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Documentary Film: “Data Mining the Deceased: – Ancestry and the Business of Family”

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York University, English Department



Project Leader(s)

Julia Creet, Producer and Director


More than half of North Americans are fascinated by genealogy and invested in their family histories. The emotional impact is profound. Some gain a sense of identity by uncovering their ancestors, their culture, and their country of origin. Others find it devastating and disorienting when they discover that their history differs from what they have always believed. But there is another side to the rise in genealogy that goes beyond human interest. It is arguably the largest historical enterprise in the world, and one of the largest data mining operations, driven by big religion, big business and big technology.

“Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family” is a documentary film that explores the industry behind the exponential growth of genealogy, and its potential impact on privacy. Should we be concerned about the ownership and privacy of personal data, particularly the commercial braiding of genetic and genealogical information? What are the motivations of the key players and how are their ambitions affecting the privacy millions of North Americans who are searching for answers?

Shot in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Iceland, the documentary follows Julia Creet, the documentary’s producer, as she interviews representative stakeholders—amateur genealogists, industry representatives (including the founders of, experts (including Harvard’s Steven Pinker and Columbia sociologist Alondra Nelson), Iceland genealogists, and officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (including the CEO and Marketing Director of FamilySearch, the LDS online database).

“Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family” examines the motivations of individuals and industry with respect to the collection and use of genealogical information. Privacy and ownership concerns arise from the domestic and international flow and aggregation of vast quantities of vital information about the living and the dead. And, integral to the question of family history, “Data Mining the Deceased” asks: What is family?

This document is available in the following language(s):


OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario
M3J 1P3

Tel: (416) 736-2100

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