Sunday, October 23, 2011

Genealogy, Family History, and Censorship

As a volunteer for Genealogy Trails, and as a person trying to be a “good neighbor” in the genealogy world, I spend a fair amount of time transcribing public domain materials that might be of help to someone else researching their family history.  While traveling, I oftentimes make unexpected stops at small rural cemeteries and snap a few headstone shots for Find-a-grave.  I’ve been helped immensely by others doing the same thing, and want to pay back as much as I can.  One never knows when some little nugget they’ve put online might be just the thing to put a chip in someone else’s brick wall.
I started a blog, Sharing Genealogy, for making available oddball items I run across, or find sitting on my office bookshelves.  Awhile back, I found a book on the history of St. Paul, Minnesota, which I picked up at a library book sale.  I personally have no ties to St. Paul, but someone, somewhere does, and thumbing through it, I found some interesting stories, and some old photos.  So I decided to start scanning and transcribing it – all 222 pages.  All was going well, until September 30, when Chapter XIII was posted – “Chippewas and Sioux.”  The next thing you know, I have an ugly, anonymous comment posted questioning my motives and calling this post “bigoted and ethocentric white man crap.”
I answered as politely as I could, but that wasn’t the end of it.  Thanks to comment moderation, no more hateful venom is online.  But it does bring up the point of censorship – is it right?  Should we, as sharers of the past, be held responsible for editing another’s work?  If yes, whose standards do we use?  Our own?  Or the standards of the most sensitive persons that might read our blogs?  If the latter, will we offend someone who resents our editing?  Is there a “happy medium”, and if so, how do we define it?   Only one thing is clear – this is muddy water. 


  1. Unfortunately, we can't change history. Like it or not, it is what it is. It's better to know it and not repeat it than not know it and keep repeating, right? Take the ugly comments with a grain of salt. Obviously the anonymous person who wrote the comments did not remember to turn on the filter between brain and mouth (or fingers, in this case). Keep up the good work!

  2. Kudos for your efforts in sharing materials you find. Your "friend" could certainly have found a more persuasive way to communicate!

    I do think, though, that it's worth considering how modern readers may view the material. Many blog visitors land on our blogs as the result of searches and may not take the time to fully examine all the pages or posts. I would still present it, but might include a sentence or two at the start of the post indicating that the contents may offend some and give your reasons for posting the material.