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Solid guidance for genealogical pros… and consumers

The Association of Professional Genealogists has long had a code of ethics to guide genealogical professionals and consumers through some of the murky waters of ethical issues underlying this field of ours.

And it’s just been updated to clarify some elements of ethical behavior that impact the professionals and consumers alike.

Online at the APG website, the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices now begins with a statement of purpose:

The APG Code of Ethics and Professional Practices serves to promote: (1) a truthful approach to genealogy, family history, and local history; (2) the trust and security of genealogical consumers; and (3) careful and respectful treatment of records, repositories and their staffs, other professionals, and genealogical organizations and associations.1

Where it used to have eight numbered paragraphs, the code now proceeds then through 14 numbered paragraphs.

These cover issues ranging from “present(ing) research results and opinions in a clear, well-organized manner”2 and refrain(ing) from withholding, suppressing, or knowingly misquoting or misinterpreting sources or data3 to “refrain(ing) from behaviors or statements that malign or are maliciously calculated to injure the profession; individual genealogists; genealogical associations, programs, or educational organizations; or the Association of Professional Genealogists.”4

Some of the changes are purely in the way the code is presented.

For example, there used to be one paragraph that combined the requirements that professional genealogists “present research results and opinions in a clear, well-organized manner; fully and accurately cite references; and refrain from withholding, suppressing, or knowingly misquoting or misinterpreting sources or data.”5

Those same mandates are now set out in three separate paragraphs in which each APG members agrees to:

1. Present research results and opinions in a clear, well-organized manner;

2. Refrain from withholding, suppressing, or knowingly misquoting or misinterpreting sources or data;

3. Report appropriately qualified genealogical conclusions in writing based on the weight of the evidence with fully and accurately cited sources…6

Breaking the concepts out into separate paragraphs gives each of them the emphasis it deserves.

There are some basically new provisions, or with new emphasis, particularly when it comes to confidentiality, conflict avoidance, putting everything in writing and getting the education we all need to maintain and build our skills.

The code now includes an express requirement that members “treat information concerning living people with appropriate discretion”7 and a separate requirement that members “maintain confidentiality of client communications and research, except as permitted in writing by the client or required by court or professional disciplinary proceedings.”8

It now requires that APG members “disclose potential conflicts of interest”9 — problems where the professional’s personal interests might not be the same as the interests of the consumer.

The code now requires that APG members prepare written contracts, not just abide by the terms of any written agreements they enter into.10 That’s a good move, since APG won’t take a disciplinary case when it’s purely a verbal he-said-she-said situation. The association is clear that “There must be something in writing (contract, email, etc.) that demonstrates the scope of the agreement.”11

And it now expressly requires that members “engage in sufficient continuing education to maintain competence and comply with applicable requirements”12 — and it’s also started actually requiring continuing education as an element of maintaining membership in APG: starting this year, APG members will be asked to complete a minimum of twelve hours of continuing professional education per membership year.13

There are elements of the old code I wish had been carried over to the new one. For example, the old code expressly provided that APG members were to “support efforts to locate, collect, and preserve the records by compiling, cataloging, reproducing, and indexing documents.”14 The explanation is that the code eliminated items that were “worthwhile goals for the organization as a whole (like support for records access initiatives), but don’t make sense as part of the Code, which is aimed at individual member conduct.”15

It’s the first update to the code since 1991 — and a good strong step forward.

Hats off to APG for taking the ethical lead.


SOURCES

  1. Association of Professional Genealogists, Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (https://www.apgen.org/ : accessed 28 Mar 2017).
  2. Ibid., ¶1.
  3. Ibid., ¶2.
  4. Ibid., ¶14.
  5. ¶2, APG Code of Ethics, cached version, Internet Archive Wayback Machine, 29 Jan 2017 (https://archive.org/web/ : 28 Mar 2017).
  6. ¶¶1-3, APG Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.
  7. Ibid., ¶9.
  8. Ibid., ¶8.
  9. Ibid., ¶7.
  10. See ibid., ¶6.
  11. Ibid., “What we won’t review.”
  12. Ibid., ¶5.
  13. See “A Plan for Instituting Continuing Professional Education as Part of APG Membership,” APG Quarterly 31 (Dec 2016): 161-163.
  14. ¶6, APG Code of Ethics, cached version, Internet Archive Wayback Machine, 29 Jan 2017 (https://archive.org/web/ : 28 Mar 2017).
  15. “APG Launches New Code of
    Ethics and Practices,” APG eNews 6 (Mar 2017): 1.
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