Over the coming weeks, I will be presenting a proposed discussion forum for each of the 8 items on the APG Code of Ethics. This is the first in the series and deals with the First item on the Code:
“Promote a coherent, truthful approach to genealogy, family history and local history.”
This is a fairly basic statement and easy to understand; however one person’s understanding of the statement may not agree with that of another (e.g., a client). So, how would it be perceived that a person violated this?
A) The speaker who talks about historical events or their causes and makes errors in the information. Obviously, an innocent error is not as much an issue as a blatant lie that might cause people to search the wrong area or records for their ancestors.
B) The researcher who finds information on a client’s family but withholds that data.
C) The researcher who is unable to find information for a client so “makes it up” to “pad” the final report.
D) The researcher who bows to a client’s pressure to find a link between the client and some person in history he/she believes (erroneously or unfoundedly) is a relative.
E) The researcher who sees he/she is not going to be able to fulfill a client’s request but accepts the work anyway, charging for hours without accounting for them.
F) A researcher, writer, speaker, etc. who fails to cite sources used in his/her work.
G) A researcher, writer, speaker, etc. who provides information that is unclear, muddied, or otherwise difficult or impossible to understand/follow.
H) A genealogist who agrees to do a project and then does not follow through, never contacting the client or booking organization or publication with any explanation.
How to avoid being accused of any of these (or other possible scenarios) that might lead to a complaint about a violation of this code:
A) A coherent contract, identifying what is promised, time frame involved, and reasons for why a contract might be cancelled (a Cancellation Clause). For client research, this should include a statement about research time possibly yielding nothing, except to eliminate particular records or research locales.
B) Do not accept a client, speaking engagement, or writing assignment that is beyond your scope of knowledge or experience.
1) Suggest another individual (see the APG or SCCAPG website for this purpose, but don’t recommend someone you aren’t familiar with).
2) Direct the client/publication/organization to the APG or SCCAPG website to find someone better suited for their needs.
2) If you wish to learn about the subject matter, make it clear to the hiring entity that you will need extra time to learn enough about the topic to do it justice and clarify that your learning time will not be billed. Set up a workable schedule that allows you time for “unexpected delays.” Should you find yourself losing control over the time-table, be up front with the client and set up a new timeline (make an addendum to the contract that both parties agree with).
In short: communicate with the person booking your services. And keep the lines of communication open throughout the project until all the reports, projects, presentations, etc. are completed to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.
Problem: Item number 1 on the Code of Ethics is sort of a “catch all” statement and can be interpreted in different ways depending on a person’s perspective. An angry client is likely to claim a violation of this item because it’s the easiest to point to (that word “coherent” is such an ambiguous term that anyone can claim anything is “incoherent”).
Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD, MA, CG