Genealogical Ethics (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Ethical Standards and Guidelines

Ethics are moral principles by which we conduct ourselves. Most of us have a clear definition of right and wrong! Perhaps a hundred times a day we are making such subconscious distinctions. The same principles of integrity guide us in family life, social life and business life.

It may be repetitive to say more about professional ethics in this sixth module—you have already absorbed much about research standards and professional standards. You don’t want to jeopardize your business image or client relationships by the slightest perception of operating in a less than upright, forthright fashion. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or wonder what is right or acceptable in a given situation, because appropriate conventions have already been established.

Here is a sample Code of Ethics, one which every member of the international Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) must sign and return with their membership fee. Similar organizations based in other countries have variations on the same theme, as can be seen on their websites.

APG Code of Ethics

As a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists I agree that professionalism in genealogy requires ethical conduct in all relationships with the present or potential genealogical community. I therefore agree to:

1. Promote a coherent, truthful approach to genealogy, family history and local history.

2. 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.

3. Promote the trust and security of genealogical consumers.

4. Advertise services and credentials honestly, avoiding the use of misleading or exaggerated representations; explain without concealment or misrepresentation all fees, charges, and payment structures; abide by agreements regarding project scope, number of hours, and deadlines and reporting schedules; keep adequate, accessible records of financial and project-specific contacts with the consumer; and refrain from knowingly violating or encouraging others to violate laws and regulations concerning copyright, right to privacy, business finances, or other pertinent subjects.

5. Support initiatives that preserve public records and access to them.

6. Be courteous to research facility personnel and treat records with care and respect; support efforts to locate, collect, and preserve the records by compiling, cataloguing, reproducing, and indexing documents; refrain from mutilating, rearranging, or removing from their proper custodians printed, original, microfilmed, or electronic records.

7. Promote the welfare of the genealogical community.

9. Give proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance; refrain from (or avoid) knowingly soliciting established clients of another researcher; encourage applicable education, accreditation, and certification; and refrain from public behaviour, oral remarks or written communications that defame the profession, individual genealogists, or the Association of Professional Genealogists.

As you can see, this Code covers the important aspects of professional work and deportment. To a great extent, ethical conduct is simply a matter of common courtesy and consideration for others. A few additional thoughts:

  • Respect is a two-way street; you earn it by giving it.
  • Please and thank you are still fundamental politeness, even in these days of hasty emails.
  • Keep abreast of your business management and correspondence.
  • If you say “yes” to a project, follow through to timely and thorough completion.
  • If you say “no” to a project, stick to your decision; don’t interfere with those who said yes.
  • Always show up on time for an appointment or a meeting.
  • When you don’t know the answer to something, be honest and say so.
  • Postal mail requires a self-addressed envelope and stamps for a reply.
  • Remember # 5. above: Take the time to assist with committees or letter-writing when records access and preservation affect you—not only as a researcher—but as a citizen and taxpayer.

Further guidelines have been outlined by the National Genealogical Society (NGS) to address a half dozen detailed situations you will recognize—research, use of sources and resource centres, technology, sharing information, web pages and self-education. They are also featured on the NGS website. Note that some are labelled Guidelines while some bear the more powerful word Standards. Each one embodies careful thought. It is good for us all to review these wise statements from time to time.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.