Privacy, Open Access to Records, and Politics

Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire has an interesting, thought-provoking post entitled “New Hampshire’s Presidential Privacy” in which she addresses some issues that ought to be genealogists’ main concern as they consider the presidential candidates: open access to records vs. the right to privacy. What she says I can’t agree with more. While I can understand the thinking behind limiting access to records of living people, would someone please explain to me how restricting access to my great-grandmother’s birth certificate of 1896 will somehow prevent either terrorism or identity theft?

Privacy, Open Access to Records, and Politics

Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire has an interesting, thought-provoking post entitled “New Hampshire’s Presidential Privacy” in which she addresses some issues that ought to be genealogists’ main concern as they consider the presidential candidates: open access to records vs. the right to privacy. What she says I can’t agree with more. While I can understand the thinking behind limiting access to records of living people, would someone please explain to me how restricting access to my great-grandmother’s birth certificate of 1896 will somehow prevent either terrorism or identity theft?

A Genea-Blogging Law Professor Looks at Ancestry’s IBD Controversy

Craig Manson, a law professor and active member of the bar of the State of California–as well as an active member of our genea-blogging community–has just posted the first of a multi-part series of a legal analysis of the controversy surrounding Ancestry.com’s Internet Biographical Database.

Read “Did Ancestry Violate the Copyright Law?…Prologue” on his GeneaBlogie blog, here. And stay tuned for more.

A Genea-Blogging Law Professor Looks at Ancestry’s IBD Controversy

Craig Manson, a law professor and active member of the bar of the State of California–as well as an active member of our genea-blogging community–has just posted the first of a multi-part series of a legal analysis of the controversy surrounding Ancestry.com’s Internet Biographical Database.

Read “Did Ancestry Violate the Copyright Law?…Prologue” on his GeneaBlogie blog, here. And stay tuned for more.

More on the Issue of the Internet Biographical Collection

Consider this UPDATE #7 of my “Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations?” post of last Tuesday.

The issue of the Internet Biographical Collection hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think it will for a long time. And that’s not a bad thing. I consider this past week a pivotal “moment” in the timeline of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession.

No matter how you feel about it, no matter where you stand, for me this matter highlighted these main points:

  • * Genealogy–especially the type in which individuals utilize the Internet as a tool in their research–is no longer a one-way street. We’ve been hearing for some time that interactive genealogy, best seen in the examples of genealogy blogs and using wiki sites such as Geni, WeRelate, and Dick Eastman’s Encyclopedia of Genealogy (just to name a very few type of examples), is the new future of family history. Those that are researching their family trees are no longer willing to sit back and let the major genealogy websites dictate what they believe the masses need or want. Researchers want to give their input. And, again, that’s not a bad thing.
  • * The pen (or keyboard, in this case) is mightier than the sword. When we blog, people listen. And we can use our words to effect change, for better or worse.
  • * Genealogy is not a static discipline. It is in the process of shaping and being shaped by all the players involved.

Most of my readers know that I have two teenagers and that I also work with teens at a middle school. We have 630 students currently enrolled at our worksite, and while I only directly teach a very small percentage of them, I am in daily contact with many of the other students as well. My experiences during the past three years as both a parent and staff member have radically changed my focus, my interaction and relationships with this age group. Teenagers are different than children. They’re not going to stand passively by while you give directions, and then follow them. They want to know your reasons, and that still might not be good enough for them! You can’t force them to do what you want. They’re becoming adults, and they need your understanding and respect, while you do your best to guide them to make the best, most responsible decisions and meet their needs and wishes.

At the risk of completely offending all my readers, in the following analogy I am going to liken non-certified genealogists–those of us who do our research as an avocation, not a profession–to young adults in a traditional family whose two parents consist of the professional genealogist and the major genealogy website. In my mind’s eye, I see the professional genealogist as “Mom” who is adamantly reiterating the rules and expectations to her teens: “Fasten your seatbelt to keep yourself safe, get to bed on time so you won’t become ill, do your homework first and then you can enjoy TV”, etc. “Dad” in this analogy is the major genealogy website: “I worked hard and spent a lot of money on this (car, furniture, vacation, you name it). You need to respect the work, time, and money I put into this, so you are going to follow the rules I make for it.” And then there’s the young adult: “You aren’t listening (to my needs…they never say that last part, but that’s what teens mean by that)! That’s not what I want! You didn’t ask me! You are violating my rights! I’m not a little kid to be bossed around! I have something important to contribute to this family!”

