By Jill Ball.
Recently at Rootstech I co-hosted a panel discussing ethics and genealogy. My purpose was to raise awareness and encourage community members to think about their actions when dealing with people, places, information and things in the genealogy world.
During the session and after in many comments on Twitter, genies described times where they felt marginalised, ignored or hurt. These personal issues included ageism, acceptance, sexism, racism, dismissiveness, put-downs, bullying, elitism and more. Issues of sharing sensitive information, DNA use, copyright infringement and plagiarism were also raised. These actions were either breaches of ethics, morals, the law or good manners. While it saddened me to hear them I was pleased we provided a forum for discussion.
The above event and movement caused me to think. I share below an ABC of reflections relating to personal interactions raised in the Rootstech session and “Genealogy for all” discussions.
Ageism isn’t new. I remember being a youngish society member and having snooty old biddies look down their noses at me. This caused me to leave the group which I didn’t re-join until I became an old biddy. Young people still talk about similar instances. What have you done to nurture younger genies, make them feel welcome and utilise their unique skillsets?
Then, on the other side of the ledger, are those who are dismissive of we white-haired folk who are assumed to be past it. We may not be mature, but we have experience.
Bullying exists. Recently there were attacks directed at a young genealogist and members of The Hidden Branch. Congratulations to UK genealogist, Kirsty Gray, who rallied community members to stamp out these malicious attacks. Don’t turn a blind eye when you witness a hurtful action or comment. Report it. Let’s support members of our community.
Cliques. Irrespective of ages and backgrounds some new genies find themselves isolated. When at events we tend to gravitate towards familiar faces especially those we haven’t seen in ages. It may not be intentional, but newbies get overlooked. Please, if you are organising an event, make sure that newbies are identified and included. Embrace the fringe dwellers.
Diversity. The genealogy community is a broad church. While it may surprise obsessed genies like me, some people like to dabble in research. They do their genealogy in fits and spurts, they may not be interested in hard facts and dates, they may just want the stories.
Genies come from a variety of cultural backgrounds with different attitudes towards recording personal histories. Let’s welcome everyone and celebrate them for their interest.
Economic imbalances. While democratization of information is a noble goal it is difficult to achieve. Some people can’t afford things like subscriptions to expensive databases. Those who produce and host these resources also have families to feed and must be paid.
Let’s teach genimates that many of these resources can be accessed freely at public libraries or, for a small subscription, at family history societies. As with many popular pastimes there is a cost involved in family history research.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s acknowledge all family structures and encourage software developers to modify their programs for these unions to be recorded.
Genetic genealogy and DNA. If people offer to spit or scrape for you, ensure that you gain written consent and find out if they want to be made aware of any surprises the results may find. This article by Judy G Russell discusses this issue and provides sample consent forms: https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2019/12/15/forming-consent/.
Help and guide people – don’t research for them. Remember the old adage “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The same applies to requests for help with research. Genies are a generous group who love helping others to solve puzzles. Rather than feeding our genimates with answers let’s guide them on their research journeys by giving them support, tips and ideas. Let’s not give them answers but tell them where to seek information. Let’s nurture and teach them how to research in small steps so they develop the skills to go it alone and become independent researchers.
Images on the internet are not there for the taking. Many are subject to copyright (see Theft). People and organisations will often respond positively to a polite request for permission to use their images.
Joynealogy is the aim of many who indulge in our hobby. Let’s create an environment where this can flourish.
Kindness and civility are free. Please use them liberally in your interactions.
Living people and privacy. See Judy’s post https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2018/11/19/the-rights-of-the-living/
My way. So often when requests for advice on the best method, resource, software or subscription site to use appear, the apostles come out in droves. These folk passionately believe that their way or resource is the one and only for completing a task satisfactorily. Please recognise that there are many valid paths available to achieve an outcome.
No, does not belong in your lexicon. Always be ready to explore and evaluate new ideas and learn from others. If you tried it before and it didn’t work, try it again.
Offer to pay. Don’t be a freeloader. Always offer to pay for photocopying, time or travel costs when seeking assistance. If you are helped by a not-for-profit organisation, make a donation. Send a few dollars to societies or sites like The Internet Archive or Wikipedia.
Put downs. Genies have a range of abilities. Let’s make it easy for them to succeed no matter what their level of ability or education. Too often, on social media, we see snarky remarks in responses to simple questions. (see Kindness)
Questions. When seeking help don’t make assumptions about what people are asking. Please state clearly and concisely what you need to know ie. include all relevant full names, dates and places. Vague pleas will not elicit useful responses.
Referencing. The Citation Police are always ready to criticise the way others record their sources with citations.
I’m a firm believer in accurate referencing that will enable someone in the future to find a resource one has cited. When undertaking academic writing one must adhere to a referencing schema that is recognised by the host institution.
Strict adherence to rules about commas and colons isn’t necessary in all situations. Please, let’s teach our genimates to cite their sources accurately but don’t turn it into a drudge.
Social Media. Think before you hit enter. Could your post offend, be taken out of context? If you have doubts edit your post.
Theft happens. This week someone who had attended a conference and had access to the event recordings invited people including me (who had not paid) to join in watching a session via her link. My response to this invitation was quick “Sorry, I can’t be party to this. As the video isn’t in the public domain I wouldn’t feel comfortable cheating on xxxx.” I don’t think the invitee realised what she was doing and, after my response, swiftly withdrew the invitation.
If someone asks you (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) to copy a resource or give access to a paywall site please refuse them. This is stealing from the content providers and the subscribers who pay for access to resources.
Vocabulary – choose your words carefully. I may be an old prude, but I am offended by people who use the F word in communications often on social media. I have unfriended some genies who regularly use this word. Please remember that our community is diverse and that the use of blasphemous or swear words may offend. Professionals using foul language may damage their reputations. Make friends with a thesaurus.
When in doubt don’t. This is my mantra for interactions in the genealogy community. If you have any doubts as to whether something is ethical, legal, moral or good manners, don’t do it.
Xenophobia. Let’s endeavour to make peoples of all countries feel welcomed and accepted in our groups and events.
Young people are our future, they will ensure that our work continues. Treat them with respect.
Finally let’s use our Zeal and Zest to infect others in the community with a love and appreciation of families past and present.