Thursday, March 27, 2014

Should I Add My Own Family Stories to my Ancestry Member Tree?

I have a quandary - other Member Trees keep sprouting "Stories" that I've written, and then they are "attached" to a number of other Ancestry Member Trees.  What should I do? 

 Some possible responses:

*  Engage those persons who have "written" my stories and ask for them to remove them because they have violated my copyright protection.

*  Engage those persons and request that they ask permission to use it and to add "reprinted by permission of Randy Seaver" after permission is given.

*  Just let it go and be happy folks are reading my posts and website.

*  Write my own "Stories" and attach them to my tree people with appropriate copyright notices and permission to attach to other trees.  

I try to share my research using my blog posts and web pages because I think that sharing and collaboration is the best way to interact with other researchers.  I really don't want to ask other searchers to remove my material from their trees, as long as my copyright notice is included in the "Story."

Here are some examples:

1)  For one of my Ancestry Member Trees, I clicked on the "View people with hints" link and saw:

On the screen above, I clicked on the "Story" link and the top of the list is shown above.

2)  Further down the list is a "Story" for David Auble (1817-1894), my second great-grandfather.  Here is the "Story" for him (two screens):

This "Story" was excerpted from my webpage (see as shown below:

Exactly the same words.  I have a copyright notice on the top of the page.

The "Story" was posted by the other searcher in 2008, and I tried to engage them in 2012 writing a Comment at the bottom of the "Story" page, saying:

"Are you a cousin? I published the above on my web site where, apparently, you found it and copied it into a Public Member Story here.
Are you a descendant of David Auble? He is one of my second great-grandfathers, through his son Charles Auble. Can we share information? Please email me at and we can start a conversation."
I have heard nothing back, and this AMT owner has not accessed Ancestry for over a year.

Some may argue that there is nothing copyrightable on that portion of my web page - that what was copied is a listing of Facts and nothing more. That's accurate, I think, for this specific example. But the larger report that includes this one portion might also be considered an "Authored Work" created from several sources of information and synthesized into a genealogy report at a specific time and place. Fair use in including only a portion of the larger work could be argued in the case above, also.

3) There are other "Stories" in other Ancestry Member Trees where the owner has copied Surname Saturday posts, will transcriptions, etc. into the "Story," and have included the copyright notice. Here's an example:

That is posted online at The title and first two paragraphs of the blog post was not included. The only attribution is my name at the bottom which was included when the searcher copied it.

There are instances where these "Stories" have been added to 10 to 20 other Ancestry Member Trees.

4) To be fair, I have had instances where AMT owners have asked my permission to copy and paste my work into their "Stories" for their AMT. In every case, I have granted permission.

5) I'm thinking seriously about writing my own "Stories" for specific people that contain my own work, especially those that would include my will and deed transcriptions. I have a lot of time invested in those transcriptions. I would include a link to the original blog post, and add a copyright notice and note that "Permission is granted to use this information for non-commercial use as long as you include '(c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver, originally published on <URL>.' "  

I especially like Dick Eastman's copyright policy which is summarized at

5) What do you do to maintain some control over your own written material? Have you found your material on other Ancestry Member Trees, in WikiTree notes, or on websites?

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Susan Clark said...

I have left a couple notes on photographs that were lifted from my website asking the blog be cited. Mostly because there is more info on the blog.

However, since I post to share information, I don't spend much time worrying about it.

Unknown said...

You are right that this is sharing copyrighted material without your permission. has a path for identifying copyrighted material that you would like them to take down, but there is a bit of work required and it will likely take some time:

Contacting the person first is probably a good idea. Most people don't understand the complex copyright rules.

Janice Harshbarger said...

I guess the question is: Why am I posting the information? If it's to share with unknown relatives, then I should be delighted if someone "steals" my stuff, with or without acknowledgement. If it's because I hope to someday profit from my work, then I wouldn't post at all until it was in some sort of commercially viable form. I post, because I want to inform and to be informed.

bgwiehle said...

One consideration when posting your stories on your tree: they will be easier for other researchers to attach to their own trees, and they will likely come up in hints. Currently it takes a web search to find Genea-Musings articles (except the few already on trees). When they are attached to a tree, they are likely to proliferate all over, albeit in exactly the form you've written.

Unknown said...

For me it is an issue of attribution. You have every right to insist folks identify you as the source of the material they post. You've put an incredible amount of time, effort and money into this work. For others to use it without attribution is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm an advocate of social genealogy. I have my trees on Ancestry, WikiTree and my own personal TNG based websites. I want to be clear I'm deeply in the Open Sharing camp. But I expect my original content to be attributed when used.

I vote for the kind approach first. Reach out to the offender and ask them to properly attribute. If they fail to do so add a comment to their posting of the work, as you've done, claiming ownership. If the owner deletes the comment or otherwise continues to show unwillingness to attribute raise it up the Ancestry relief system.

As to whether or not to add your own stories to Ancestry, I vote no. You cede ownership of your media to Ancestry by doing so. But if you still feel compelled, write excerpted materials linking back to your website. You can include a copyright and use statement for the larger works there as well.

T said...

What Janice said, " I post, because I want to inform and to be informed. "

The reason I started posting my stories to the person's page on ancestry was to inform and hopefully help. So far I haven't found any on anyone else's pages probably because I can't even find anyone else working on my branch of the tree. The tiny bits and pieces I have found were helpful to me both as possibilities and rejects. Maybe my stories will help someone figure out who they are.

upnover said...

As this is a very part time hobby for me & I'm not a writer/blogger or anything like that it would never have occurred to me to include the copyright info, but I'm not very good with adding sources.