Every player in the above scenario is speaking the truth and has a valid point. Each needs to be listened to and respected, and in turn be the listener and give respect to the others. Professional genealogists are there to safeguard the discipline of genealogy. Without standards, there is chaos. We well know the saying that “genealogy without sources is mythology.” The history of each of our families deserves to be researched and written with the best methods and the highest standards we can attain. With that in mind, the pros need to understand that the rich stories of the individuals in our family tree–and even the legends–have a legitimate place in our research. Lists and reports of names, dates, and places, along with footnotes and citations are not what will perpetuate the history and pride of who we are as a family to our descendants. The good that we do for family history and genealogy needs to be acknowledged by professionals, too. Not all of us amateurs are “family tree climbers” or straight-on-back (SOB) researchers! Many–if not most–of us are attempting to do things the correct way.

Major websites provide us with opportunities that none of us could afford individually to access and acquire records or indexes of records that can expand our knowledge of who our families are. We need to respect their terms and conditions and realize that while they may be profiting from our subscriptions, the majority of that money is spent obtaining more records for us, the users. In turn, these major websites need to acknowledge that we are not passive in our use; we want to have a voice in what is available to us and to be acknowledged. We don’t want to be dictated to, and we desire to be respected by being consulted on things that affect us directly and personally, even if legally there’s no reason to.

As researchers and genea-bloggers, we are coming into our own. There’s a place in this family for another adult. “Mom” and “Dad” need to realize and respect that, and help create that place for us. Our role, then, is to act responsibly by using good methodology in our research, citing our sources; by respecting genealogy websites’ terms and conditions; and by learning the copyright laws that protect our own work. As genea-bloggers, it is important that we speak up (as we most certainly did!) when we feel that our rights–or even the respect we deserve–are being violated. We need to communicate with professional genealogists and major websites. But we need to remember that behind the faces of the APG or Ancestry.com or any other groups that represent professional genealogists and major genealogy websites are individuals just like us, with feelings and desires and plans.

I once wrote that a blog is “a place of opinion, passion, and emotion, and it is personal in that it is ‘owned’ by the author, who has complete freedom to express his or her opinions, passions and emotions.” It is still true and I still believe it. However, we will be listened to with more respect and credibility if we do not let our emotions and tempers get the best of us while we are communicating our needs and wishes. I say this having learned the hard way about using my blog as a ranting platform instead of as an effective communication tool. You can be right in everything you say, but if you say it in an offensive way, you will not effect positive change. I’m proud to report that nearly all of the genea-bloggers who wrote on the IBD issue did so appropriately, and I’m not trying to be critical of my fellow bloggers here. This is the second major hot topic to stir the online genealogy world within the last eight months and I think I am safe in predicting it won’t be the last. For those of us (and I’m definitely including myself!) who tend to blog before we think through the full consequences of what our words may do, let’s remember to take a deep breath and step back for a moment when the next hot topic arrives. Let’s ask ourselves what resolution we desire, and then work positively toward that end.

Just as the look of the traditional family is changing, so the field of genealogy is changing us and vice versa. We need professionals and the major database websites, and they need us! For the good of all involved, and for the good of genealogy as a discipline, we need to communicate effectively and be responsible towards and respectful of the others.

I encourage my readers to visit the blogs mentioned in my previous post on this topic (check the updates at the bottom of the post) for other bloggers’ continuing perspectives and readers’ comments on this major issue. These are the movers and shakers in the genea-blogging world, and their opinions and research on this subject are well worth reading.

More on the Issue of the Internet Biographical Collection

Consider this UPDATE #7 of my “Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations?” post of last Tuesday.

The issue of the Internet Biographical Collection hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think it will for a long time. And that’s not a bad thing. I consider this past week a pivotal “moment” in the timeline of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession.

