MyHeritage Tree Privacy – A Guide for your Public and Private Trees

If you’ve started using MyHeritage after working with other genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com, you may find the privacy settings to be confusing. Worse than that, you may not realize that the default MyHeritage privacy settings are different from other family tree websites. MyHeritage is more generous in giving other people access to your trees unless you change the privacy settings.

This article gives a comprehensive overview of MyHeritage privacy. It’s everything I should have known before I first copied my public family tree from Ancestry to MyHeritage. Two years later, I jumped back into researching on MyHeritage and I started to wonder:

  • Why are details of living people visible in public trees?
  • How did my distant cousin get to edit people in my tree?
  • Where the heck are the permissions to set privacy the way I want?

MyHeritage Privacy Settings

Part of the challenge of setting tree privacy on MyHeritage is that the control is split across multiple web pages. To understand why, you need to grasp how MyHeritage defines your entire set-up. Your family trees are part of a bigger picture: your “Family Site”. Both family trees and family sites have privacy settings. And separate from those is your account profile. Which has its own privacy settings. Let’s deal with these aspects, one by one.

Later in the article, I’m going to show you how to lock down a public tree in a way that corresponds to the default settings on Ancestry.com. Specifically, living people are completely private to anyone you have not invited to your site. If you just want the step-by-step instructions, jump down to this section and watch the video. But I think it’s worth having a good understanding of the privacy set-up on any website where you put your family tree.

Family Sites versus Family Trees on MyHeritage

When you create an account on MyHeritage, you are creating your first “family site”. Then within this site, you create your family trees. Why split the organization into two levels?

As far as I can tell, this is due to the origins of MyHeritage way back in 2003. Customers were provided with desktop software to build their family trees offline. They could then upload trees to the MyHeritage website for online sharing with other family members.

To MyHeritage, your family site is “your family’s meeting place on the Internet.” The slogan may be a bit cringeworthy, but it does explain the overall set-up of your account. You’re not just throwing a GEDCOM copy of your family tree up onto MyHeritage. You are creating a family website to do lots of cool family things. One of these things includes creating a tree within your site.

The important point is that you’ve got to think of privacy and permissions in terms of the site as well as the individual trees.

Levels of Access to MyHeritage Trees

In good old noughties parlance, you are the webmaster of your family site. You’ll see this term in MyHeritage documentation, although they’ll also use more new-fangled terms – such as site creator or site owner.

There are three levels of access below you: site managers, site members, and guests.

You invite people to be site members, and then you can promote them to be managers. Here’s an infographic that summarizes the default privileges.

What can Site Managers do to your MyHeritage Tree?

What jumps out at me is that Site Managers on MyHeritage can delete trees or change their settings. This is in contrast with Ancestry, where “Site Editors” do not have such elevated powers.

Site managers can also promote other site members to super-authority. So these second-degree managers could also delete your tree. Which sounds like a recipe for regret and recrimination.

As the site creator, you do get a weekly roundup of activity. “Cousin Bill deleted all your trees” may not be what you want to read.

One thing that Site Managers can’t do is change the settings under the “My privacy” menu. As site creator, only you can do that. Here is where you can reduce some of the privileges.

There’s a setting called “Allow my site members to invite other members to the site”. This is turned on by default.

However, I see no specific permission for toggling the ability to delete a tree. I just would not promote anyone to be Manager of my family site.

The next level down (Site Member) is actually very powerful – and may be all the privileges you want to give.

What can Site Members do to your MyHeritage Tree?

Site members can’t delete your tree or change permissions.

But it’s important to remember that site members by default can edit persons in your tree. If you’re used to working with Ancestry, be careful not to equate MyHeritage Site Member access with Ancestry’s Contributor status. The latter cannot edit tree entries.

MyHeritage Site Members can also invite other people to be site members – who can merrily edit your trees to their heart’s content. And on it goes like the littler fleas: ad Infinitum.

If that’s not what you want, then turn off the privilege from the “Access” page under “My privacy”.

MyHeritage Privacy Setting

Understand what inviting a member to your family site means

In the opening section, I mentioned that I wondered: how did my distant cousin get to edit people in the tree? Well, I sent this distant cousin an invitation to become a member of my site. And then was surprised to see a notification that he had updated tree entries – including a living individual.

