Genealogical Ethics?

Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more emails and other
information regarding collaboration. It often makes me a bit concerned.  Nevertheless, as I do more and more of it I’m
beginning to develop security standards.
I mentioned briefly in a note in my last blog, I am
uncomfortable in posting or providing anything that might be personally
identifying information. Mostly, it is the kinds of things that various
security systems would ask as a challenge question.  Things like a person’s mother’s maiden name
or linking a living person with their school (and thus school mascot which I’ve
seen several times as a security question).  
Many people have trouble or concerns regarding social
security numbers.  I don’t so much.  I can understand SSNs being kept private for
three to five years. The biggest reason for that is to allow a person’s estate
to get through probate before someone could easily use that person’s SSN for
identity theft. In that amount of time, the powers to be should know that the
person is dead.
I was recently asked by a researcher for the names of the
children of someone in my tree. The wife of one of my wife’s Grand Uncles was a
cousin of this researcher.  I had the
names for these people but suspect many of them are still alive. They were born
in the 1940s.  So, do I give the
information or not?
If I got the information from a private source, then I would
say no. I would not provide the names.  However,
if I got the information from a public source, then why not?  I wrestled with the question for a bit and concluded
that I would not give the names and relationships directly. Rather, I would
provide a source citation that gave me the information I analyzed and
incorporated into my family tree.   In
this particular case, I gave the link to an obituary for the ancestor that
listed the living children.  I don’t have
an ethical dilemma providing publicly accessible information.  Maybe I should, but I don’t.
This brings me to the point of this posting.  I’ve seen and read many sets of ethics for
genealogy.  However, in all of my reading
I am yet to see a set of ethical rules about what should or should not be
shared with other researchers or people or with the public.  The closest that I think I’ve seen is from
the Board for Certification of Genealogists that states, “I will act, speak,
and write in a manner I believe to be in the best interests of the profession
and scholarship of genealogy.’  Pretty
vague; not much guidance there. 

If someone knows of a rule list about the kind of
information that we should not publish or provide publically, I’d like to know
of it. (Please use the comment form below.) 
If there isn’t such a list, shouldn’t there be one that is clear and
more effective than just privatizing living people.

5 thoughts on “Genealogical Ethics?”

  1. Excellent, thought-provoking post. This is slightly off topic, but you mentioned challenge questions. I accidentally misspelled the answer to a mascot question once–caused me all sorts of head-scratching until I figured out what the problem was–and that made me realize that it's probably a good idea to do that sort of thing on purpose.

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