Monday, October 25, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 14 - Issues of Privacy

I had a blog reader throw out a question about genealogy and privacy. They asked if I knew of any Virginia law that would prevent them from including a living person's information in their family tree, if the person in question objected. I would assume the intent was to publish this tree online or in print, in order to actually draw the objection.

I do not know of anything specifically, in a legal sense, but I would personally avoid publishing the information of anyone living. It is just not a good practice. Think of it like this...what is the first thing your credit card asks you when you call.?.."what is your mother's maiden name?" If you publish that information online, you are giving identity thieves a head start. Even obituaries tend to give away too much information in some cases.

Virginia law prevents the Department of Health from releasing any birth record for 100 years and any marriages, divorces or deaths for 50 years, unless you are an extremely close family member. I do not know of any other laws off the top of my head. I know you can get recent marriage licenses at county courthouses but they at least censor the Social Security number.

In general, if someone asks that you remove their information...I would. It is not worth ticking them off when they may have something you want down the road (photos, documents, etc.). I would personally be mad if someone published my kid's information online so I can agree with the person in question. As a matter of fact, I have never given anyone access to my personal family tree database file. I only share bits and pieces about deceased individuals, upon request. I keep the information of living individuals very private.

Now, if the person in question is the deceased child of a living person, that is a slightly different story. I would feel okay displaying that child's information but not their parent's info. The child probably had an obituary in the newspaper that gave all of their facts publicly anyway.

In short, use your judgment and respect the privacy of others. I would follow the "Golden Rule" of do unto others as you would have others do unto you. If you would not like a particular fact about you published, why would you publish the same thing for another person?  Guard your own information, especially your Social Security number.

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