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Be careful and considerate when documenting and disseminating family information

Last time I told you how to get the information you need from your relatives. This week we need to talk a little bit about privacy.

All living persons have the right to privacy. Do not publish personal information about them without their knowledge and consent. If you are posting your family tree on the internet, you need to remember this or you might find yourself in civil court. There are special computer programs out there that will take your file and "clean" it of all living information before it is posted on the web. The major web sites that accept the submission of family trees have built in programs to do this. Your Aunt Eloise might not appreciate her birth date displayed for millions to see. Cousin George may not want the world to know that his middle name is Catherine. If you do not have a confirmed death date, assume that person is still alive until 110 years has passed since his birth.

The deeper you dig in your family, the more skeletons you will find. You need to be careful when you publish sensitive information about an individual even if that individual is dead. Possible problem areas are adultery, children born out of wedlock, criminal activity, etc. You have to weigh each bit of information and decide if knowing this particular item is necessary to make clear a certain fact.

You can record all of the information you find in your personal file, but if you are going to submit it on the internet for public view, you need to be careful. You are not trying to hide anything but you are trying to be sensitive to the descendants of these people.

If you are documenting a crime, include supporting documentation. Newspaper clippings and trial transcripts are good to have. You need to remain objective and not interject your personal opinion. You can condense the information into a short synopsis:

12 Jun 1912 John Doe arrested for the murder of Jane Doe (Augusta Chronicle, 13 Jun 1912, page 1, column 3)

14 Jun 1912 John Doe is indicted by the grand jury (Augusta Chronicle, 15 Jun 1912, page 2, column 1)

22 Aug 1912 John Doe's trial begins (Augusta Chronicle, 23 Aug 1912, page 2, column 2)

24 Aug 1912, John Doe found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years (Augusta Chronicle, 25 Aug 1912, page 1, column 1)

If you are dealing with adultery or children born out of wedlock you need to be even more careful. Having the information in your own private notes is one thing, plastering it on the internet is another. If for some reason this information is crucial to establishing a certain family line then go ahead and document it, but make sure you are objective and document where you got the information.



Web posted on Thursday, July 1, 2004


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