Thursday, May 31, 2012

Adding a Story to my Ancestry Member Tree

I don't check my MemberConnect notes at the bottom of my home page very often, but sometimes I see something of interest.

Today, I noticed that a searcher had added two photos (of my father) from my database to their database for some reason:

I don't know this person, and have had no contact with him to my knowledge.  I'm not trying to pick on him here - just noting some things that may be of interest to my readers and Ancestry Member Tree users.

I clicked on the link to his tree and found that this searcher had added my entire Seaver line (12 generations); however, only the parents were added, not siblings of my Seaver ancestors.

I worked my way back to Robert Seaver (1608-1683), the immigrant to Massachusetts in 1634.  Robert Seaver had a number of "Stories" attached to him. created the "Stories" feature because the "Person Notes" are accessible only to Owners of Ancestry Member Trees (not to editors, guests or visitors).  In addition, the "Stories" feature can be added to the MyCanvas book, but the Person Notes cannot be.

The two "Stories" of interest to me were these:

1)  A "Story" about the life of Robert Seaver (copied, as best I can tell from my web page at

2)  A "Story" with the sketch from The Great Migration Begins series copied or transcribed from the Great Migration website (

For Robert Seaver's wife, Elizabeth Ballard, a "Story" was posted, also from my web page:

It turns out that many other searchers (117!!) have copied the Robert Seaver "Stories" to their Ancestry Member Trees - there is a long list of them on the Story page.

I decided that I should add my own stories to my Ancestry Member Tree that I want to share with my cousins, siblings and descendants (the one I have on my app).  It was easy to do - just click on the orange button to "Add this to my Tree."  The "Attach to someone in your tree" popup window opened, and I typed in Robert Seaver and had to select from the four Robert Seavers in this tree:

After selecting the right Robert Seaver, I clicked "OK" and the Story was added to my tree.

My thoughts about this include:

1)  Searchers have found my work product (and The Great Migration work product) online and have added it to their Ancestry Member Trees without attribution.

2)  Frankly, there is not a lot of "my original work" in my notes on Robert and Elizabeth (Ballard) Seaver, and using what I posted in 2005 on my web site is not disconcerting to me.  I take the view that "I've posted this material, which is mainly summary and sometimes analytical, in nature, for the benefit of other searchers in hopes that they will attribute it, contact me and share their information with me."  This applies to my blog postings too - people are welcome to use it, as long as they attribute original work to me.

3)  I could add "Stories" based on my Person Notes to my ancestor families so that my extended family members, who may become editors or guests of my Ancestry Member Tree, can read them.  It is not difficult to do - I can just copy and paste from my Person Notes into a new "Story."  I think that I will add a copyright notice and permission statement to the Stories, however.

I'm curious how other researchers have handled this attribution issue.  I'm loathe to write to all of those that have copied my material to persons in their tree, because I think it will be contentious and ultimately unproductive.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver


sharon said...

Keep in mind that this opinion is from a VERY free sharer of my genealogy information;) Add a story is a catch-all for notes longer than the description area of a Fact (for me;) - I have had many of my "stories" copied -- occasionally I will check the link to a person...but few have any better or more information than I do. I do like your idea of adding the copyright information for acknowledgement -- that may give some pause.

Ginger Smith said...

Randy, anything I write or create (with the exception of my blog posts) or email to someone has either a copyright notice, source citation, or my name, email, and date created noted at the top or bottom of the document.

I receive a LOT of documents that people share with me that have no author's name on them. This is frustrating. So I make sure if and when I send something to someone else, whether it is mine or belongs to someone else, I write the author's name, contact info, and date on it.

As for the online trees. My tree is private. The most important research I did was already copied and pasted to (not because of something I posted to my tree but from a site) and the author refused to remove at my request several years ago, so I let it be. I think it's funny, though, because everyone who has copied this info, inevitably ends up with a tree with at least 3 "siblings" with the same name! If someone wants to believe a person who has three men of the same name in a single household did all that research themselves, well...they are in for a big surprise!

Jenna said...

Randy, I blogged about a similar situation last year:

Be sure to read all the comments, there are some good ones! :)

I don't mind that people copy my information at all. That's why I put it out there to the public. But I do expect them to contact me to see what our connection is or what additional information I may have.

For one particular line that I've spent a lot of time on, I attached a probate document to an individual on my tree...but I redacted all the good stuff...the names and locations of all the heirs including the daughters married names! In it's place I added a text box and said: "Through collaboration we can achieve our end goals quicker and with more accurate information. I am happy to share this and additional documents with fellow researchers, however I have seen too many documents attached to the incorrect person on Ancestry member trees. Please contact me if you believe we are researching the same family and I will be happy to work with you."

I've not received one email. :( People just want to grab and go!

Connie Sheets said...

I believe Ancestry public trees are the death of collaboration. Most people just copy mindlessly and never think to contact the person who posted the information.

