Before I sign up, can I use my real name only for my account/private messages but use a pseudonym for anything public?

+2 votes
in Policy and Style by
retagged by Ellen Smith

4 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

Pseudonyms are not allowed but you can anonymize parts of your name if you want. The official rules are on Help:Unlisted_Active_Members and say "If you do not want your real name to appear anywhere simply "anonymize" it by using an initial or "Anonymous" instead of a first name. For example, Joe Schmoe might change his name to J. Schmoe or Anonymous Schmoe. Try to put as much of your real name as you feel comfortable making public. Do not use a fake name under any circumstances."

If you want to get an idea of what people generally do you could look at for example. You will see that the vast majority of people use their actual first and last names, but some choose to use initials for either or both and a few use Anonymous for their first name.

by Paul Masini G2G6 Pilot (142k points)
selected by Jillaine Smith
+3 votes
I don't think so.  You have one WikiTree name.  It can be anything as far as I know.  Your personal profile on WikTree can be made private, so no one can see anything but your WikiTree name.  

But why do you want to?  Are you not here to meet relatives and share information about your ancestors?

Edit:  When I said "anything," I should have said any real initial, or use of the word "anonymous," or combination, which in my opinion can be as anonymous as "anything," but as Paul Masini points out, pseudonyms are not allowed.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (314k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
Of course, who doesn't? Everyone has their own reasons for using a pseudonym. In my case I know most of my cousins from my grandparents on down, with very few interested in family history research - and those who are I am in close contact with. My actual name is not important. Doesn't most everyone have people in their past whom they would just as soon forget and not want to be "discovered" by them. I am, however, interested in cousins that connect to my great-grandparents' lines as well their ancestors, at which time I would definitely inform them of my actual connection.
Kind of like a private tree on Ancestry then?  I think you will miss out on a lot with that approach.

And no, for the record, I don't have people in my past that I refuse to reveal my connection to.  I'm perfectly happy to be connected to my ancestors, good or bad.
P.S.  Other answers appear to focus on the likelihood that you will be able to keep your identity secret (or not).  But my point is this:  If you don't want me to know who you are, fine.  I probably won't try to figure it out.  I also won't contact you about our shared ancestors, if we have any.  I won't be very interested in corresponding with you and sharing information.  If you post research questions on G2G, and people can't see who your ancestors, they may be less likely to help you.
+5 votes
Anon, I agree with the other answers, but would just add one additional point.  You can anonymize yourself to some degree, as Paul notes, and there are several privacy levels available for profiles of close or recent family members.  But I think those mechanisms probably don't afford as much privacy as people tend to give them credit for.  They are normally adequate to prevent a casual observer from seeing your personal data, but they wouldn't keep a determined sleuth in the dark for long.  Many who are engaged in this hobby have become very good at piecing together little bits and pieces of data into a bigger coherent picture.  (Example:  when you posted the anonymous question, you revealed your IP address for openers, making me wonder how the weather is in Vancouver?)  So if you are seriously concerned about being discovered, I would tell you to get off the computer and don't put your genealogy data on the web at all.  Once it's there, you can't really undo that.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
+3 votes

Others have pointed out most of the major things that you should know. The only one which I would add is that if you don't want a piece of information known, you should not input it in any of the data fields on your profile. Although the privacy controls make it appear that your information will not be disclosed, your information could still leak via 2 direct routes, and one indirect route: 

1. WikiTree gets hacked at some point. Ultimately it's a matter of when, not if. Far larger companies have suffered major hacks and leaked information can never be bottled up again. (Straight from the horse's mouth Privacy Policy"Do not post especially sensitive information on WikiTree.")

2. It is possible to determine names of members who hide their names as their profiles come up as matches when searching or checking for duplicates. So you could have Robert Anderson who has a privacy setting that only shows "B Anderson", however when searching for "Robert Anderson" matches, "B Anderson" will show up in the list of matches. 

