International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies

IAJGS Ethics for Jewish
     Genealogists

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS)

Preamble: All 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 research undertaken.

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 restriction.
  • 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 respected.
  • 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”

  1. I wish only to obtain true knowledge about any family I am researching.
  2. Family traditions must be interpreted with caution and only used as clues.
  3. All information must be assessed and not given automatic credibility.
  4. Claims to exalt a family for increased status must be verified.
  5. Unverifiable data must be labeled as such (see commandment 1).
  6. All records must be handled with care and replaced for the next user.
  7. Attribution of sources is essential and permission obtained for use of other researchers’ work.
  8. If verifying data involves costs to others these should be reimbursed.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.]


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