Specifically, are they allowed to include in the publication mention of family members that are living?

Does this also apply to less formal print publications, such as binders created at family reunions? Many family clans create publications that include details about birth, death, milestone dates such as graduation, place of residence, etc. of multiple members of the family (living or deceased). Some members are included in this information whether they attend the reunion or not (perhaps their info is added by a well-meaning Aunt Mabel). Are the privacy rules here the same as for online publication? How would they differ?

NOTE: There have been numerous questions about the right to publish information online, but I'm wondering how this differs for bound print publications. If Aunt Mabel decides to write a book, can she include me in her story about the clan?

  • A family history was published on my mother's side many years ago that includes her and all of her siblings even though they're all still alive. Granted, I think it only has the names.
    – user47
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 16:00
  • Yes, if someone writes something and shares the names of their children or nieces or nephews... are they sharing their information about their own life, or are they sharing your information? Who owns the right to share this info? If it is factually correct - it's not like you can sue for slander or something. Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


Are you "allowed" to print information about other people. Well, the answer to that is yes. Biographies do it all the time. Newspapers include info about people, their families, their ages, their address, the crimes they commit ... everything.

And technically, there is no real difference between "online" and "print". The boundary between the two is blurring fast. Books go online. Online info gets printed.

So no, it doesn't apply less to formal print than it does online.

Whether you should or not is what you're really asking.

You've got to be careful. What's offensive to one person is not offensive to another.

A few ideas about this:

Many years ago, before I knew better, I passed on a genealogy done by my cousin on his side of the family to someone else. When that person contacted my cousin, my cousin was extremely angry with me because he never meant the information to go outside the family.

At family reunions, when people see the family tree that you've given them in that binder, you must ensure that any family secrets or whisperings are not included. The divorces, illegitimate children, adoptions, etc. that people don't want to know about. It's not so much a legal thing. It's a human thing.

In the book that Aunt Mabel writes, she's entitled to write whatever she wants. For that matter, it doesn't even need to be true and only is what she believes to be true or could be fiction she made up. If it is slanderous, she could be sued. But if she's the sort that doesn't care and wants these stories to be told, they'll be told. Look at all those shocking biographies or autobiographies that are out there. These include stuff that's way worse than you're thinking about and implicate others, not just the writer.

You'll have to decide what level you're willing to go. But there is no correct level. No matter what you pick, some people will tell you you've gone to far, and others will say you haven't gone far enough.

Just be careful and don't include the family secrets that people don't want divulged.

  • The difficulty with this is when one member of a family wants something divulged and another doesn't. For example, in my own tree, X wants it known to her children (and doesn't care who else knows) that she was illegitimate and doesn't know who her father was. However, X's step-aunt doesn't want it known to anyone that her (deceased) brother married a woman who had had an illegitimate child. In this case, I've gone with X's views. But if X wanted it published and X's mother didn't? That would be a harder call and I'd probably have kept the secret unless X disclosed it herself.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:31
  • @ColeValleyGirl: To me that's not a difficulty. I would definitely err on the side of caution and not divulge that information. As I said in another answer: "Don't be the one to be the revealer of the truth. You'll be blackballed from the family, and it's not worth it." genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/47/29
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:35
  • Even if X had explicitly asked you to include the information?
    – user104
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:38
  • @ColeValleyGirl - If you know Y doesn't want it, then get X to get permission from Y. Let them fight. If they can't agree, then don't include it. Of course, if Y is a totally irrational person that nobody else agrees with, that's a different story.
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:41
  • 1
    @lkessler Your point about newspapers had totally escaped me, thanks! Good one. I guess there are more ways than just the net that you must be vigilant if you don't want your info out there. Biographies though, I had always thought that this was why some of them turned into memoirs... because a person didn't want their real names mentioned. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 5:10

Quoting from http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/publishing-personal-and-private-information

When you publish information about someone without permission, you potentially expose yourself to legal liability even if your portrayal is factually accurate. Most states have laws limiting your ability to publish private facts about someone and recognizing an individual's right to stop you from using his or her name, likeness, and other personal attributes for certain exploitative purposes, such as for advertising goods or services. These laws originally sprang from a policy objective of protecting personal privacy; the aim was to safeguard individuals from embarrassing disclosures about their private lives and from uses of their identities that are hurtful or disruptive of their lives. Over time, the law developed and also recognized the importance of protecting the commercial value of a person's identity -- namely, the ability to profit from authorizing others to use one's name, photograph, or other personal attributes in a commercial setting.

The legal claim known as "publication of private facts" is a species of invasion of privacy. You commit this kind of invasion of privacy by publishing private facts about an individual, the publication of which would be offensive to a reasonable person. This legal claim can only be successful, however, if the facts in question are not legitimately newsworthy. So, for instance, if you disclose the fact that your neighbor has an embarrassing health condition, you might be liable for publication of private facts. If, however, this medical condition is particularly relevant to some topic of public interest -- say, your neighbor's fitness to serve in public office, a court might find that your publication is lawful. Determining what facts are of legitimate public concern is often difficult to determine, so you may want to get permission before disclosing potentially embarrassing information about an individual you interview or write about. If your work sometimes involves this kind of publication, then you should see the Publication of Private Facts section for further details.

  • So it seems you can publish information about a person that would not "be offensive to a reasonable person." Would birth dates, names of marriage partners, etc, be offensive to a reasonable person? Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 17:47
  • re: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1381/… If that person had concealed any of those details (for protection from a violent ex-spouse, for example) then revealing them can expose you to invasion of privacy issues.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 0:53
  • Up-voted with the caveat that, while ethical issues are universal (or not, as your philosophy determines), the specifics of relevant law will vary across jurisdictions.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 0:55

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