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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Ethics & Letters

A large part of my family history site has recently become the Family Documents & Stories section. In fact, these two areas are among the most frequently visited of the site.

I have to wonder however about the ethical dilemmas posed by publishing some of these documents even after the death of everyone involved. For example, in several of the letters to Rose Plaisted, her suitors specifically requested her to "Burn when read". Well, clearly, she didn't. And, in fact, those letters were passed from her daughters to her granddaughter to my mother... three generations who didn't destroy them. So whose ethical dilemma is that? Of course, prior to me, the letters were in a box, not published for all to see. Still, how could I resist? They're hysterical!

Of possibly more concern is the more recent skeletons in the closet... the people who are remembered by those who are still living. For example, I quote my great-aunt, Eva Scott, in The Letter from "Mother". She clearly didn't mean for anyone to see that letter, especially not anyone in her family. How was she to know that her suitor was saving his correspondence and would donate it to Cornell upon his death? (The irony being that she is one of Rose's daughters and didn't destroy that correspondence).

I guess the lesson here is that sometimes our letters come back to haunt us. I recently heard from a friend of mine from high school. She still has packets of letters that I wrote to her. I can only imagine what I might have said.

What do you think? Where are the ethical boundaries?

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