Tuesday, March 17, 2009

200-Year Dead People Have Privacy Too?

Amateur genealogist David Shannon of Lexington, KY has a passion for old gravestones. The gravestones at the Old Union Christian Church Cemetery to be exact.

According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Shannon has been collecting the names, birth dates, and death dates on the tombstones, which date back to the early 1800s. Several of his relatives are there, so he has a familial interest in his new hobby.

And, since other people have ancestors buried there, he started collecting their information as well, even creating a website at OldUnionCemetery.com, posting the information of the 475 burials and a photograph of each stone.

"Once I got into it, I figured other people trying to find ancestors would find information in the cemetery helpful," he told the Herald-Leader.

However, the Old Union church board told Shannon he had to take the information down. They sent him a letter demanding he "cease publishing pictures of stones ... not part of your family because it is sharing family information without their consent."

The Reverend Scott Winkler said Shannon's collecting the dead people's information was an invasion of privacy.

"If you're going to publish other people's private information you need to get their permission," he told the Herald-Leader.

Uhh, you mean get permission from the dead people?

Apparently so. The very same permission they got from the same dead people for the book they're selling for $10 with all the tombstone information in it, but without the pictures.

Winkler said the difference between their book and Shannon's Web site is that the church board and congregation approved the book. They did not approve the Web site. However, Shannon said he should be allowed to publish the information, since it's a community service and

But Shannon felt he had a right to publish the information, because it is public information (you can get it from the Kentucky Department for Public Health). He also considered it a community service. Plus, a university law professor says information inscribed on a tombstone is also public.

"If something is in the public, and you haven't exercised any protection over it or (indicated) any desire to keep it within your own sphere, you can't tell others they can't have access to it," Mary Davis, a law professor at the University of Kentucky said.

She then spiked a law book on the floor, shouted "BOO-YAH!!", and high-fived Shannon.

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