insects, mold, fires, floods, theft, etc., what recommendations are there for doing for ourselves the same thing we are diligently doing for our deceased ancestors - so our descendants have information about us as well? And CAN it be done near-term in FamilySearch so we can continue to promote FamilySearch as what I could otherwise consider the very best repository of our precious stories, photos, documents, and audio files of our entire family, not just the dead ones?

     You will need to judge for yourself if you believe has provided sufficient features to help preserve your most precious memories, but I believe that it is sufficient with respect to the types of memories one can have currently. I believe in the future we will need to make sure we can potentially support other types of memories.

  • @Chris Bieneman Schmink, this only addresses you own person when you die. I'm referring to ALL the work done in your private space. We should not have to have massive duplication of effort on entering our research should we die.

    I am requesting the ability to have a beneficiary on my account who can inherit ALL the work in my private space and continue adding to it, not having to start over on all the research and entry I have made.

    If FamilySearch wants us to use their tool to manage our family history, they need to give us a means of continuity.

  • @Sheryl Neal Slaughter We may have some misunderstanding here, but possibly you missed the impact of Ron Tanner's response to me:

    "If you are a Church member then we get notified when the membership record is marked deceased and we do move your home person to the public area as it is marked deceased. Therefore, other users will see all the memories that you have attached on yourself."

    You won't have to designate anyone to "inherit all the work in [your] private space." It will be entirely accessible to anyone as soon as your ward clerk changes your status in the LCR system (plus a short period before it actually is activated in FamilySearch for multiple reasons). And even for non-Latter-day Saints, his answer to question #3 addresses availability of a person's own personal pages. They're working on an easy and respectful, as well as legal way of making those pages available as well. It's not a non-issue for them.

    The only glitch for some may be the gallery since that does not yet transfer in the public FamilyTree upon death (though they're working on that as well - see his full answer above). But even there, we have full control over that IF we make sure that each photo in the gallery is also in at least one specific person's Memories section, since the Memories section of each individual goes public upon death. Personally, I'm trying to make sure my gallery has no items that are not also attached in at least one individual's Memories page.

    It would probably be an administrative nightmare for the Church to try to keep permission forms separated and filed for every single one of the millions of FamilySearch users as to who had what permissions after their deaths, or what time delay should apply to each person's personal data upon death, etc.

    There used to be specified limits for the number of photos, audio files, etc, that can be stored on just one person's Memories page and those limits were huge! But I just discovered that policy is also changing and currently there are almost no limits (see the following article):

    The slight hassle of merging each of the different individual pages that are created for currently living persons does take a bit of coordination, but is really not a serious problem since (as Ron Tanner stated) it doesn't matter which instance of a person is merged into another instance of the same person - all of the data transfers anyway. For example, I've got my own "private space" page, but my wife also has me in her FamilySearch Family Tree account, as do each of our daughters and most of our grandchildren (they're almost all old enough to have their own FS accounts). Additionally, my sister had me in her version of Family Tree before she passed away as well. Once I'm dead, my ward clerk will mark my membership record, and a relatively short period later, FamilySearch will also change me to "Deceased" in the Tree. So I will then be fully visible, with all of my memories that I've put in. And as our daughters and grandchildren also mark their "versions" of me "Deceased," I will then show up as having multiple duplicates - which can then be merged. Presumably some of them have additional photos or written memories of me that I don't have in my own "version" of me. Those will all be merged together rather than being lost - again, see Ron Tanner's answers. And thus, nothing will be lost that anyone has entered about me (except anything that someone has specifically marked as "Private" in their own accounts of course).

    Similarly, all of the above also pertains to the memories I create and enter into the Family Tree of other family members (parents, spouse, children, grand- and great grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., that are still living. Once they're deceased, we just merge everyone else's "version" of each of them, and none of their memories will be lost - no special permissions needed.

    The issue you raise about not having to "have massive duplication" is an issue because each of us has an opportunity to remember any other family member as we wish, whether alive or deceased. But because living family members have a right to privacy, no one can publicly share another person's information at least while they're living just for that reason - privacy. Still, once death occurs, that information can become fully available on Family Tree unless someone has chosen to make it private, in which case only that information won't merge. Yes - some duplication can exist, but merging isn't a difficult process in that instance once a person is deceased.

    If I've misunderstood your question/concern, please clarify. My apology.


  • @Chris Bieneman Schmink I believe we have a different interpretation of what Ron Tanner's answer means. I read it as only relating to yourself when you, as the account holder, die. You are moved to public because you have been marked deceased by the ward clerk.

    There is no one to mark your remaining private individuals as deceased when each dies. I have been told by Support that your private space individuals "go away" once the account owner dies. Perhaps they are just stuck because the account holder is unable to mark them deceased; perhaps they do "go away".

