How Do I Make My Ancestry Tree Public?

When I’m starting research on a family tree on Ancestry.com, I often make it private. When I’m confident that my tree is accurate, then I want others to benefit from my research. That’s when I make my Ancestry tree public.

How Do I Make My Ancestry Tree Public on Ancestry.Com?

To make your Ancestry tree public using the Ancestry.com website:

  1. Click the “Tree Settings” item in the drop-down Tree Menu.

2. Open the Privacy Settings tab.

3. Turn on the “Public Tree” toggle.

4. Click the “Save Changes” button.

How Do I Use The Ancestry App To Make  My Ancestry Tree Public

If you are using the Ancestry App on your cell phone, the main difference is in finding the Tree Settings page.

To make your Ancestry tree public using the Ancestry Mobile App:

  1. Expand the top-right menu and click the “Tree Settings” item
  2. Turn on the “Public Tree” toggle
  3. Click the “Save” button at the top right of the page.

Video Short

Here is a video walkthrough of using the Ancestry App to make an Ancestry tree public.

What is a Public Tree on Ancestry

When your Ancestry family tree is public, this means that other Ancestry members can view deceased people in the tree.

Ancestry users can see the names, dates, and locations you have entered on the person’s profile. Any records you have associated with the person are viewable. Other members can also see any media you have uploaded to the person’s gallery.

Are Living People Displayed In My Ancestry Public Tree?

Ancestry hides the details of living people in your tree. Their names, birth, and death details are not available to other Ancestry members – unless you have explicitly invited a member to be able to see living details.

When you add or edit a person in your tree, you have the option of setting their status to “Living”. This ensures their details are hidden.

Can Ancestry Members Copy My Photos From My Ancestry Public Tree?

You and other Ancestry members can copy photos from an Ancestry public tree.

There are several ways to do this, and I detail them in another article – in a section on how to save photos from other Ancestry trees.

The “right” way to copy photos ensures proper citation and attribution. This involves using Ancestry’s linking feature, as described in the other article.

This ensures that you are credited as the original owner of the photo. For example, suppose a second Ancestry member copies your photo into their tree using Ancestry’s link feature. If a third member copies the photo from the second tree, you will still be credited.

What Is the Difference Between Public and Private Ancestry Trees?

Only living people in a public Ancestry tree are hidden from view. Other Ancestry members do not need access invitations to view public trees.

A private Ancestry tree cannot be viewed by another Ancestry member unless you explicitly provide access to that member.

Ancestry’s Preference for Public Trees

The Ancestry corporation wants you to make your trees public. You’ll find when you create a tree, that it is set to public by default. You have to take action to make it private.

It’s clear why Ancestry themselves want public trees. This makes the website a repository for all the research that we genealogy enthusiasts do as a favorite hobby.

All those hours spent finding birth, marriage, and death documents for our ancestors? Our well-researched public trees become a valuable resource for new Ancestry members who share common ancestors with us.

But that’s enough about a commercial behemoth making coin from my time and effort!

What about me?

Why Should I Make My Ancestry Tree Public?

I have several public trees on Ancestry.com. My advice is to make your tree public unless you have specific reasons not to.

Let’s look at this from altruistic and self-serving reasons. I’ll assume that helping Ancestry make a profit isn’t going to be a major motivation for you!

Helping Others With Your Ancestry Public Tree

This is the altruistic reason.

I have learned so much by reviewing well-researched public trees full of helpful records. These trees represent months, and sometimes years, of the valuable time of a fellow genealogy enthusiast.

I will always do my own due diligence to double-check that the record trail makes sense. But other members’ public trees have broken through brick walls that had me blocked for years.

When that happens, I always send a note of thanks through the Ancestry messaging system. That can lead to genial conversations with previously unknown distant cousins. And sometimes, they mention that they have other documents they didn’t get around to uploading to their Ancestry tree. I’ve got copies of photos and letters through a simple thank-you message.

This is why I myself continue to maintain a public tree on Ancestry. And I always reply to inquiries. Gotta pay it forward!

Receive Unexpected Help By Having An Ancestry Public Tree

This is a self-serving reason!

I maintain a copy of my public family tree on both Ancestry and MyHeritage. Several times a year, I get a query from someone who has spotted a connection in my tree.

The person making contact usually has questions for me, but the benefit is often a two-way street. We may each have different parts of the jigsaw.

Receive Answers to Your Ancestry Messages

Here’s another self-serving reason. If you’ve sent out several messages to other Ancestry members, you may have noticed that the response rate is pretty low.

I’ve got a full article on increasing your chances of getting replies to Ancestry messages.

In my opinion, having a public tree helps your chances of getting a conversation going through Ancestry. You are usually looking for help when you contact another Ancestry tree-owner. My article advises offering help in return. Having even a small public tree shows that you’ve done a bit of work before reaching out to others.

Improving Ancestry As A Genealogy Resource

It’s true that there are a lot of inaccurate and poorly researched public trees on the Ancestry.com website. I notice from the genealogy forums that this can lead people to make their well-researched trees private in frustration.

Unfortunately, that further reduces the total of good trees on Ancestry. By putting your well-researched tree into the public domain, you are improving the quality of a genealogy resource used by millions.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Making My Ancestry Tree Public?

There are many reasons not to make your Ancestry tree public.

People Copy Your Speculative Trees

You’re chasing a family rumor that Great-Uncle Abner was fifth cousin to Neil Armstrong. You add some speculative entries into your tree. Then you launch the “Search” button to let Ancestry go find records for you to comb through and research.

Weeks later, you decide that the rumor just was not true. So you delete four or five entries in your tree linking good ol’ Abner to the man who walked on the moon.

But you start getting Ancestry “Hints” that tell you to put back your deleted (and false) trail. Why? Because other people found your public tree and copied these entries into their own trees. Without independent research and corroboration. This happens a lot!

The solution? Make a private tree to work on speculative lines. I’ve got so many…

Your Anonymity Cannot Be Guaranteed

Sure, Ancestry hides the details of living people. So you and possibly your parents are hidden in your tree. But that doesn’t mean that a motivated researcher cannot work out who you are from the details in your tree.

Let’s say your deceased paternal grandfather is in your tree with name and death date. A bit of digging by an experienced researcher may turn up an obituary for your grandfather that names his children.

Does that present a problem for you? If so, then keep your tree private. You will also want it to be unsearchable. Check out this article for more details.

And if it’s a matter of potential harm, I wouldn’t put a family tree onto any website.

People Copy Your Photos

This seems to be a source of growing annoyance, going by the genealogy forums. The problem seems to be when a photo is copied and then put into another family tree against the wrong individual.

I intend to write a full article on this topic. But I’ll briefly offer a solution to those who find this particularly vexing…

Keep a private tree with photos that you would not want to be misused. And keep a second public “skeleton” tree that gives you the benefits of contact and communication.

Need a Full In-Depth Guide To Building Your Ancestry Family Tree?

Check out our e-book on building family tree with Ancestry.com. It’s available on Amazon at a budget price!

Ten chapters value-packed with strategies, techniques, and tips for using Ancestry’s powerful features to research and build your tree.

The book is aimed particularly at Ancestry members who have also DNA-tested with the company. There are lots of techniques of combining Ancestry’s DNA and genealogy features to best effect for your family research.

Interested in More Articles and Tutorials?

Margaret O'Brien

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