Is it OK to Borrow That Blog Post? 9

Creative Commons - Some Rights Reserved from Wikimedia Commons

We need to talk about online genealogy etiquette. If you find something on the web that’s relevant to your family research, when is it OK to copy it? Do you always have to ask permission? Why is everyone so concerned with citing sources? With so many people new to genealogy and new to online research, these questions come up frequently. Blogger and genealogist Becky Wiseman of Kinexxions blog recently had an experience that should be taken as a lesson learned for all genealogists.

Recently, Becky discovered quite a few of her posts had been “lifted” arom her blog and attached to an Ancestry member tree with no attribution. Becky’s posts are the result of an enormous amount of research and writing effort. In fact, her work is an excellent example of how we all should be researching and writing. In order to get her information disseminated and share her methodology, Becky uses a Creative Commons License which allows others to use her work, if they give proper credit and meet the other simple terms of the license. Needless to say, she wasn’t too happy to discover the theft and further attachment to other Ancestry member trees. You can read about her experience in her post, “So Now What Do I Do?”


People using online information, as well as those creating it, can learn a few lessons from Becky’s experience.


Users of online information:

  • First, check to see what the author’s terms of use are. Many bloggers, like Becky, use a Creative Commons License that allows people to, as Becky puts it, “use the content without asking for permission - it's the attribution part that they still must comply with, and according to my guidelines.” This is different from something that is copyrighted and you would need to ask permission to use the material. 
  • Creative Commons License terms can usually be found in the sidebar of a blog or within the body of the article or other material posted on the web. Becky also recommends putting a, “Use of Content” or similarly named tab at the top of your blog with those terms. 
  • Second, cite where you found the information. You, and the next person who sees the information),will then know where it came from. How else can you even attempt to figure out if the information is accurate if you don’t know where it came from? Nobody wants to unwittingly add people to their tree who aren't their ancestors! Citing where you got your information is one step to avoid that. 
  • Third, practice common courtesy. The person who wrote the material put hours, perhaps even weeks or months into the research behind the article. It’s common courtesy to acknowledge the work. How would you feel if you had put several  months worth of research and writing into a project only to find it pasted all over the internet with no acknowledgement of your hard work? And no way for anyone reading the material to determine its accuracy? 
  • Fourth, consider that not doing so is plagiarism, content theft or an outright copyright violation. The vast majority of people do not want to be looked upon at being a thief or plagiarist. Take a few minutes and follow the above steps.


So, let’s say you found some material you want to use in your personal research or online tree. You checked to see if there is a copyright or Creative Commons License and what the terms are. If necessary, you contacted the owner and asked for permission to use it. Here is a template you can use to cite a blog post or material found on a website:

Author, “Title of the Work,” Title of the blog or website, date published or posted (url : date accessed), paragraph number.


And as an example, a citation for this article:

Michelle Goodrum, “Is it OK to Borrow that Blog Post?,” The In-Depth Genealogist, posted [DD Month YYYY] ( : access date[ DD Month YYYY]), para. XX.


It’s really not so hard or time-consuming. Trust me, down the road you’ll be glad you did.


Tips for creators of online information:  

  • Spell out the terms of use for your online content and make it easy to find either in the sidebar, a separate tab, or both. 
  • Make it easy to locate and access your contact information (usually an email). Consider adding it at the end of your terms of use or Creative Commons License information. 
  • Include a citation and url with your online material or blog post. Make it super easy for others to cite your material.


To summarize, if you want to use online content in your Ancestry Member Tree or anywhere else, online or offline, first check to see what the terms are and comply with them. Second, always give proper attribution as to where you obtained the information. Third, it never hurts to ask permission, although it’s not always required or necessary. Fourth, consider how you would want material you created to be handled.

Genealogy is a wonderful, fun hobby but let’s remember to do it right and treat each other with the courtesy we would want. Oh yeah, one more tip, let the author know you found their material helpful. After all, you are probably related. Who knows, they may have more information they would be willing to share.


