human endeavors are capable of corruption and it is therefore appropriate
to institute mechanisms to safeguard against behavior that is inimical
to the common good. It is felt that the IAJGS should give the
lead in setting standards of behavior as applied to the world of
Jewish genealogy. It is at least arguable that the study of
genealogy itself, if not an “ethical” activity as such,
it is a mitzvah in accordance with the Torah principle of teaching
knowledge of the people, their tribes and “remembering the
days of old.” This document is intended to set out guidelines
for such standards. It is also offered as a code of “good
practice” which may inform readers. Finally, it includes
an updated version (in more modern English) of the late Rabbi Rabbi
Malcolm Stern’s “Ten Commandments
in Genealogy”, which remains as relevant today as when
they were penned years ago.
Code of Conduct:
Information acquired should be factual and where doubt exists as
to the accuracy of a purported pedigree, the questionability and
limitations of the data should be expressed.
All original sources should be stated to allow other enquirers
the opportunity of verification of the data.
The examination of all documentation should be undertaken with
sensitivity for the quality of the source used. Records in
the public domain should be replaced, after examination and any
annotation required, in the condition and order that they were found. They
should never be retained or handled carelessly.
If data presented relies on work already previously undertaken,
the credit for such work should be given to the originator, which
also acts as a disclaimer in the event that it may encompass error(s).
Should there be financial implications of working in genealogy,
the purveyor of services should state the likely costs involved
to the client and should only charge the agreed quantum for the
If data is acquired that seems to contain the potential for harming
the interests of other people, great caution should be applied to
the treatment of any such data and wide consultation may be appropriate
as to how such data is used. A confidential discussion with
an ethical authority (e.g. a respected Rabbinic Beth Din) or reference
to ethical principles already placed in the public domain (e.g.
by a regulating body such as the [British] Association of Genealogists
and Record Agents) may be helpful in such circumstances.
Regarding the “right to privacy” versus the “freedom
of information” area of potential conflict:
- Data more than 75 years old should
be regarded as sufficiently historical to be available, without
- More recent data should be evaluated in the light of sensitivities
of the living versus the importance of disseminating information.
- Generally, a request from an individual that certain information
about themselves or close relatives be kept private should be
- It if is decided not to publish any particular piece of information,
there should be a clear statement to that effect so that the reader
is not misled by the omission.
Ethics statement approved by the IAJGS Board
of Directors 2 November 2002
Adaptation of the late Rabbi
Malcolm Stern’s “Ten Commandments in Genealogy”
- I wish only to obtain true knowledge about any family I am researching.
- Family traditions must be interpreted with caution and only
used as clues.
- All information must be assessed and not given automatic credibility.
- Claims to exalt a family for increased status must be verified.
- Unverifiable data must be labeled as such (see commandment 1).
- All records must be handled with care and replaced for the next
- Attribution of sources is essential and permission obtained
for use of other researchers’ work.
- If verifying data involves costs to others these should be reimbursed.
- The sensitivities of living people must be respected and the
memory of the deceased likewise, but for the latter it is permitted
to record the objective facts about them.
- You should not claim expertise or become a genealogical teacher
without appropriate training and accreditation. [In this
context, “accreditation” should not imply holding
a formal qualification, although such is an asset, but simply,
as it says, sufficient training and experience to confer expertise.]