    Because I have not gotten a satisfactory answer on the issue, I have stopped adding living individuals. I have changed the way I research. I have stopped adding children from source documents if they were born less than 110 years ago--leaving a lot of Unfinished Attachments. I am not a Utah pioneer with hundreds of descendants working on a line. On some of my lines, I am the only person researching and entering individuals. When I do mark them deceased, there is no merging process because no one else has created that individual. My work has value--especially in my private space.

    If FS is going to automatically mark a deceased account holder's private individuals as deceased and public when they reach 110 years, they need to clarify that. If my private individuals are going to "go away" when I die, they need to clarify that.

  • edited June 15

    @Sheryl Neal Slaughter I certainly agree with what you're saying above, overall. And your point is exactly why I change all those living people to deceased status in my Family Tree on FamilySearch as soon as I learn of their deaths, so they move into the public Family Tree and become fully searchable - complete with any memories I added to their Memories pages along the way. Thus those aren't lost.

    With respect to the living people in my private space entries, obviously there is no practical way for FamilySearch to keep all those non-public private space people after my account goes public upon my death. They'd have to somehow keep track of ALL FamilySearch users' private space people and periodically verify whether those left over living people are actually still living or deceased unless they apply the 110 year rule that you suggest (good idea!). So somewhat sadly, any memory details for living persons would disappear upon my death. I just don't see a way around that for FamilySearch. But there is a work-around to that (below).

    I feel exactly as you do: "My work has value--especially in my private space." And I'm the first generation member of the Church in my immediate family, so I have no close relatives doing large amounts of separate research either (except our children and at least a couple of grandchildren now). But at least for me, I don't see a disadvantage in adding everybody to my tree (cousins, aunts, uncles, our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren), not just the deceased people. I add memories (photos, etc.) to ALL of them, living or deceased, because FamilySearch is my "go-to" source for all those memories whenever I want to go see the details again (and again). I just make sure that I change the living people to deceased status if/when they die, at which time all the information I added (including Memories) becomes immediately available publicly. Like you said, that's MY record of them while I'm living and they're valuable to me.

    My solution to the problem you identified is that I also keep backup copies of everything as hard copy photos, documents, etc., as well as an electronic copy on my hard drive of everything I upload to FamilySearch (and I keep a backup of my hard drive, of course 😉). Before I upload a photo or document to Memories on anyone, I put it in a subfolder on my computer titled "Documents & Photo Scans" in my "Genealogy and Famly History" folder on my hard drive.

    I also hope (before I die) to finish getting most of my 3000 color slides and many black and white negatives scanned and electronically saved even if I don't get them uploaded to FamilySearch. That way, whoever goes through my personal effects when I die will still have access to those memories and can take custody of them and add them to their own Family Tree if desired. One of our children who will act at administrator of our estate is aware that we have hard copies of nearly everything, and will have access to my computer and other storage devices upon our death.

    Additionally, I also keep a separate copy of my FamilySearch Family Tree in a genealogy program - I happen to use RootsMagic. While RootsMagic can do a complete import of the Tree data from FamilySearch, it currently cannot import the Memories section of Family Tree due to ongoing program refinements by FamilySearch. But they they have stated that's on their "radar" for when the capability of importing directly from FamilySearch becomes available. So at least by having the RootsMagic backup of Family Tree, NONE of the basic "people data" (names, dates, places, events) will be lost, because I keep my RootsMagic program updated with Family Tree regularly. And that program is also on my hard drive (and backed up) for our children to inherit. Thus, at death they'll still have access to everything, even those things that disappear from the living people on Family Tree's private spaces. There is sufficient interest by both of our children, as well as now at least two grown grandchildren, to make sure it's all preserved. My work won't go to waste.

    My main purpose of posting the original post was because it's been hard to find any comprehensive authoritative information about what happens to our personal accounts upon our death. And Ron Tanner clarified a very significant amount of that information. I was exceptionally concerned that none of my own memories on my Memories page might be lost based on some information I found and was told - but no one seemed to have authoritative information on the subject - thus me email questions to Ron Tanner. And at least we've got that much assurance that anyone deceased that we've added to FamilySearch, including their memories, will not be lost upon our death. And FamilySearch is (as he stated) doing their best to establish a legal and sensitive way to also preserve the accounts of non-Latter-day Saint users as well. That's just a more complicated issue due to privacy and legal issues, apparently. It's all a work (frustratingly at times) in progress. But it certainly beats ANYTHING we had even 10-20 years ago as a means of preservation outside of our own homes.

    Hope that helps.

    -- Chris

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