Thursday, August 14, 2014

Respecting Personal Boundaries in Genealogy and Life

How many times have you had someone you don't know call on the telephone or knock on the door, expecting you to allow an intrusion into your life? Maybe as we age we become more sensitive to such people who assume that we are open to discussing with them our lives and the lives of our families. When doing genealogy and family history research these same personal boundaries are subject to intrusive questions from complete strangers.

With do not call lists and no solicitation signs on the outside or our home, people continue to press on with making contact. Recently someone called wanting a donation from a college. The first mistake was to begin with personal questions about my day. It was not a time for casual conversation as there were other things going on in my life at that moment. Realizing they are just doing a job they were hired to do makes me want to be polite, but the more this happens the less patience there is for such calls.

Requesting my opinion from an unknown institution is also rather intrusive. Having been involved in civic service and politics makes me want to participate, until realizing that some of the questions really are no one else's business. Then there are phone calls for our children who are no longer living in our home. When they are told this information they almost always just move on and want the opinion of the person who answered the phone.

Now for the strangers who knock on our door, especially late at night, one fears for personal safety. Then they expect that you might invite them into your home so they can demonstrate whatever product they are pedaling. If we want to purchase something we will initiate the contact. One can certainly not be too protective in the preserving the safety of our family.

Even mail that is unsolicited is intrusive. Most of it goes directly into the trash. Since my mother's death a year ago some of her mail was redirected to our home address. Obviously her information has sold in mailing lists as now solicitations for her are being sent here. In the process of managing her estate she had hundreds of solicitations for contributions. It soon became apparent that the quickest way to stop them was by email, where the records of the requests are easy to track.

Now how does the respecting of personal boundaries apply to genealogy and family history work? First of all we need to be very cautious how we approach others we have had no previous contact with. In emails we need to be very clear in the subject line and then in the content of an email. Even in letters sent through the post office, a clear explanation of the possible family connection is important.

We need to be patient with those we contact and share information with. The first contact is the most important as it establishes a repoir with the other party. Elderly people are the most cautious when first approached and contact with a younger family member may open the door to a visit. We also need to be very courteous about recording conversations and taking pictures. It may be the only chance we will have with an individual and it usually takes a little time to build a level of trust.

Respecting the personal boundaries of others is one of the most important lessons to be learned by researchers. We want the door to continue to be open, not just to us, but others as well. Genealogy and life are not open doors to what we share with others. Our sharing needs to be deliberate and guarded for protection of our and other's personal information. While helping others to locate long lost family members, the importance of how we use what we can locate on the Internet cannot be stressed enough. Please help move along the work of discovering the histories of families by respecting how others want to share their information.

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