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Posts Tagged ‘family history’

Privacy and digital collections

Posted by Librarian/Information Professional on December 1, 2008

This semester I have been inundated with articles and WebPages. I am not complaining, because I found a lot of useful information in the deluge. One such article proved more thought provoking than anticipated. This article is about privacy and research on health conditions that may exist in family groups. My paper was about genealogical files, so this article didn’t seem to relate at first glance.

Yet something compelled me to read it, and I could not put it down. Cook-Deegan discusses the issues of confidential information being disclosed about family to researchers. As the family files were built, secrets were disclosed about family lineage. Since the research was being conducted about a condition, the researchers hoped to publish it. Some family members objected to publication for various reasons, even though the persons who were actually involved in the situation gave their permission. It becomes a matter of ethics and privacy when disclosure is sought. How that question is answered depends upon the researcher.

Genealogical files that are”simply family history,” if there is such a thing, contain gems like Cook-Deegan describes. Some examples: Children who are adopted and don’t know it. Previous marriages that have not been disclosed. Other “family secrets” that might be OK to tell in a family gathering, but not broadcast in a global forum such as the Web. These are important issues that digital collectors should think about when writing about family history. There are no easy answers.

Cook-Deegan, Robert Mullan. 2001. Privacy, families, and human subject protections: Some lessons from pedigree research. The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions 21: 223-237.


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Online family files–who should be included?

Posted by Librarian/Information Professional on November 30, 2008

Digital collections in the genealogical world have a lot of issues. There are copyright, privacy, accuracy, and preservation issues; just to name a few. All digital collections have these problems, but in genealogical files they seem to be at times overwhelming. It makes me wonder why people put collections online, except for maybe 5 minutes of fame. 🙂


As family historians struggle to make their records more accurate, they encounter even more problems. Much misinformation is available in family trees that are placed online, and family stories abound. While some family stories may be true, others were told to build a “better pedigree” than what they found.

Yet there are reasons not to include those who might be an embarrassment to the family. Privacy issues may prevent those family secrets from being shaken loose. For example, if someone is adopted and doesn’t know it, the last place they would want to discover it would be in a family online file.

Policies of online providers, such as Rootsweb.com to limit family files to those who have “passed on,” is a good rule. It saves embarrassment, preserves privacy and saves feelings of those who might be harmed. It just makes good sense.

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Ethics and online family histories

Posted by Librarian/Information Professional on November 19, 2008

Early in my online quest for family history, I was surprised to find my personal information on the Internet for all to see. For the most part, it is not as easily found now, since major family history sites have been more vigilant and removed personal information about living individuals. The information was initially shared by a “helpful first cousin.” Our information, along with a lot of other individuals who do not know this happened, was burned into cds and sold by family history software manufacturers. When I confronted the individuals who included me and my immediate family in their family web pages, I was met with anger. They addressed my concerns by saying I should be glad that I was listed on their pages and then blocked my e-mail address from communicating with them. These people are only remotely related to me, if at all. I was shocked at their response.

Even at that time, family history collections usually excluded living relatives from online access. Of course, there are those who believe that if information is known, it should be shared. Pictures of people are still placed online and along with family trees with family gossip. As some people would say, just because you know something doesn’t mean you have to repeat it. However, repeating information about living relative involve privacy issues and the ethics of disclosing personal information.

Why does it matter? When we place things online, they are there forever. Correct or incorrect, personal, private or public. It may be retrievable through archival files, even though it was deleted. My intentions with my family history collections that I am publishing for private groups, will protect living family information. Our little secrets won’t be shared to the world by me.

For more on this topic and sharing collection information, Steve’s Genealogy blog along with the comments are worth reading.


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Allen County Digital Calendars Collection

Posted by Librarian/Information Professional on November 2, 2008

Family history has always interested me, but I never pursued it until I started using the Internet. Now it is easier, and cheaper, to travel across country and view information about people who lived in other locations. Since I am interested in Allen County, Kentucky to research my family history, I discovered this site several years ago. It is still available through Kentucky GenWeb, although it has recently changed servers.

This digital collection is a set of calendars depicting the local landmarks of Allen County. While most digitization projects include photographs, this collection is drawings and captions. Local students of Scottsville High School drew the pictures for selection in calendars for the years 1976-2001. When I searched the Allen County, Kentucky genealogy page I discovered my ancestor, David Harris’s name and property as the April 1993 entry. Joe Murray drew a picture of the existing home, and a caption gives general information about David Harris, the property and the heirs who have inhabited the property. David Harris received the land as “compensation” for 3 years service in the Revolutionary War. Additonally, there is a reference to another property, Old Buck Creek Methodist Church, that another ancestor helped to establish. Digital collections like this make exploring historical roots more interesting.


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