If I think about it though, adding the copyright info & link to where it came from would make sense, that way I would know where I got it if I needed to go back, others could tell if it was a good source etc & credit would be given where due.
I might not think about it if I saw a copyright notice at the bottom but perhaps if your first line said something about it being copyright protected- if you want to include it in your tree just put this in as the source. That would remind people I think.

Tessa Keough said...

This is not "complex" copyright law, this is a simple matter of "giving credit where credit is due." If you did not write it, you need to ask for permission to use it - whether that is a family group sheet, a story, a blogpost, an article, anything. This is not hard and we all learned the basics of report writing in school.

If someone has used your work without permission, you should let them know and ask/require them to provide the attribution. It is a simple matter and most people (including you Randy) are happy to see their work used and cited, they simply wanted to be asked. To those who don't respond, if has a method to look into it fine. Otherwise I would just post a comment (following that first one) that while you appreciate their interest in your work you don't appreciate their lack of courtesy in not providing a credit.

If genealogists (hobbyists, amateurs, professionals, or something in between) want to be taken seriously, we need to follow the simple rules everyone learned (or should have learned) in grade school.

Donna said...

Although some people with my material do respond when I contact them but many others do not. I have photos and material attached to our tree but I keep finding people who have not linked to my attachments but have copied them in their own attachments, which are then being attached by many other trees as the original material. Some of these are photos my daughter compiles of face shots of ancestors she creates in her photo software. She has even labeled them on the photos and still they copy them to their computer and upload them so they are listed as the original source rather than using our tree's link.

Cousin Russ said...


.... and just when I was thinking about making my Ancestry Member Tree public.

I am hoping that The Legal Genealogists spots this blog post. I'd be very interested in her response.

Thank you for sharing this issue.


Michigan Girl said...

Well, Randy, you've certainly got me thinking now. I don't think any of us can ever completely protect the material we've written. I even posted a comment on a FB group last week with an idea everyone liked and it was credited to someone else. There ya go. That being said I do believe that the least people can do is give a link to the original source of the material. Should they ask, absolutely. Will they? Probably not. I think then that it falls back on us to clearly state our copyright and I intend to do exactly that. Will it protect our material, maybe sometimes.
Thanks for this excellent post.

Bill West said...

About a year ago I found one of my blogposts about an ancestor posted as a story on Ancestry by 12 people! I'm guessing that it was originally posted by just one and the others copied it from him or her. I sent messages to all of them, said I'm glad they liked my post, but to please credit it as my work. Three did, the rest didn't.

There may be other "Stories" that are my work, but since I unsubscribed from Ancestry I am now blissfully unaware of them.

Unknown said...

Even if you subscribe to the "I share, so I'm happy it's being shared" philosophy ... wouldn't you WANT to know who is looking at that material, and have them guided to the place where there is even MORE material (i.e., your blog/website)?

Two things can happen then ... you can be in direct contact with this potential new cousin (rather than the Ancestry thief having all the fun), and the sharing can go BOTH ways.

At the very least, you deserve attribution when these folks copy your material. That's your work product; hours and hours of your time and expertise.

Bottom line is that (regardless of whether the copyright notice is included) your work IS protected by copyright. The folks who didn't ask permission to use your material have violated that copyright. I would ask nicely ... once. If no response, then contact Ancestry and have it taken down, or replaced with a link to your blog post/website URL.

Mark said...

The worst case is where people copy your information and subsequently you improve it by fixing errors in it. I've found numerous cases where incorrect or partially correct data I generated 5 or 10 years ago is "out there" in dozens of places.
A short copyright notice with a date on your stories can help with this. Aside from its weak legal defense, it identifies the source of the story and stamps it with a bit of authority. (Unless the story thieves add their own bogus copyright notices...something that would deserve some serious pursuit.)

Unknown said...

Part of the problem lies with what calls a story, and with their drive to get folks to share their data, even if it is completely unvetted. This "data" then gets blended into existing databases that also include sourced data. If would require a date posted and a source before a member posted something...either a link to where they obtained it, a proper citation, or a statement that it was told to them verbally by their own family member, perhaps a bit of this could be prevented. Of course they could still steal it but then they would have to actually say they got it from a family member which would be a lie, documented by your actual post. There are some that are just plain ignorant and this step would also educate them.

Linda said...

I have chosen an option you did not include: File a "take-down notice" (or "cease and desist") directly to Ancestry's copyright department to have the material removed from both the tree and Ancestry's servers.
Why? First and foremost, I do not agree with Ancestry's Terms & Conditions regarding user provided content and therefore I do not want my original creations on Ancestry whatsoever. As the copyright holder, that's my choice and my right. Second, in the past, I have "engaged" the tree owners politely requesting the removal; none has ended well. There is no reason I, the injured party (in legal terms), should subject myself to further insults, sometimes quite profane.

Rather than republishing without the copyright holder's permission, links to the original site can be included as Web Links on Ancestry trees. Yes, I've heard the "But it might disappear" excuse. Such is life.

Sheila said...

I do not have a tree on but I published a book in the 1990s on my father's ancestry, tracing all the descendants from the earliest ancestor I found and I still am selling the book today. I belong to ancestry and now find that there are close to 70 family trees with the first 4-6 generations of my book copied exactly as I have them listed in my book. They did not copy my stories but copied the names that I use for these people and all the dates, many which are my approximate dates. They copied each generation the exact way I have them listed in my book. I really feel that this is not fair use of my published book. Some people even copied the photos from my book but I asked them to take them down and most have done this. If I wanted my book on Ancestry, I would have put it on myself. I have emailed and written the copyright department of Ancestry 4 times in the past 2 months and get no reply from them. Any suggestions?