3. Provided that you connect your profile to your ancestors, you're profile will be connected to their profiles even if you set your profile to private, as entries of your user-ID will show up connected to edits of those ancestors. If you can be connected to your family tree, other people will likely be able to determine some aspects of your identity, e.g. your surname, your age, in what region you live... and perhaps even specifically who you are. This is especially problematic for Americans due to lax privacy laws.

The first issue is likely just a matter of "when", and it's a risk that exists with any and every website. The second issue is avoidable, but it is how WikiTree currently functions. (And WikiTree currently fails to explain and disclose this in the Help pages, as would be necessary for informed consent and user trust.) The third issue is dependent on your choices, and the both the knowledge and skill of your adversaries. Theoretically one would need two accounts and some very careful two avoid this entirely.

I will point out that contrary to some other advice here, there isn't an explicit rule against pseudonyms presented to users prior to signing up. Neither in the Terms of Service, nor in the Privacy Policy, nor in the Honor Code. In fact, there isn't anything against pseudonyms in the entirety of the Help pages as they currently exist. Here's what the Privacy Policy states:

Your real name is preferred for your account profile, especially your surname (family name), but you can use "Anonymous" or initials.

As others have mentioned, the use of "Anonymous" as a surname is explicitly allowed. There are 1130 profiles with the surname "Anonymous" on WikiTree. Likewise there are 18906 profiles with the surname Murphy (oh, joy!), 84181 Johnsons, 190008 Smiths... and zero McLovin family membersVires In Numeris, eh? 

Also, as a warning: Sometimes WikiTree doesn't behave as users expect. There are other sources of data leakage. Otherwise private email addresses disclosed when you merge things; Home addresses revealed through uploaded photos. So if you wish to be private, be cautious. 

Ultimately, if you wish to correspond with others or reveal your connection, your real identity risks leaking. So in my view, it is not feasible to "use [a] real name only for [...] account/private messages but use a pseudonym for anything public?" WikiTree doesn't work that way, since practically everything (besides living relatives) is public. 

by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
edited by anonymous

"there isn't an explicit rule against pseudonyms"

Not quite true, JN. "Do not use a fake name under any circumstances."

"Don't use a fake name."

I appreciate your taking the time to point me to the pertinent Help pages. I've updated my answer. So thank you, Ros, if that's actually your real name. 

Still, as a rule, it's not one that can truly be enforced outside of egregious attempts. Were one to try Sherlock Holmes, Boaty McBoatface, Sue Denim that might attract attention and enforcement. But that leaves many many less obvious alternatives, in Latin alphabets alone (I'd certainly never detect a Japanese alias, not would most of WT).  Any rule requiring time and effort to enforce has practical limits when resources are finite. Laws are but words and paper... So 'Janice Anderson' will fly under the radar undetected indefinitely.

It doesn't matter really, at least for members whose profile isn't connected to the tree. I suspect that such editors weren't envisaged when those places were written.

BTW, Ros Haywood is my real name.  Well it's Rosamund, actually, but I have been called Ros for nearly fifty years.

And as for strange aliases, did you know we have a couple of A Nony Mouse + surname on WikiTree?  Don't quite know how they slipped by.  And a "Nony Mouse" + surname.  Well, I suppose "Nony" might be a given name (I had an Uncle Erks and an Uncle Wigs), and "Mouse" is a real surname, but...

TBH, I assumed that you were the other kind of Ross. Hadn't looked at your profile until now.

I do recall having seen one [A] "Nony Mouse", but I didn't realize there are multiple members. But it does suggest to me that ultimately, the guidance is just guidance and not something that matters that much. I'd rather see someone who's keen on genealogy and also keen on personal privacy participate than not. The site could use more persons with such a mindset, and there are many who require greater privacy (some really bad parents / relatives out there...).  

It's only going to get weirder (and more impossible to detect) in the future. X Æ A-12; Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, Buddy Bear, and Petal Blossom Rainbow; Pilot Inspektor; Raddix... I really don't know how people can say these names with a straight face. It's been weirder for me when I've interacted with millennial students... some really unusual ones even from families that aren't in the spotlight of fame. 

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