July 9, 2005

A Privacy Issue?

Recently, I received an e-mail from someone demanding that they be removed from my database, and from a genealogy website that I own (not Coffey Cousins'). Not satisfied with merely making the demand, they insinuated that an attorney relative had assured him I had no legal right to use his name on the web.

It was apparent that the writer - a very young man according to my records - was using the old "I'll get my attorney onto you" ploy, or had one that had failed the bar exam! I reminded the young man that "public records" means that the records belong to the public. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, property transfers, and the like appear in newspapers, and on the web. Many of those notices are posted by the person(s) involved. Except for some remote possibility of copyright infringement, there is nothing illegal about using that type of "public" information in a genealogy file.

Most family historians recognize that some people are paranoid that others may find out about them. My wife tears our names and address off envelopes before discarding them. I have often reminded her that our name and address is listed in several area telephone directories, not to mention the city directory, and such websites as Switchboard.com! I am not always happy about removing someone from my files; that has happened perhaps three or four times in the years that I have been researching family. But, I do it no matter how reluctant I am. I do understand privacy issues, and make every effort to restrict public postings of living people to their names only.

Fortunately, I had already published a book that contains the young man's ancestry. The book can be found in several Arkansas and Louisiana libraries, and future generations of his family will not wonder why their ancestors did not appear in the family history.

I would be interested in learning the views of other researchers on this subject.

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