Tuesday 22 August 2017

Obituaries – Who should be listed?

My daughter asked my opinion about an obituary for the father of a friend of hers recently. She commented on how much information there was in that particular piece that, in her view, could be helpful for identity theft.

In the one she cited, the names of the deceased’s parents, sister and children were shown, as well as those of his grandchildren and a nephew. Included were married names and current places of residence. Even the name of an ex-husband of his daughter was there, in order to properly identify two of the man’s grandchildren.

Now this is not unusual. Most of us regularly read obituaries that have names of extended family members. Unfortunately we don’t think about what the consequences might be in publishing all of this information. My daughter thought this was “identity overshare.”

I am sure we are all aware that when addresses or at least the names of communities are shown, thieves might well target the residents while they are attending a funeral. More serious is listing full names, particularly of minor children. It won’t take much searching to find more data on these people with the possibility of someone using their names in fraudulent activities. The old security standby of using a mother’s maiden name is now frowned upon as they are usually well displayed on many obituaries.

As genealogists we prize published obituaries as places where information on many now deceased family members can be found. I will write about a good example of this in my next blog post. Having access in one place to all those relationships described in the second paragraph above assists us in constructing a comprehensive family tree. We don’t think too much about the privacy or security issues, mainly because we are usually dealing with people who, along with their direct survivors, have long since passed.

It’s a different world today, though, when rogue elements of our society use all manner of media to search for private information about individuals for their own unlawful means. We all need to take precautions with personal information about ourselves and our families and that includes the publishing of names and addresses, especially without the approval of those other family members.
From Albuquerque Journal - 4 October 2013
While people might wish to show how much the deceased will be missed by a large family, I think care should be taken not to give the general public inadvertent access to a large family tree. Information about children should certainly not be published without the full approval of their parents. (The same applies to social media and blogs, of course.)

I wonder if funeral directors, who mostly control or even write obituaries, advise their clients about the potential for misuse of information they publish.

I surmise that, if my daughter has anything to say about it, she will write my story as a much shorter than normal, such as: “Wayne came, Wayne saw, Wayne died!”