I love presents that arrive at my Inbox. The New England Historic Genealogical Society Weekly Digest is one of the best, and it just keeps coming. I always learn something new from the team of researchers at NEHGS; they have a knack for discovering interesting tidbits in the world of family history and genealogy.
This week, in Stories of Interest, I was especially excited to discover a new blog featuring a project with student records from the 1920s.
Permanent Record: Untold Stories from a Stash of Depression-Era Report Cards After Paul Lukas found a collection of report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, he decided to try to find family members of the students — and then share the experience on his blog and on Slate.website.
The project is obviously a large one, with a host of issues about privacy and ethics. Lukas addresses some of these in a blog post on voyeurism — you know, the thrill of looking at things you aren’t supposed to see — after stumbling on an article about a design company that uses Photoshop-doctored vintage police mug shots for popular paper products. Lukas wonders about about the ethics of his own report card project and what he calls the “moral imperative” of sharing the stories gleaned from those report cards.
All of which makes me think twice about the ethics of family history research and sharing. Most genealogy conferences feature at least one session on the topic of ethics in genealogy. We are familiar with the concepts of protecting the privacy of living relatives and using discretion with information that could prove hurtful or disturbing. But what about the ethics of reworking and sharing the stories of unrelated deceased people you might find interesting or amusing?
I have tried to be circumspect in what I share about my own family, but even so, I know that I have raised the hackles of some relatives. What may like a harmless tale to one person can deeply offend another. And when it comes to unrelated folks, is it “anything goes” or do the same rules apply? What are your thoughts on the subject?