I was at fault for failing to investigate the implications of the invitation. But the reason was that I was so familiar with the invitation process on Ancestry.com, where you offer access to a specific family tree. The default settings for an Ancestry invite is that the person can only view tree entries, and cannot see any details of living people. In contrast, MyHeritage defaults to Godzilla settings!

How to Prevent Site Members from Editing your MyHeritage Tree

By default, Site Members can edit person details in your tree. These permissions are part of the tree settings. To adjust editing privileges, click on the “Manage Trees” item under the Family Tree menu.

Edit the tree settings of the tree you wish to adjust. You will be able to copy changed settings to all other trees if you so wish.

The default setting is that “You and your site members” can edit this family tree.

If you take the second option, you are switching out Site Members and only allowing Site Managers to edit the tree. Remember that Site Managers can also delete the tree!

The third option locks down editing completely, and only allows your own account to edit the tree. This is the option highlighted in the picture to the right.

The checkbox at the bottom of the page also allows you to apply the same permissions to all other trees on you family sites.

What Havoc can Guests Wreak on your MyHeritage Tree?

MyHeritage defines a Guest as anybody other than site members or site managers. Guests may be other people with accounts on MyHeritage. They may also be the general public conducting an internet search.

If you’re coming from Ancestry, be aware that a Guest on Ancestry is something else entirely. You invite Ancestry users as Guests to your trees. Ancestry Guests can view private trees, and also leave comments on your tree. Very different.

MyHeritage Guests cannot add content to your tree. They can view all details of deceased persons in your public tree. They also can see some details of living people unless you take action.

So I’m being a little facetious in the section heading: a Guest can’t really “wreak havoc” on your tree. More seriously, you need to understand what MyHeritage deems to be restricted access to living persons in your tree. The consequences may be undesirable for your circumstances and privacy.

MyHeritage Public Trees: How to Make Living People Private

I have a DNA match whose account only includes her first name. When I look at her public tree, this is how I see the home person:

Her first name is obscured with <Private> and her surname is displayed. Her parents are living, and I also see their surnames. Any birth dates of living people are also obscured.

In contrast, this is what I see of living people in a public tree on Ancestry.com.

Having been primarily an Ancestry user for some years, it was a bit of shock when I realized that MyHeritage shows surnames of living people in public trees. For me, it’s a bizarre policy. If you’re going to apply “restrictions” but show a single detail, then surely the first name would be more appropriate? Even a combo of first name and year of birth would make sense. MyHeritage has landed us on Planet Opposite.

Why is this a problem for some customers?

You could correctly point out that a deceased paternal entry will immediately give the surname away. I happen to have a living entry in my Ancestry tree for whom I’ve removed the paternal line for precisely that reason.

If you do like I did and transfer a GEDCOM copy of your tree from Ancestry to MyHeritage – and this obfuscation attempt goes out the window. You can see my reaction in this video: a lot of wry laughter on my part. Hands up, it’s my fault for not reading the MyHeritage documentation. They do state in various support documents that last names are visible.

But wait. What about this wording on one of the privacy options?

The highlighted part, taken as an independent sentence, is simply not true. See what I mean about Planet Opposite?

Griping over, let’s run through our options to suppress all details on living people.

Option 1: Delete living entries in your public tree

This is the nuclear option: remove the entries from your tree.

Option 2: Blank or obfuscate the surnames of living entries your public tree

This action requires editing the surnames of living entries you want to hide from the guest view. Either blank out the last name completely or change it to something that only has meaning to you.

Option 3: Family Tree Builder: the MyHeritage (grudgingly) recommended way

So, what if you don’t want to delete your tree entries or erase their surnames? Is there a way to make the tree behave as in other websites where all details of living people are obscured?

Not in the online version of MyHeritage. However, they offer the capacity if you use their desktop software, the Family Tree Builder. Here is a summary of the steps you need to take:

  1. Install the free or paid version of MyHeritage Family Tree Builder.
  2. Load your tree into the local software (sync from the online tree or import a GEDCOM file)
  3. Use the software to edit the required tree entries to set them to private.
  4. Sync your amendments to the online tree

If those steps aren’t clear and obvious, then take a look at our video walkthrough of using Family Tree Builder to privatize living entries in your MyHeritage public tree.

