Saturday, July 28, 2012

Privacy

First a quick revisit to Metes and Bounds (Or, Just Shoot Me Now). I just received the June issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. There is a GREAT article focusing on Metes and Bounds by Karen Mauer Green, CG and Birdie Monk Holsclaw, CG, entitled "'Beginning at a Black Oak...': Hachenberger Evidence from a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Neighborhood Reconstruction." The authors evaluated 96 deeds and plotted the parcels showing the boundary changes over time. If you have any interest in Metes and Bounds I highly recommend you get a copy.


Now back to our regularly scheduled programming....
On July 20th I told you the story of Henrietta Louise Holder. This is a true story that comes right from my personal genealogy file. Henrietta was my great, great aunt. The names were changed at the request of the direct descendants of Henrietta and I respected their request. I thought a follow-up blog about privacy issues in genealogy would be appropriate. This is a slight revision from a article I wrote for the McDuffie Mirror in 2004.

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 Do not publish personal information about them without their knowledge and consent.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. All of the top genealogy database programs can "clean" your file of all information concerning persons still living. In addition, the top internet sites that accept GEDCOM files also have this capability. Your Aunt Eloise might not appreciate her birth date displayed for millions to see. If you do not have a confirmed death date, assume the person is still alive until 110 years have passed since his/her 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. In the case of Henrietta, the direct descendants provided me with information that I could not have gotten on my own (Henrietta's medical file from the state hospital). Because I couldn't have gotten that information myself, I felt I had the responsibility of respecting the family's wishes that it be kept private. I was able to use Henrietta's story as a teaching tool without breaching this trust.

Some of the things that you will come across will be adultery, incest, children born out of wedlock, criminal activity etc. You can document all of these things and publish them but you must be sensitive and careful with your wording out of respect for the descendants. The best way to do this is to remain objective.

If you are documenting a crime, include supporting documentation. Newspaper clippings and trial transcripts are good to have. Your audience can read the information provided and draw their own opinions and conclusions. You can include a short synopsis of the main points:

  • 12 June 1912 - John Doe arrested for the murder of Jane Doe [Doesville Chronicle, 13 June 1912, page 1, column 3]
  • 14 June 1912 - John Doe is indicted by the Grand Jury [Doesville Chronicle, 15 June 1912, page 2, column 1]
  • 22 August 2012 - John Doe's trial begins [Doesville Chronicle, 23 August 1912, page 2, column 2]
  • 24 August 2012 - John Doe found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years [Doesville Chronicle, 25 August 1912, page 1, column 1]

If you are dealing with things like 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 the information is crucial in establishing a certain family line then go ahead and document it. Just make sure you remain objective and document where you got the information. Here is an example copied and pasted directly from my file:

In 1850, Matilda Simmons is 9 years old and living with her parents Silas and Janet. By 1860, Silas and Janet had both died and Matilda is now living with her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Henry Dearman under her maiden name of Simmons. In 1870, she is now 30 years old and living with her brother James under her maiden name. A three old named Mary Simmons is enumerated under Matilda and is assumed to be Matilda's daughter. In 1880 she is living as a boarder in the Batson family household. Matilda is listed as single and under her maiden name. Mary Jane remains with her and is now 13 years old. In 1900 Matilda is living with William Perkins and his second wife Ada. Mary Jane was William's first wife and had died. Matilda is listed as William's mother-in-law, single and under her maiden name. Matilda died in 1908 and is buried under her maiden name.

    Possible explanations

  • Matilda had Mary Jane out of wedlock, circumstances unknown [Probable]
  • Matilda was raising the child of one of her brothers (Unlikely. All of her brothers were alive, married, and were raising their known children in their own households during this time period]
  • Matilda had adopted a child from an unknown family under unknown circumstances [Unlikely. It would have been very unusual for an unmarried woman to adopt a child during this time period]
  • Matilda married a man with the same surname of Simmons. [Unlikely, This would explain why Matilda and Mary Jane were listed under the name Simmons but it wouldn't explain why Matilda was listed as single on the 1880 and 1900 censuses]

I was able to present the facts in an objective way which allows the reader to analyze the information and draw their own conclusions. Everything is sourced and footnoted in my file. I didn't include the source information for brevity's sake but it is available.

Tomorrow I will post a bit of a bunny trail off of this privacy post.


Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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