Is it OK to use names of surviving relatives when transcribing a published obit into the profile?

+6 votes

No particular profile, just a generic question. Wondering what others think about this:

I see an occasional notations in biography sections where people refer to "two brothers, a grandmother,and four cousins" when adding information from obituaries, yet when I look up the actual obituary, the whole clan is there in all their splendor, so-to-speak.

I spend a LOT of time working from obituaries, as I continue to build my database of Monroe County IL genealogy (small rural county, everybody is related to everybody else, including my wife who was born & raised there). 

I've had people ask me about the ethics of transcribing published obituaries in full onto public websites and places like Wikitree, since they contain names & relationships of living people.

My thoughts are simple. Although I am a huge fan of personal privacy and individual liberty (card-carrying Libertarian!), I also think that anything legitimately published to the public is already "out there", and as long as applicable copyright issues and re-publishing permissions aren't violated, and proper source citations are made, then "no harm, no foul". Of course going beyond accurate transcriptions, on the other hand, WOULD be a major breach of ethics, and quite possibly the law as well.  

My wife sometimes helps me with the obits, and as I'm copying/pasting or scanning or whatever, she'll make notes about how the individuals that she knows are actually related. I.e. which former spouse is parent of which child, approximate ages, tidbits of personal history, whatever. Most of that information makes its way into my Legacy software, but a team of wild horses couldn't get me to make it public in any form.

Thanks for letting me vent.

in Policy and Style by Ron Johnson G2G6 Mach 3 (38.5k points)

5 Answers

+13 votes
Best answer
i never knowingly post names, ages or or other personal identity information of any living person on a public site, and am doubly cautious when dealing with under-age children.  So I am one of those people who edits the obituary to just mention that the person left a surviving spouse “several children” and “numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren” and I would be very angry indeed with anyone who went and changed that to reveal all the names and home towns I deliberately left out.

We need to remember that up until a few years ago, local newspapers were basically unavailable beyond a limited geographic area where the obituary was originally published, and that usually covered just the local community where the family had personal connections with other people who knew them fairly well.  In most cases the families had no idea they’d be sharing their personal information with millions of nosey parkers and data miners for multi-level marketing schemes, not to mention identity thieves, halfway around the world.  Yes, those unsavory characters can ultimately find the information if they care to go digging up the original article from or one of the other digital repositories, but I see no reason to make it easier for them to find.
by GR Gordon G2G4 (4.9k points)
selected by Ron Johnson
You actually make a pretty good point about how things that were printed just a couple decades ago are now readily available to millions that were not part of the original intended readership. I hadn't really thought about that aspect of it.

FWIW, even if I am in a position to do so, I would NEVER alter someone else's extract or transcription without checking with them first.

My personal practice with using these materials is to first put them into my own genealogy database (currently running Legacy-9 and loving it!). I will then often but not always upload some or all to my Family Tree at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and now here on WikiTree. But I do not transcribe completely, but rather simply summarize without using names. If it's an on-line obit from a funeral home or newspaper, I download a PDF or JPG version to my computer, and then in the on-line trees/profiles, I add the summary, links to the original when possible, and a note that I can provide a complete copy upon request. In fifteen-years-plus of working on-line, I've only had a handful of people request actual PDF or jpg file, and it was always a family member that I was already aware of.

With all that said, I still hold to my underlying thoughts that facts published publicly, especially to the "world-wide-web", are, simply put, fair game. My choice, and apparently yours as well, to withhold those facts, remains a choice, and not an obligation, in the philosophical sense anyway.

Thanks for your response!
Whether regarded as a matter of choice as you do see it, or a moral obligation (that might rise to a legal obligation under some circumstances), as I see it, I’m glad we reach the same result.
+11 votes
I wouldn’t post the names of surviving relatives. You could perhaps find a compromise by saying, for example, died leaving 2 sons, a daughter and 3 grandchildren.
by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (678k points)
+8 votes
I don’t think you should publish the names of the living. But I also think that it is good practice to link any names you do publish to their profile as verification that you have double checked the death dates.
by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (471k points)
Interestingly, I was reading the New York Times today and they do not appear to have any issue with publishing the names of the living relatives in their obits.

The “Times” has deep pockets and access to a stable full of top flight lawyers to defend itself against potential complaints from the kind of newsworthy public figures the editors deem worthy of the ”honor” of having space on the paper’s obituary and social news pages devoted to coverage of their personal life milestone events.  You and I should be so lucky.

Note that the BBC has recently lost an invasion of privacy case involving their coverage of an incident involving a public figure

+5 votes
For me, the question is "are people basically good or basically out to get you."  We've had bad, horrendous things happen forever.  Now, however, we think we're protected (or protecting others) if we, uh, don't say things?  

I agree that, once published, information is public.

And genealogy is for living people, after all.

Just my two cents.
by Robin Anderson G2G6 Mach 4 (43.7k points)
+6 votes
If it's an OLD, OLD obit, I leave them in because the survivors are most likely dead (I'm talking before 1930 or so.) Otherwise, I edit them out, leaving something like "survivors include 3 sons, 2 daughters", etc. I then make a note that the obituary was edited to remove names of living persons.
by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)

Related questions

+4 votes
1 answer
116 views asked Apr 7 in Genealogy Help by Francis Cook G2G6 Mach 1 (13.3k points)
+8 votes
1 answer
105 views asked Dec 6, 2023 in Genealogy Help by Anonymous Reed G2G6 Pilot (184k points)
+4 votes
1 answer
158 views asked Sep 24, 2023 in Genealogy Help by Andrew Simpier G2G6 Pilot (694k points)
+4 votes
3 answers
188 views asked Apr 21, 2023 in Genealogy Help by Janet Puckett G2G6 Mach 2 (24.8k points)
+2 votes
1 answer
+16 votes
3 answers
+5 votes
2 answers
189 views asked Aug 18, 2021 in Genealogy Help by Anonymous Johnston G2G6 Mach 1 (17.6k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright