Ethics in Genealogy

I am not aware of an official set of ethical guidelines in genealogy, but believe that it would be convenient to have well-described guidelines, you can adhere to (or refrain from follow). They may include these topics:

  • Fairness in the research. One should strive to seek any and all information, i.e. not to filter out unwanted information. One can use information from other researchers, only by clearly indicating the source of information. One must openly and honestly indicate whether information appears to be valid or dubious. One must clearly distinguish between facts and conjecture.
  • Discretion. One should avoid to publish sensitive personal information related to living persons,
    who has not explicitly (in writing) allowed publicity. One must refrain from offensive, degrading or racist references to individuals or groups. One must be especially careful and objective in particularly sensitive information – such as adultery, mental illness, crimes or suicide. Using “gossip” information should be clearly referenced as such – if used at all.
  • Source evaluation. One must be critical of the information you get. What this means in practice is described well by others in the literature.
  • Copyright. One must respect other person’s copyrights. Open original source data cannot be part of copyright information.
  • Biological relatives. Genealogy is always researching into the biological family – and only the biological family. One must clearly state known adoptions. You may of course illustrate a non-biological origin of a surname, as long as it is clearly indicated.
  • Whenever possible, use original sources. It is not always possible, in which case you must specify that it is a secondary source. If you choose to rely on secondary data sources (e.g. information in a public database) you should clearly mention this.
  • In some cases one will have to make logical assumptions and reasoning to compensate for missing information – it is acceptable, but it must be clearly indicated that these are assumptions.
  • One should to a reasonable extent control the work of others. Major works by other genealogists
    should be controlled where possible. Alternatively, you should clearly indicate that this is not done.
  • Genealogy should generally be conducted on a non-commercial basis. Genealogists should provide reasonable help to each other on non-commercial basis. Incurred expenses I do not consider “commercial”. Of course it is acceptable to be a (paid) consultant in the area as long as this is clearly stated.
  • Availability of information. A genealogist should in principle make his findings freely available to other genealogists (key data only).I believe that one should set up basic ethical guidelines like these, that genealogists can voluntarily declare to follow. A code-of-conduct if you will. I strive to follow the above guidelines.