There is a big difference between gleaning facts from me and stealing my copyright. I have had at least one person copy an entire narrative webpage of mine (well, except for my name and copyright notice, which she deleted) and paste it to her own blog as though she had done the research and written the narrative. I need to follow through with this one to have the blog provider remove the post (since my polite requests directly to the thief have resulted in stone cold silence), but I've not taken the time to do it.

I have had numerous people take unique documents or results of my research that I shared via e-mail (or snail mail in the olden days) and post them without attribution. While that is not a copyright violation, it is rude and maddening.

I appreciate those few cousins who have the common sense and good manners to state where they got something I shared that they use.

Susan Petersen said...

A couple comments, Randy,

1) I subscribe to the member connect feature in my RSS reader, so I constantly see who is saving what from my tree to theirs; I also receive notification if another Ancestry subscriber adds a photo or document to the media file of a common relative.

2) Yeah, it bugs me when Ancestry users grab my entire tree and add it theirs without even making contact. On the few occasions when I've contacted them to find out how we might be related, the answer has always been, "I don't know - who was your relative again?"

3) I've given up on attempting to be the internet police in regard to copyright. I'm with Jenna - the reason that I put as much information online as possible, as well as making my Ancestry tree public, is to make the information available. I don't own the facts. I don't own the links and documents that I locate on Ancestry. I'm doing the research for my own enjoyment and if my legwork helps another family member fast-forward their research, that's fine with me. What bugs me is when an Ancestry user downloads my "stuff" and re-uploads it as their own original content, rather than using the "Save to my tree" feature. Again, I can't police this, so I don't try.

4) I'm concerned with the "you don't need to know what you're looking for; all you need to do is look" mentality. While I find the clues via Member Connect activity helpful, I seldom add the research to my tree without doing the legwork myself. I will view other Family Trees, then follow the trail myself.

5) So many people have jumped to conclusions with their research that my fear is that some family histories are destroyed beyond repair. It will take the diligent researcher to sort this all out, realizing that just because the name's the same, it's not always the same person. Many times, I have done the research on two people with the same name so as to absolutely rule out the one who isn't my guy.

6) Clearly copyright doesn't mean anything to the average internet user. Years ago, pre-internet, I had a boss who took a publication I had written and produced and used it his portfolio when applying for another job. What I couldn't get over was that he actually showed the portfolio to me. When I called him out about it, his response was, "I was your supervisor when you did it, therefore I can put it my portfolio." For me, that was the most blatant and egregious theft of my work ever. So someone stealing the results of my family history research doesn't bother me that much. It bothers me, but not much.

Thanks again for having great educational posts on your blog and keeping the discussion alive.

Rorey Cathcart said...

I've added many photos, posted a few documents and written a few 'stories' on my Ancestry tree(s). My stories have mostly been very informal proof arguements, usually with a 'use at your own risk' disclaimer. I like the connect feature because when you click on 'your' image in someone else's tree it specifically says 'originally posted by...' so that there is some level of attribution.

I have to say I have had a pretty high success rate on collaboration. I'd put it at about 60% response to 40% non-response which is sadly but honestly quite good. The real disheartening bit is how infrequently the folks who reach out or respond have anything to offer.

As I re-create my primary tree into to two, new trees re-sourced using Gen Proof Std, I do not think I will be adding any of the media/stories back in. I use a gedcom generated from Ancestry to post to my personal genealogy website. I don't like all the extraneous code lines these self loaded media items generate which remain in the background even if the media is removed. I will just manage all my media on the personal site and use custom events and citations to reference any evidence they contain. I will certainly now be adding my identifier and copyright notice to each media item though. I do admit to being upset when people pull my media off my personal page and post it onto Ancestry but only if they fail to attribute.

I put my genealogical work out on Ancestry and my free site for the expressed purpose of sharing. But I've worked years on this stuff. So yes I get upset when others post it as their own or otherwise fail to attribute.

Still, though I don't attach other folks information to my tree directly, I have certainly found some good leads from member trees and connect activity. I've made a couple of good email friends working on similar family names which opened me to stories I might never have heard.

It's a balance game.

Magda said...

I agree with Susan P. in that the ancestry " way " is getting worse and "that some family histories are destroyed beyond repair." . I do not know what the answer is to all this mindless replications by folks who are hungry to have " trees" without digging for the roots properly . I like Ginger's suggestion of incorporating your citations and name somehow in each articles /stories.
Years ago ,true genealogy was a science /methodology only to a few who spent lives doing research and published their works . I like that it is accessible - through the internet - and more mainstream. But something is lost along the way . I never did ancestry or commercial trees . Only started putting my families up on a library wiki because my children would not have time to go through three file cabinets full of genealogy if something happened to me. Let's hope that your Seaver research remains intact for the most part .


Tanya said...

When I "add to my tree" I usually find who "originally submitted this" and send a quick Thank You for posting. I usually post how I am related also.
This doesn't always work if they cut and pasted it. The story will look like one person was the original when in fact someone else first posted it.
What we can do when posting photos or stories - add a source and copyright info in the description.