Genealogies and Personal Privacy

Having just posted the updated Morkel Genealogy, the issue of personal privacy is relevant. How dare I publish personal information of age, family details (spouse, children, parents) and so forth. Some subscription websites blank out details for living persons. With modern life expectancies, such genealogies in practice are close to being useless for readers.

In the modern digital/internet age, such notions of privacy are illusionary — they simply do not exist. In fact they never really existed, even in the past. Births, deaths and weddings have always been well known in the community (family, friends and others) and have been a feature in newspapers for years. Government and church records (baptisms, funerals and weddings) are publicly available. Genealogists collect and organise such publicly available data. Thus their main offence would be to do this work and publish it. I plead guilty.

A real ethical issue is using data without referencing and acknowledging who supplied it. This practice is rife in genealogy. I have sought to properly reference sources for family history and stories, but it is more difficult to do in a tightly formatted genealogy as on our site. I am guilty here and am searching for ways to do this without damaging the readability of the data. Genealogy programs such as Family Tree Maker and Legacy handle referencing. However, it is usually not printed out in most of the reports, and it is usually hidden in the ‘black box’ part of the program, unless specifically requested.

I am happy to share the genealogy with fellow family members and genealogists. Having put a lot of work in compiling and cleaning the genealogy, I do not like the idea that our gedcom will be downloaded in seconds onto one of the many commercial websites such as ancestry.com and others charging subscription fees for their use. I can only ask our friends not to pass it on, but I know it is only a matter of time when these websites get hold of it .

Posted by andre

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