Helpful Resources:

The Legal Genealogist Blog

Evidence Explained (the website)



Becky Wiseman, "So Now What Do I Do?," Kinexxions, posted 15 November 2012 ( : accessed 18 November 2012).

Becky Wiseman to Michelle Goodrum, email, 16 November 2012; privately held by Michelle Goodrum [address for private use].


© Michelle Goodrum 2012


Michelle Goodrum

About Michelle Goodrum

Writer, family historian, and researcher Michelle Roos Goodrum has been researching her family for over 20 years. Being the caretaker of over 135 years of her family’s papers and photographs, Michelle enjoys piecing her ancestors’ stories together. Michelle is also a Teaching Assistant for Boston University's Genealogical Research Program. Follow Michelle on her blog The Turning of Generations ( ) Michelle is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Timeless Territories.

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9 thoughts on “Is it OK to Borrow That Blog Post?

  • Pamela Treme

    I had an original article that I wrote about an ancestor completely lifted and placed on Ancestry. I was mad when I saw it. I’m sure I could have had Ancestry take it down but I decided to get creative. I had a friend post a comment. The comment says: “Since this is an original work that is published on a website, you might want to point researchers to that website as a courtsey to both your readers as well as the author, who happens to be someone that I know. See” The comment has never been touched and the poster with sticky fingers has never added anything to the post or commented. It just sits there with the obvious assumption that the material was stolen. The sticky finger poster has never posted another thing of mine that I can find. Sometimes calling someone out is all that it takes to get their attention.

  • Mariann Regan

    Thank you, Michelle, for this useful guide and also for the Creative Commons and Evidence Explained websites. I had seen the story on Becky Wiseman’s blog and wondered what the remedy was. We in the academic world try to “police” plagiarism, but sometimes I think it is a losing battle. The Internet has that no-holds-barred aura, too often. So I very much like the way you appeal to common courtesy and the Golden Rule. In the end, it’s about decency over thievery!

  • RoreyCathcart

    Thanks for sharing Becky’s story. I very much like her idea of adding the usable citation at the end of each blog post. I will certainly be incorporating this into my personal genealogy websites.

    Content theft is a problem, particularly on Ancestry, but I’m surprised that so little was made, both here and at Becky’s post, of the easiest remedy.

    When you attempt to add media of any kind to, a reminder to the Content Submission Agreement is clearly linked. If someone adds your content to Ancestry without proper attribution they have every reason to know exactly what they are doing. Some truly are uninformed, most are not.

    Still, when you find your content on Ancestry. 1) Send an email to the member asking they properly attribute the work. Try to be friendly at first – you might be related. 2) 10 days, 2nd email, less friendly, explicit demand for correction with deadline 3) Forward a complaint to Ancestry with copies of your attempted communication and request for remedy. Unless we ask Ancestry to hold those accountable who will not respond on their own, stolen content will continue to be proliferated on that site.

  • Pamela Treme

    I hesitate to mention this item: Tynt Tracer ( It’s a tracer that tracks each time that someone copies and pastes from your website or blog. When the person pastes the text, the Tynt Tracer adds a linked line to the bottom of the paste that shows the source and a link to a license with standardized text.

    I’ve added the tracer to my family research blog as a convenience to my readers. They are free to take the information that I publish but I would like the credit. With the tracer in place, they have no excuse not to do a proper citation. You can see this in action. Go to and copy the post into a Word document. You’ll see the links at the bottom of the page.

    The reason I tend to hesitate to mention the tracer is that for some content providers they find the addition of the attribution intrusive. As I said, I look at it as a “no excuses” service to my readers.

    To add the Tynt Tracer to my blog I had to add a bit of Java code in a widget. However, before you add it, you might want to look up what others have to say about using it. I’m not trying to make money with my family research blog…just trying to make citation easy.

    • Michelle Goodrum
      Michelle Goodrum Post author

      Thanks for the info Pam. I had heard it was possible to do what you describe but had no idea how! You are always on top of things.

      I did try the copy/paste from you blog and personally, I like how it adds the attribution after the copy/paste. One less step for those of us who want to know where material came from!