Ethics and the Genealogist

I spend the day listening to my friend Judy G. Russell, JD, CGSM, CGLSM, The Legalgenealogist. I traveled a little over 3 hours to hear her speak. Not the first time, but I wanted to hear more about the Law and our research. All great stuff.

Until …. at least until her 4th Lecture. Oh, the presentation was awesome, it was the content of “The Ethical Genealogist” was presented. Then it became uncomfortable, but it was a follow up on my blog post of yesterday about my frustration with a specific website.

[ NOTE: all of my profiles were, in fact, remove ]

I uncomfortable reaction of yesterday, IF I understood Judy’s presentation correctly, was in fact what I should do, and should have done a long time ago.

Reading the Privacy information on the website, at the time I looked at it, left me with the impression that it was a Safe Place to gather information about living children. Some of my “problem” back then was not reading the information correctly, not understanding correctly, reading more into what was presented than was actually there.

When I saw “new” questionable behavior from the website is when my alarms when off. I did look at the Frequently Asked Questions to see what I had missed or what may have changed. A bit of an eye opening read. My gut reaction was to pull this tree off of the website. BUT, there was NO Delete Button. There was an FAQ page for that very question. I’ll not point to the website, nor post a link to that question. I further read where I could delete My Profile and the Tree. Attempted that and it could NOT be done. It went so far as to generating a system alert blocking me from further action.

Listing to Judy, I think that my action was appropriate. Lesson Learned so far, READ and Understand the Policies, Terms of Service and the Frequently Asked Questions. For me, I am sure that 4 years ago, I didn’t see that I could not delete the Tree later on. Common sense should have told me, not to publish living persons profiles on line. The way I read and understood the website at the time, the living persons profile were Locked and Private. I guess I really didn’t understand what Locked meant.

Having an understanding through testing, the Ancestry Member Tree could be Marked as PRIVATE. I did that, did some searching to make sure I couldn’t be found, so my understanding of this ‘new’ website had that as my understanding of what Locked was. I was wrong.

The issue of yesterday, from what I can tell, has been resolved.

BUT

What about my settings on my Ancestry Member Trees (AMT). I do some teaching and user AMTs to help the class members who might not have a genealogy software program, to demonstrate who you can use these Online Trees for research and collaboration. Some times its easier to demonstrate using the online trees.

When I got home a little while ago, I wanted to check how I had see ALL of my 25 Online Trees (guess I have some clean up work to do there). I normally put the tree online marked as PRIVATE, and a check mark telling Ancestry.com do not search this tree. Not looking for cousins, only using them for teaching. For the most part, they did not have children in those trees and not looking for cousins.

Of the 25, I turned 4 from Public Trees, to Private, no searching, 4 were Private, but had not turned to searching Off. They were my trees, some for testing, but some were for cousin bait, but I turned the search off. I ended up with 23 online trees, All Private, no searching.

The other two, were for DNA testing. Mine and a Cousin, whose DNA kit I manage. I left mine a Public, but turned the other one from Public to search only.

My gut reaction may be should have been to pull them all down off of the website, but I really need to think about the Privacy Settings that are available.

On the way home, I really thought about this, and really need to thing this whole Online Tree issue through and hopefully be part of The Ethical Genealogist presentation. My gut reaction is to create a trimmed down version of my online tree what would only include Names, Birth, Marriage, and Death information, stripping out all of the good stuff about my ancestors in those trees.

Is a trimmed down version of my tree enough? Can I trust the tree being Private but Searchable? Is the tree marked as Private and not searchable enough?

For DNA testing, results, and matching, is a Private, Searchable tree enough? I get very frustrated when I can not see a DNA Match Tree.

There are a number of websites that address this topic, starting on CyndisList.com.

Bottom line here, for me, is the Tension between “Cousin Bait” and the ethics of what my hobby is all about.

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2 Responses to Ethics and the Genealogist

  1. legalgen says:

    Russ, I don’t think there’s any need to sanitize a family tree of anyone other than the living or as to any information that could reasonably be expected to negatively impact someone who’s living. Our ethical obligation really is to living people, to protect their privacy. As to those who’ve gone on, we owe a duty of truth — whatever the truth is (happy or not).

    • Russ Worthington says:

      The Legal Genealogist,

      That is my issue. I was relying on the privacy settings too much. That is the issue you raised for me in your AWESOME presentation.

      My two DNA trees are OK, because there is only ONE living person in each of those trees. I opened my to Public, but only used Private, but Ancestry can search, to get those cousins. Or in this case, hints for the grandparents, as the mother was adopted.

      Thank you,

      Russ

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