I had been wrestling with a ‘Moral Dilemma’, within my Family Tree for some considerable time, in fact over 20 years! Whether to share the story and personal notes, that my Grandfather made before he died.
So let me give you some background thoughts, before I explain my own situation in detail.
When we first start off researching our family history we probably never imagine that we might need to consider the ethics and morals of our hobby, or even that we could be subject to the law. After all, it’s our family tree, why would we be subject to ethical codes or copyright law?
The first thing we need to consider is the fact “once it’s out there, it’s out there”. Once something is in the public domain, although you can of course remove it, the damage could already be done. After all those sadly no longer with us, have no choice about what we publish as genealogists.
My rule of thumb is, if the person that you were referring to, in your story or article, was in the room today with you, would they be happy with you sharing their story to a perfect stranger?
With that in mind, here is the ‘Moral Dilemma” that I faced.
My Grandfather died in 1986 and before he sadly passed away, he had started to write up his own life story, in his own words. Sadly he had only completed around eleven pages and had only really, just begun to tell his story, before he passed away.
The Dilemma I was faced with was “Should I make these Public”. To add further weight to the dilemma, I had no real idea of what Grandad’s intentions were, when he started to write the story. Was it for himself, was it for the whole family, or friends? I had no real idea of his ultimate purpose.
My conscience has made me keep them to one side, but as time has gone on, the urge to tell his story has grown. To quantify this a little, there is nothing in there to hide or nothing controversial, it’s just his own words about a bygone era, but yet I still felt a pang of guilt and it almost felt like I am betraying him in some way?
This week I told my story and dilemma to my good friends on #AncestryHour (Twitter group of Genealogists who meet online every Tuesday at 7pm), to canvas opinion on how to proceed. Can I first say how grateful I am to those that took the time to respond, I read every single reply, the overwhelming opinion was to “tell Grandad’s story”, but with lots of great ideas, such as writing in my own words, an end to the story that he had started. If I could sum up all the positive responses that I received online, with one line, my good friend Jude (@GenealogyJude) summed it up perfectly……….”it will help to keep his memory alive”.
So with some good advice from a genealogy friend, David Dobie (@DavidDobie2), I decided to share with everyone the thread from the discussions on #AncestryHour
The following are just a few examples of the wonderful responses to my original dilemma and if you are in a similar situation yourself, hopefully these might help you to reach your own decision.
@sibsandnibs ‘I’m sure he’d want people to read them’.
@GrandmaLiggy ‘I can’t imagine that he started writing his own story for it not to be read’.
@KimberliHull ‘Wow what a treasure, if he was writing his own story he’d probably be fine with it’.
@WillsmanOneName ‘I’d say publish, especially if there is no intimate detail. How lovely to have something in his own words’.
@KatherineHern8 ‘I’m firmly in the please share camp.’
@GenealogyLass ‘I think if he was writing this to pass on to his family, then you should use it and make sure family members get a chance to read about his life in his own words – a real treasure to have too!’
@HDFHS01 ‘Perhaps if you decide to write your own family history into a story you could include his writing in a chapter’.
@FamilyTreeUK ‘ I’d say publish, but you could top and tail them with a fitting tribute and your knowledge of his life, maybe some photos, let him have these last words.
So the over riding opinion was to publish, albeit with a few caveats. I have spoken to my “Cousins” and they were also very keen that ‘Grandad’s Voice’ be heard.
So I have reached the decision to let Grandad’s voice be heard………….
I will leave you with one last thought, which I already mentioned above, but which really resonated with me;
“it will help to keep his memory alive”.
Look out for ‘Grandad’s Story’, coming soon………