Consent and Revocation

There was some excitement in the Wilton household recently, as Mrs W succeeded in tracing part of her family tree back to the 1500s. The bizarre thing was that, all those generations ago, the baptismal records showed that some of her ancestors were baptised in the same town (and therefore probably the very church) as the most recent generation. Given the extremely peripatetic routes by which Mrs W and I even ended up living in England, let alone Wiltshire, that was quite a discovery.

Of course, records of death, marriage, birth and baptism are a key part of that search, and the extent to which they are now being put online is a factor in how far back you can search with ease.

As one John Hunt is discovering, that record is something it can be quite hard to amend. Mr Hunt was baptised as a child, but gradually became disenchanted with his allotted religion, and withdrew from it before the point at which he would have been expected to convert his baptism into a confirmation of faith. Now he wants to annul the oaths made on his behalf at his baptism, and have the record amended accordingly.

Unfortunately for Mr Hunt, the Church of England appears reluctant to ‘qualify’ the original record. Its Council of Archbishops apparently responded that ‘the Church of England did not regard baptism as a sign of membership, so any amendment to the record would be unnecessary’.

In terms of identity management, this paints an interesting picture. According to the episcopal response above, the baptismal record doesn’t signify affiliation (“is a member of”), so the ‘issuing party’ won’t change it. And yet it ascribes a number of attributes to Mr Hunt which he no longer considers to be true.

As those attributes relate to Mr Hunt’s religious beliefs (or absence of them), they presumably qualify as Sensitive Personal Information under the Data Protection Act – in which case he would be within his rights to insist that the record held about him is inaccurate and needs to be amended.

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2 thoughts on “Consent and Revocation

  1. CarolynC says:

    Congratulations to Mrs W on tracing her ancestry back so far! Another problem with tracing ancestry is that records are not always accurate, or they are mis-translated. One genealogical book I found in an historical library listed my greatx4 grandmother as being “sister of the Commodore”. That ended up being (wrongly) translated to the wrong branch of the family tree. (There was more than one Commodore in the family, one more famous than others). I happened to find the right branch of the family tree from an 1855 census record where my greatx4 grandfather was living with my greatx3 grandparents (different surnames) and a military record in archives. That discovery took me back to the 1600’s. It is very exciting, indeed. However, the wrong branch of the family tree has been perpetuated amongst a lot of my relatives descended from my greatx4 grandmother. Places like Rootsweb and people’s personal web sites that “document” their family tree are not official and there’s not much recourse in correcting inaccuracies. Then there’s the “what’s your mother’s maiden name” that I LOUDLY objected to as being a secure way of identifying I am me for years, in large part because of web sites like Rootsweb. I’ve given up on that rant. It’s like the barn door is already open. :^) All in all, it is still very exciting to make a discovery in your family tree like that. Congratulations!cc

  2. Mr Hunt’s campaign to have his baptism annulled certainly raises some interesting questions.It seems to me that the historical fact of his having undergone some ceremony cannot be repudiated. (It is after all a public ceremony of record.) What Mr Hunt is entitled to repudiate is the inference of identity characteristics (his religious affiliation) from this ceremony. Of course, the whole point of baptism is that it turns religious affiliation from a private secret to a public affirmation. But the correct inference from infant baptism cam only really be about the religious affiliation of the parents.Similar issues would arise if Mr Hunt’s parents had taken him on a political march in his pushchair. It would surely be wrong to infer Mr Hunt’s present or past political beliefs from his presence at such an event as a baby. But we should not confuse the privacy of the fact with the invalidity of the inference from the fact.

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