Wednesday, August 01, 2007

There are no easy answers

For the most part, the dilemmas that I've had in this quest are probably the same as most other researchers. You find something that isn't necessarily common knowledge or causes you to look twice at a specific record. Do you record it, or not? Do you leave out a worrisome bit of information if publishing? What are the ramifications either way? Does it depend upon the "severity" of the issue? Will someone be harmed in some way if the information becomes public knowledge? What if the information is already public knowledge but for some reason you are asked not to publish it? How does that impact on your integrity?

The truth of the matter is that there are no easy answers to those questions and all we can do is use our best judgment when it comes to these issues. Sometimes our decisions will end up not being the "right" one, but if we give the issues due deliberation and look at all the available information, we can say that we did what we thought was best at the time.

Okay, I'll admit it. When working on one of the family history books I've published, in one instance, I purposely left out some information and in the process slightly altered a marriage date. The date used was the date I was given by the person, not the date in the marriage record. I felt then, and still feel, that doing so did no harm. Publishing the correct date would have caused undue embarrassment since it was public information but not commonly known.

The genealogy software that I use has several places where information can be recorded, in notes or events. I use the events feature for information that I'll willingly share with people. The notes section is being used for recording personal research notes and information that will not be shared. When reports are printed out or on the rare occasions when gedcom files are created the type of information to be included can be specified. I have never shared my complete file with anyone and doubt that I ever will.

What do you do if you find information that is posted online that is wrong? How can it be corrected?

When I was working on my Bray and Wiseman lines from Switzerland County, Indiana in 1999 I came across a website with information on one of the siblings of my ancestor, which I thought was great. That is, until I started comparing his information to what I had found. He listed his ancestor, lets call him Abraham, as marrying one of the Bray girls. Marriage records showed that Abraham had married a lady with the same first name as Miss Bray, but it wasn't Miss Bray. Other researchers corroborated my information with their family records. I contacted the fellow with the website providing him with citations to the records, etc. but he refused to change his website. At one time he had his information posted on WorldConnect and I left a "post-em" note correcting his misinformation. A short time later he removed his database from WorldConnect... but his website is still online, still with the wrong information.

One of the issues that I struggle with is the use of research done by other people, especially work that is still protected by copyright. If you are publishing, whether in book form or on the internet, how much can you quote from another published source without infringing upon their copyright? How do you determine what is fair use? I've got a lot of New England ancestors and have found a tremendous amount of information on some of those lines already published. In some cases, full lineages, complete with detailed biographical sketches. Interesting stuff, but how much can be used? Does it matter if I'm publishing a book of my own or whether I'm just printing out a report to share the information with someone? What's the difference in making copies of the pages and sending those to someone or transcribing it into my database and printing out a report with all the other information I have on the person?

There are no easy answers. Oh, I already said that didn't I. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


It's never easy! Most folks think we just go collect dates and names and never have a care in the world. Hah!
It seems that here lately I find myself running into many dilemmas and I have to use the same mindset as you. It's basically a judgement call most of the time.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I really enjoyed it!