No matter how you feel about it, no matter where you stand, for me this matter highlighted these main points:

  • * Genealogy–especially the type in which individuals utilize the Internet as a tool in their research–is no longer a one-way street. We’ve been hearing for some time that interactive genealogy, best seen in the examples of genealogy blogs and using wiki sites such as Geni, WeRelate, and Dick Eastman’s Encyclopedia of Genealogy (just to name a very few type of examples), is the new future of family history. Those that are researching their family trees are no longer willing to sit back and let the major genealogy websites dictate what they believe the masses need or want. Researchers want to give their input. And, again, that’s not a bad thing.
  • * The pen (or keyboard, in this case) is mightier than the sword. When we blog, people listen. And we can use our words to effect change, for better or worse.
  • * Genealogy is not a static discipline. It is in the process of shaping and being shaped by all the players involved.

Most of my readers know that I have two teenagers and that I also work with teens at a middle school. We have 630 students currently enrolled at our worksite, and while I only directly teach a very small percentage of them, I am in daily contact with many of the other students as well. My experiences during the past three years as both a parent and staff member have radically changed my focus, my interaction and relationships with this age group. Teenagers are different than children. They’re not going to stand passively by while you give directions, and then follow them. They want to know your reasons, and that still might not be good enough for them! You can’t force them to do what you want. They’re becoming adults, and they need your understanding and respect, while you do your best to guide them to make the best, most responsible decisions and meet their needs and wishes.

At the risk of completely offending all my readers, in the following analogy I am going to liken non-certified genealogists–those of us who do our research as an avocation, not a profession–to young adults in a traditional family whose two parents consist of the professional genealogist and the major genealogy website. In my mind’s eye, I see the professional genealogist as “Mom” who is adamantly reiterating the rules and expectations to her teens: “Fasten your seatbelt to keep yourself safe, get to bed on time so you won’t become ill, do your homework first and then you can enjoy TV”, etc. “Dad” in this analogy is the major genealogy website: “I worked hard and spent a lot of money on this (car, furniture, vacation, you name it). You need to respect the work, time, and money I put into this, so you are going to follow the rules I make for it.” And then there’s the young adult: “You aren’t listening (to my needs…they never say that last part, but that’s what teens mean by that)! That’s not what I want! You didn’t ask me! You are violating my rights! I’m not a little kid to be bossed around! I have something important to contribute to this family!”

Every player in the above scenario is speaking the truth and has a valid point. Each needs to be listened to and respected, and in turn be the listener and give respect to the others. Professional genealogists are there to safeguard the discipline of genealogy. Without standards, there is chaos. We well know the saying that “genealogy without sources is mythology.” The history of each of our families deserves to be researched and written with the best methods and the highest standards we can attain. With that in mind, the pros need to understand that the rich stories of the individuals in our family tree–and even the legends–have a legitimate place in our research. Lists and reports of names, dates, and places, along with footnotes and citations are not what will perpetuate the history and pride of who we are as a family to our descendants. The good that we do for family history and genealogy needs to be acknowledged by professionals, too. Not all of us amateurs are “family tree climbers” or straight-on-back (SOB) researchers! Many–if not most–of us are attempting to do things the correct way.

Major websites provide us with opportunities that none of us could afford individually to access and acquire records or indexes of records that can expand our knowledge of who our families are. We need to respect their terms and conditions and realize that while they may be profiting from our subscriptions, the majority of that money is spent obtaining more records for us, the users. In turn, these major websites need to acknowledge that we are not passive in our use; we want to have a voice in what is available to us and to be acknowledged. We don’t want to be dictated to, and we desire to be respected by being consulted on things that affect us directly and personally, even if legally there’s no reason to.

As researchers and genea-bloggers, we are coming into our own. There’s a place in this family for another adult. “Mom” and “Dad” need to realize and respect that, and help create that place for us. Our role, then, is to act responsibly by using good methodology in our research, citing our sources; by respecting genealogy websites’ terms and conditions; and by learning the copyright laws that protect our own work. As genea-bloggers, it is important that we speak up (as we most certainly did!) when we feel that our rights–or even the respect we deserve–are being violated. We need to communicate with professional genealogists and major websites. But we need to remember that behind the faces of the APG or Ancestry.com or any other groups that represent professional genealogists and major genealogy websites are individuals just like us, with feelings and desires and plans.

