Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, January 4, 2010

More thoughts on privacy and genealogy files

A news report today about changes in the "privacy settings" on Facebook got me thinking about genealogy files again. Facebook is the antipode of privacy. Just this morning, in looking at my Facebook News Feed, I see notes about people going back to work, a wedding announcement (yes, a real wedding announcement with a request to RSVP) report of a trip to Hawaii, new clothes for baby, and a whole lot of posts about how people are feeling today. I won't even go into the content on my Twitter account. Do I really want to know this stuff? Now, what is privacy?

Why would I be worried that someone would steal my personal information from my genealogy if I am putting almost everything I know about myself online for the world to read anyway? There seems to be a strange disconnection here. We have a segment of our society that is so paranoid about others getting their private information that they will not even order merchandise online, while at the same time, we have a huge segment of our population that seems driven to put every inconsequential incident in their life online for the world to read.

The issue reminds me of some incidents when I was young. We lived near some large orange groves (as did everyone in Phoenix at the time). There was one grove in particular that was posted with huge signs saying "No Trespassing," "Stay Out" and other things. Although we never saw anyone around the property, we understood that the owner would shoot anyone who went onto the property. There are still people with the same attitude. In genealogy, they are the people who think they own information about dead people. This is my work, my information and no one else has a right to it, at all, period, end of story.

OK, so why are you doing the research to find out your ancestry? Where did you find the information? In "public" records? From "public" repositories? What do want? To be paid for your work? How did you come to own the information you obtained from any number of sources? What information about your third great-grandfather can possibly affect your bank account or your credit cards?

Let's assume that you find out that your family has a grave genetic disease that can be inherited. Should that information be kept private so that family members do not know about the problem?

In thinking about my own genealogical research, I am not sure that I can think of anything about my ancestors that could now be considered private or shouldn't be disclosed. There is one great-great-grandfather who may be an illegitimate child raised by his own grandparents, but is that now a privacy issue? Having more information available about the relationship could clear up a family mystery. Who is left to be embarrassed by the disclosure?

There are certainly some things about me that I would rather not publish, but it is easy to simply leave those out of my genealogy and not talk about them on Facebook or any other forum. But, I suggest that information about the past, especially about people long dead, is no longer subject to privacy concerns. Maybe we need to come to a better understanding of what me mean by privacy before worrying about putting our genealogy online or sharing it with others.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding what people post on Facebook. A week ago today, while at lunch with several people, we started discussing the same thing. A lady said her husband complained he never sees pictures of his grandkids. The couples daughter posts all pics of her children on Facebook. The lady is on Facebook but her husband isn't and has no desire to have an account. I could go on but James pretty well covered the subject with his examples. It seem to me it's the younger people who publish all their hour to hour goings on.

    Now for the orange grove. I remember walking in a fenced off walkway at the edge of a citrus grove(don't remember if grapefruit or orange)back and forth to Simis grade school. It sure was scary going through there after summer rec games on summer nights. It wasn't lit!!