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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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