Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Genealogy, Revelations and Secrets... and ethics

It's true.  I have very little patience for the idea that we shouldn't explore a secret because it makes someone uncomfortable.  Family secrets and the things my family just 'doesn't talk about' have had an impact on me and the choices I make.  I consider all information valuable, even secrets, so I will not shy away from digging into them and documenting the appropriate information.  And also, I do have a high degree of respect for the individuals I research as well as my own family members and ancestors.   So, somewhere, there has to be a middle ground.  I think that middle ground falls under the head of personal ethics of the researchers and writers.

I heard someone say (I cannot for the life of me remember where or who or in what context) that when a person dies, they actually die three times.  Their first death is when their body gives out.  Their second death is when everyone who knew them has died and their third death is the last time their name is uttered.  Somewhere along those lines, my personal belief is what is remembered lives.  I fully intend for my family to be remembered.  For their names to be uttered for generations to come.  This is one of my core reasons for genealogy research.  To do that, I need to write about them and tell people about them.

Personally, I am pretty privacy minded about my own information and I have no interest in exposing details about living individuals at all.  For the immediate family or deceased loved ones of living people, I am also careful about what I express in writing because they are connected to living people. Beyond that, I'm a little more judicious because they are historical figures at that point.

Here is how I personally straddle the line between writer and genealogy researcher and the privacy needs of my family and the people I research :
  • I don't publish any information about a living person except their last name and their relationship to people in my tree.  I know a lot of services say they obscure the details of living people but I don't even trust that.  I put the word "Living" in the first name field and their last name in the last name field - and that's it.  The only place their details (birth date etc) exist are in my own personal files.
  • I do store stuff online on services that are also used for sharing - like evernote, flickr and youtube.  On all of these services, there are sharing and permission settings that I use in order to show what I want to and not show what I don't want to.  Just because something is stored online doesn't mean everyone on the internet can read/see it.   
    • Flickr and youtube both offer the option to make something visible only to people who have a link to it - or to only certain users of their system. 
    • I rarely share from Evernote but it's a case of only people who have the link s can see it.  Further, I encrypt Evernote notes that contain personal information about anyone living, including myself.  Although Evernote employees have access to the contents of all of your notes (within certain circumstances like troubleshooting an issue or for machine learning), encrypting the note gives the option of having the contents of that note only available to me and never by anyone else, including Evernote employees, barring breaking the encryption (which is not like hacking a password... infinitely more complicated.  Evernote uses AES with a 128 bit key.).  
  • When I choose to write something here or in my public family tree, I exclude details of living family.  I've never encountered a time when I wanted to write specifically about a living person in regards to genealogy.  
  • If someone tells me something and says 'please don't publish/write/tell that', barring some negative impact it could have on someone else to NOT tell, I don't.  It exists only in my email or private notes.
  • My personal line is that if I wouldn't publish a thing about me, I shouldn't publish it about someone else.  Do unto others, turnabout and whatnot.  

Photo : Privacy / Owen Moore / CC 2.0

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