Public or Private, Which Tree is Right for YOU?
The issue of whether to make your family tree public or private deserves consideration. If you enjoy sharing your family's information and helping others to discover more about their own family, or if you enjoy interacting with other distant relatives, then having a public tree may be for you. However, if you do not want to interact with other family history researchers, or want to keep your family history for your own use, then you should consider making your family tree private.
For me, part of the fun of being a family history researcher is to interact with other people who are seeking knowledge about their ancestors and living distant relatives, and sharing discoveries with one another. The same goes for my DNA test results - I want to know more about my own history, so why keep it private?
Not everyone feels the same way that I do about openly sharing information with other researchers. Time and again I have reached out to other family tree creators, or to DNA matches, only to be ghosted - never receiving any response for my efforts. Granted, I have an inordinate number of famous distant cousins, but I have never reached out to any of them directly. Even the non-famous (e.g. "normal" people!) that I reach out to is very much a hit-or-miss prospect. Many people that have posted their family trees online, or that have allowed their DNA test results to be published online have no intention or desire to discuss their results with other people.
Pretty much every online family tree and DNA testing site has the option to make your family tree or DNA test results "public", meaning that other people can discover and view your basic information, or "private", meaning that you maintain your anonymity and your family tree and DNA results remain private. Why people who have no intention of interacting with other researchers make their trees and DNA test results public is beyond me, and it would save a lot of people a great deal of time and frustration if they simply marked the tree or DNA results as "private".
For those of us who do keep our family trees and DNA results "public", I can tell you that the rewards far outweigh the downside. In the 20+ years that I have been a family history researcher I have found it helpful to be able to review details from other researchers who share common ancestors. I have even been able to break down some roadblocks in my own tree, or help others do the same, by sharing our research.
When it comes to DNA information, I decided to make my test results (and those of my parents) public in hopes of finding matches to other family members. In my family, and in most families, there have been several ancestors who had questionable paternity lines. By publishing our DNA results, a number of these family mysteries were successfully resolved (although not all of them), and I have helped several distant relatives confirm their own lineage. Warning: Not everyone reacts well to the news that one of their ancestors, no matter how distant, had a child or children out of wedlock! Just be prepared for the answers that you may find, and for other researchers that you share this information with to potentially be upset by the news.
All in all I see far more benefits than downside to making my Family Tree and DNA results public rather than private. Ultimately the choice is yours to make, but if you do decide to keep your information private, please be sure to check the "private" box - it will save everyone a great deal of time and frustration!