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Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge: The Letter E

June 11, 2012

The lovely folk at   Gould Genealogy  have  issued a challenge to genealogists and family historians. Their idea is The ‘Family History Through the Alphabet’ Challenge   We will work our way through the alphabet, using one letter each week  and discuss anything relating to our family history starting with that letter. This week, being Week 5, is the letter E.

E is for Ethics: I often think about ethics in genealogy. As family historians, I feel we have the responsibility of telling the facts of the story of our families in a truthful and meaningful way. Over the years, I’ve been told family stories by mainly 2nd and 3rd cousins and asked not to include them in the official record of the family. Usually this is to prevent hurt to a living family member or descendants. I would never divulge information given to me in confidence, but I often think about how this information could change the narrative of our family history.

What do you think?  How far does our responsibility to tell the truth go? Would you consider leaving out facts to be telling a lie?

For further reading,  here is the Code of Ethics of the  Association of Professional Genealogists

  1. When I read the title of your post I thought of course “ethics” and assumed with was about the ‘so-called’ researchers who charge a fortune and don’t give any more info other than what can be found on the net for free. But ethics as you have written about is a touchy subject, but is vitally important. Personally I think you need to adhere to the request of the relative who gave you the info or photos – but even that can vary on circumstance.

    • I do agree that it’s important to follow the wishes of the person who provided the information. But it gets a bit tricky when that means that the recording of the correct history is changed. I definitely wouldn’t betray a confidence, even though I can see both sides.

  2. Good comment previously, and I was surprised the web reference did not include more on that and on the right to privacy generally. Personally I reckon warts and all versions are much better from the beginning but to enable sources to come forwards, like to journalists, there must be a code of ethics to safeguard one’s agreements. My cousin wrote a book that lacked one story that showed the human side of my grandfather, who died before both of us were in a position to know him, let alone be offended by what he had or hadn’t done, but the matter was left out of the book in deference to the feelings of the earlier generation presumably. Now that generation has all passed on, the factual life story can be told that adds so much more to the story of the times, that it makes me appreciate the book still. So really, yes, respect the feelings of the sources, and do not publish anything that has been clearly given in confidence or with such a proviso. The difficult thing is actually knowing when something crosses the line in regard to General rights to Privacy, and could unnecessarily offend an individual. In that regard, remember the code of the Journos, publish the truth so long as it is not defamatory of living people.

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