November 2019

Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy

Before long, most genealogists encounter an ethical dilemma in their research. They find
information about an ancestor or relative that is unflattering, scandalous, even shocking. This
could be criminality, illegitimacy, incest, dishonorable discharge from the armed services or a
number of other situations. An ethical dilemma is a situation in which a decision must be made
between two or more courses of action that involves conflicting standards or principles.
Genealogists faced with such a situation must decide what to do with the information they have
Using three case studies that highlight specific ethical questions, this presentation examines the
criteria established by professional genealogical organizations and how they apply to each of the
situations that were actually faced by the presenter in his research. The case studies concern a
crime committed by an ancestor as a teenager, an illegitimate birth in the nineteenth century and
the ex post facto discovery of an ethical problem related to solving a decades-old family mystery.
Audience members are asked about the course of action they would take.
In addition to these individual issues, Dr. Graziano also discusses an ongoing ethical issue facing
the genealogical community: the use of DNA evidence by law enforcement to solve cold case
crimes, when the DNA sample comes from a person who has not granted prior, informed

Recently retired after a fifty-one-year career in education as a high school social studies teacher, college professor, department chair and program director. He earned his doctoral degree from Hofstra University.

Since retirement, Richard has volunteered as a docent at the High Line and at the Manhattan Family History Center, helping people seeking help with family history, especially those with an interest in Italian genealogy. He has been involved in genealogy for about seven years, an IGG member for six and, since 2019, has been the editor of the IGG newsletter and a member of the IGG Board of Directors. He also writes and publishes a family genealogy newsletter that is distributed to cousins around the United States.
Richard Graziano picture

Richard Graziano