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Privacy of the deceased

Right now I'm very interested in the legal rights of deceased people and their personal information. I've been doing some legal research and consulting with my favorite lawyer cousin.

As you know, I'm writing a book about my family including all persons from my 4th great grandparents onward. Some of my female cousins died from having abortions. It says so on their death certificates. I am not putting that in the book because that's not what I want them to be remembered by. I also think it's ethically wrong to include that information. If someone is that interested, they can go buy a copy of her death certificate themselves.

When I deal with clients, I don't publish any of their family information. I give them what certificates they pay for and let them decide what to do with it.

I always try to put myself in the deceased person's shoes. Would I want someone exploiting me for an article when I'm dead and can't defend myself? My female cousins can't come back from the grave and tell me the circumstances of their abortions, I don't know if they were raped (even though they were married at the time).

Thanks to statewide inmate finders, I know of a few cousins who have been in jail. When I meet them, they usually tell me about what they did, but I don't write any of it down, that's not who they are or how they should be remembered.

Do any of you readers have any experiences with privacy of the deceased? Have you seen a genealogy podcast/program/article where something did not feel ethically right to you?

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Reader Comments (4)

Whoa, Andrea! This is awesome. I just had my second day of law school, so I can't help you yet, but as soon as I learn anything about dead people's rights I'll let you know! Also, Ezra's parents are super into genealogy too if you want to talk to them. Let me know.

August 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

This is so interesting. The local genealogy society had been run off a long uncared for cemetary for taking pictures of markers. The members were trying to preserve a record of who is buried where. Why?

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August 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

Just a thought about your female cousins who died having abortions - unless you know for sure otherwise, it is possible that was simply the medical term used on the death certificates for a miscarriage. They may not have actually "had an abortion" but instead died from complications of a miscarriage which is technically a spontaneous abortion.

August 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

"Sepsis from induced abortion" is how they worded it on the death certificate from 1902.

August 21, 2008 | Registered CommenterAndrea Batcho
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