Monday, August 27, 2012

When genealogy gets personal

Recently participants in the Transitional Genealogists Forum have discussed various situations where their work has been made unwelcome. We weren't talking about indifference here, but outright hostility and fear from a client's relative, or a client's spouse, or your own relative -- people who actually objected to their family tree being researched.

Responses varied considerably based on the details of the situation and the temperament of the researcher -- ranging from dropping the research altogether, keeping it confidential, not using the objectors' information, publishing no information on living people (duh), or forging ahead.

It was pretty obvious that aside from generalities like the Golden Rule, there is no bright line to follow. It was also pretty obvious that this is no joke. I know of one individual who took up genealogy and learned more than s/he ever wanted to know about a close relative, and as a result became vehemently opposed to the pursuit. Imagine that person's response if the knowledge had been pressed on her by an irrepressible genealogist!

What we have a right to do may not always be the right thing to do . . . either for us personally or for the profession as a whole. The Association of Professional Genealogists' code of ethics requires members to "promote the trust and security of genealogical consumers," which could easily be read to include their freedom to be non-consumers as well.

This is not usually an issue for historians, as far as I know. One reflective Midwestern blogger refers to genealogy as "the personal past." That's what makes it interesting . . . and difficult sometimes -- because live people are involved too.

Harold Henderson, "When genealogy gets personal," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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