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:
- 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] (http://www.theindepthgenealogist.com/?p=4366 : 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:
- 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.
Evidence Explained (the website)
Becky Wiseman, "So Now What Do I Do?," Kinexxions, posted 15 November 2012 (http://kinexxions.blogspot.com/2012/11/so-now-what-do-i-do.html : 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