Monday, July 30, 2007

Moral & Ethical Dilemnas in Genealogy

As genealogists, we all face an occasional moral or ethical dilemna. I try to omit living individuals from anything published online or in a file sent to another researcher. This is harmonious with NGS' Standards for Sharing Information with Others which states we should:
require some evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing of information about themselves.

I use the private notes feature in my genealogical software for information on recently deceased generations that their children may wish to be withheld. This information is available for my own research; however, it will not export to reports unless I specifically state it may be. I always double-check the setting on this before creating any report to be sent to others. I don't have private notes on most individuals, but for the few which do have them, this is a great way of making sure sensitive information is protected.

I have not participated in blogging carnivals which would require me to share information on living individuals. I'm just not comfortable with situations of that nature.

I've become more cautious about sharing information beyond the scope of a limited request in recent years. Once I had a researcher take my work and that of another person and publish it as his own. It's very disturbing to see all the work you labored to get and have another take the credit for it. If I do receive one of those "send me everything you have" requests, I usually give the person one piece of information and suggest several sources where he may find further information. In other words, I provide genealogical education rather than the actual information.

I'm one of those persons who is nit-picky about citing sources which is a good thing. I hate it when someone sends me a scan of a page without a proper citation. (Now don't get me wrong. I love those wonderful records. I just want to know what I'm examining.) What source did it come from? How do I know it is a reliable source without knowing what the source is and where that source got its data? Furthermore, how do I properly cite it? For now, I merely have to cite it as a miscellaneous document received from the person who sent it. (This gives credit to my source of the document.) I will eventually have to try to recreate the search at the repository from which the materials came to determine the reliability and source of the document if the person who sent such a document cannot supply a full citation. However, even when I do obtain the document's full citation information, I should make sure that I give credit to the person who sent me the document. (See #8 of the APG Code of Ethics.)

At one time, I was a Rootsweb message board administrator. At that time, an individual posted copyrighted information (from newspapers and society publications) to the board which was removed upon the request of the copyright owners.

There are many other moral and ethical dilemnas, but this post is long enough. I've tried to stay generic so that no specific situation can easily be identified.

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