Video Walkthrough: How to Privatize Living People in MyHeritage Public Trees

How to Make a Tree Private on MyHeritage

I’ve phrased this question in a way that someone from another genealogy website might ask. How do I make a tree private on MyHeritage?

But in MyHeritage parlance, you are a profile who owns a family site that contains a tree. So, the question becomes a four-parter.

  • How do I stop people from viewing my tree on my family site?
  • How do I stop people from finding my tree on my family site?
  • How do I stop people from finding my family site?
  • How do I stop people from finding me?

You may not want to prevent all these scenarios. But if you do need complete privacy, I’d be hesitant about putting a tree on MyHeritage. There are too many options spread about the place. It’s clear that the company wants trees to be public. That is, after all, their “recommended” choice on all those options that are turned on by default. And they do not make complete privacy an easy process to achieve.

So, first things first. How do you prevent people from viewing your tree? Start with not inviting any members to join your site!

Then read through the next sections and decide which access options you want to turn off.

How to Prevent People Viewing your MyHeritage Tree

In the “My privacy” settings in the drop-down menu under your account name, go to the Access page. The option to “Allow guests to view limited information in my site” is enabled by default for all family sites.

Turn it off to make your tree contents private.

If you don’t disable this option, guests will be able to see the last names of living individuals in your tree. MyHeritage deems that it’s sufficient to restrict first name and birth dates for living individuals, but surnames are fair game. If you think this policy is bizarre, then you’re not alone.

How to Prevent People Finding your MyHeritage Tree

In the “My privacy” settings in the drop-down menu under your account name, go to the Content page.

The first option is “Include family tree in MyHeritage historical search engines”. Disabling this option ensures that your tree does not turn up in the MyHeritage search results, whether for deceased or living entries.

But you may not want to stop there. The next option allows MyHeritage to find record matches between you and other MyHeritage trees, and inform the two site creators of the match. If you turn this off, you won’t get to see tree matches. And other people won’t get to see matching details from your tree.

The third option I’ve highlighted in the picture is a similar matching process with external MyHeritage websites. At the time of writing, there’s only one other site: geni.com.

The Ancestry equivalent of all this is to make your private tree “unsearchable”. So If you’ve exported an Ancestry unsearchable tree to Gedcom and then uploaded it to MyHeritage – go and turn off all these options.

I skipped the option that allows managers to copy photos of matched individuals. If you’ve disabled matching, then I’d like to think that other site managers won’t find your tree. But these options make me nervous because they’re all independent: the deselection of one doesn’t uncheck any other. If you don’t want to take chances, uncheck every box. (And idly wonder why MyHeritage doesn’t offer us one single “set maximum privacy” button to rule them all).

How to Prevent People Finding your Site Name

MyHeritage allows users to search through the names of people’s family sites. They give the example of naming your family site “Descendents of Diskin Family from Lomza”. So a search on “Diskin” should get a hit on that site.

This may not actually be relevant, depending on what you called your site. My family site is called “O’Brien Web Site”. Be default, MyHeritage titles the tree with the surname of your account. If you’re using a married name or a legal name that isn’t in your direct line, then you probably won’t care about this step.

However, if you don’t want your site name to be found, then you need to disable the option of allowing guests to find your site.

In the “My privacy” settings in the drop-down menu under your account name, go to the Access page. Uncheck the first option.

According to the supplementary documentation, disabling this option will also remove anything in your description from the search results. Although the label on the option itself says nothing about the description. If I really wanted not to be found, I’d clear out the description of anything that would match my pedigree surnames.

How to Prevent People Finding your MyHeritage Profile

If you keep your profile public, then other MyHeritage users will be able to see your name and country. Other details, such as your date of birth, will not be shown. But if you want to keep your name private, then deselect the option.

There are a few other options on this page that you should disable if you’re looking for a high level of privacy. The “Search Connect” options notify other users if you are conducting similar searches. Does that matter if you’ve disabled your public profile? This is not clear from the documentation.

All these options are presented as independent. In other words, if you disable the public profile – no other option is automatically disabled. If you have any doubts, go disable them all.

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