A CODE OF CONDUCT FOR GENEALOGISTS
The practitioner in a number of professions such as medicine, law and psychology is often presented with serious ethical dilemmas.
To give some guidance to these practitioners, relevant professional societies have developed codes of ethics and even special committees to monitor and sometimes challenge colleagues for behaviours which contravene the normative rules prescribed by their accepted code of conduct. Serious breaches can lead to deregistration or expulsion from the professional group.
Collecting and documenting family history also confronts the amateur researcher with ethical issues and dilemmas. Questions of privacy and etiquette have been addressed in recent years by genealogical societies as well as associations of professional genealogists.
Having a written document that sets out ethical principles and rules, while not binding by law, does enable a genealogical society to implement sanctions against a misbehaving member.
The AJGS (Vic) has not yet adopted a formal code of ethics; however, serious issues do arise from time to time and are discussed at committee meetings. Usually some consensus is reached after lengthy discussion.
We are publishing (with permission) on our website the Code of Ethics adopted by the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies to promote further discussion and, in time, the adoption of our own code of conduct.
CODE OF ETHICS FOR JEWISH GENEALOGISTS ADOPTED BY THE IAJGS
All human endeavours are capable of corruption, and it is therefore appropriate to institute mechanisms to safeguard against behaviour that is inimical to the common good. It is felt that the IAJGS should give the lead in setting standards of behaviour as applied to the world of Jewish genealogy. It is at least arguable that the study of genealogy itself, if not an ‘ethical’ activity as such, it is a mitzvah in accordance with the Torah principle of teaching knowledge of the people, their tribes and ‘remembering the days of old’. This document is intended to set out guidelines for such standards. It is also offered as a code of ‘good practice’ which may inform readers. Finally, it includes an updated version (in more modern English) of the late Rabbi Malcolm Stern’s ‘Ten Commandments in Genealogy’, which remains as relevant today as when they were penned years ago.
Code of conduct
Information acquired should be factual and where doubt exists as to the accuracy of a purported pedigree, the questionability and limitations of the data should be expressed.
All original sources should be stated to allow other enquirers the opportunity of verification of the data.
The examination of all documentation should be undertaken with sensitivity for the quality of the source used. Records in the public domain should be replaced, after examination and any annotation required, in the condition and order that they were found. They should never be retained or handled carelessly.
If data presented relies on work already previously undertaken, the credit for such work should be given to the originator, which also acts as a disclaimer in the event that it may encompass error(s).
Should there be financial implications of working in genealogy, the purveyor of services should state the likely costs involved to the client and should only charge the agreed quantum for the research undertaken.
If data is acquired that seems to contain the potential for harming the interests of other people, great caution should be applied to the treatment of any such data and wide consultation may be appropriate as to how such data is used. A confidential discussion with an ethical authority (eg a respected Rabbinic Beth Din) or reference to ethical principles already placed in the public domain (eg by a regulating body such as the [British] Association of Genealogists and Record Agents) may be helpful in such circumstances.
Regarding the ‘right to privacy’ versus the ‘freedom of information’ area of potential conflict:
• Data more than 75 years old should be regarded as sufficiently historical to be available, without restriction.
• More recent data should be evaluated in the light of sensitivities of the living versus the importance of disseminating information.
• Generally, a request from an individual that certain information about themselves or close relatives be kept private should be respected.
• If it is decided not to publish any particular piece of information, there should be a clear statement to that effect so that the reader is not misled by the omission.
Ethics statement approved by the IAJGS Board of Directors
(2 November 2002):
Adaptation of the late Malcolm Stern’s ‘Ten Commandments in Genealogy’:
1. I wish only to obtain true knowledge about any family I am researching.
2. Family traditions must be interpreted with caution and only used as clues.
3. All information must be assessed and not given automatic credibility.
4. Claims to exalt a family for increased status must be verified.
5. Unverifiable data must be labelled as such (see commandment 1).
6. All records must be handled with care and replaced for the next user.
7. Attribution of sources is essential and permission obtained for use of other researchers’ work.
8. If verifying data involves costs to others these should be reimbursed.
9. The sensitivities of living people must be respected and the memory of the deceased likewise, but for the latter it is permitted to record the objective facts about them.
10. You should not claim expertise or become a genealogical teacher without appropriate training and accreditation. [In this context, ‘accreditation’ should not imply holding a formal qualification, although such is an asset, but simply, as it says, sufficient training and experience to confer expertise.]
OTHER CODES OF ETHICS
Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG)
National Genealogical Society (NGS):