I once wrote that a blog is “a place of opinion, passion, and emotion, and it is personal in that it is ‘owned’ by the author, who has complete freedom to express his or her opinions, passions and emotions.” It is still true and I still believe it. However, we will be listened to with more respect and credibility if we do not let our emotions and tempers get the best of us while we are communicating our needs and wishes. I say this having learned the hard way about using my blog as a ranting platform instead of as an effective communication tool. You can be right in everything you say, but if you say it in an offensive way, you will not effect positive change. I’m proud to report that nearly all of the genea-bloggers who wrote on the IBD issue did so appropriately, and I’m not trying to be critical of my fellow bloggers here. This is the second major hot topic to stir the online genealogy world within the last eight months and I think I am safe in predicting it won’t be the last. For those of us (and I’m definitely including myself!) who tend to blog before we think through the full consequences of what our words may do, let’s remember to take a deep breath and step back for a moment when the next hot topic arrives. Let’s ask ourselves what resolution we desire, and then work positively toward that end.

Just as the look of the traditional family is changing, so the field of genealogy is changing us and vice versa. We need professionals and the major database websites, and they need us! For the good of all involved, and for the good of genealogy as a discipline, we need to communicate effectively and be responsible towards and respectful of the others.

I encourage my readers to visit the blogs mentioned in my previous post on this topic (check the updates at the bottom of the post) for other bloggers’ continuing perspectives and readers’ comments on this major issue. These are the movers and shakers in the genea-blogging world, and their opinions and research on this subject are well worth reading.

Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations?

(Updates to this issue appear at the bottom of this post.)

There’s a bit of a hubbub in the genea-blogging world today, if you haven’t noticed. Seems that Ancestry.com has spidered and cached many genealogy websites and blogs and posted excerpts of their content and thumbnails of their home pages to their Internet Biographical Collection database. And that has a lot of genea-bloggers (and possibly genealogy site webmasters) a bit upset. The content of many of those blogs and sites are covered by copyright, and are not to be quoted or copied in any manner by those who will profit from them, without permission. At first, it seems, this database was only available to those who had a subscription to Ancestry. It appears that later today, it was changed to a free database.

That may cover Ancestry legally for its use of content (text); but it may not cover it for its use of images. For instance, my website, also named AnceStories, was created with free background images. However, I had to obtain the image creators’ permissions, in several cases, to use those graphics. The artists were very clear that those images could not be resized or reused in any way, for any purpose, without permission. So a thumbnail of my website’s home page posted on another site could possibly be in violation of those terms of use, even if Ancestry doesn’t profit from it.

This all seems a bit hard to swallow considering two things happening just in the past four months:

  • * Ancestry demanded that Michael John Neill remove the images of census, draft cards and ships manifest lists of famous people from his blog, saying it violated their licensing agreement (links here and here). Never mind that this was giving Ancestry great publicity–and more importantly–Michael had received previous staff’s permission to do so.
  • * Ancestry threatened legal action against FreeOnAncestry.com (by the same creators of well-known genealogy website, Interment.net) saying they could not use the word “ancestry” as part of their URL. This site listed databases that were available for free on Ancestry, either permanently, or as a part of publicity “gimmicks,” so to speak; i.e. military records databases around Veterans Day, or African-American databases during Black History month, etc. Again, the web owner had the previous staff’s permission, and again, it was positive, free publicity for Ancestry; a great way to be notified of an opportunity to try out a free database and decide if you wanted to purchase a subscription.

I don’t appreciate Ancestry’s heavy-handedness in the two cases above. While they may be staying within the letter of the law, is it fair to the genealogical community, one that relies strongly upon the kindness and generosity of others–think Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, for instance– to treat people this way? Is it fair, or ethical, or moral after these actions, to turn around and violate people’s terms of use or skirt around possible copyright infringements? What do you think?

I first read about all this from Amy Crooks of Untangled Family Roots. She’s been followed by Kimberly Powell of About.com Genealogy, Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire, Becky Wiseman of kinexxions, Chris Dunham of The Genealogue, and Randy Seaver of Genea-musings. I’ll update this list as necessary.

By the way, Janice has a list of the blogs she’s found in this cache, and I added to it in the comments.

UPDATE: (Tuesday, 28 Aug 2007) Susan Kitchens of Family Oral History Using Digital Tools has a hilarious parody of Ancestry’s home page here. Be sure to scroll down to see an enlarged view of this graphic!

UPDATE #2: (Wednesday, 29 Aug 2007) Late last night and this morning I read with interest more bloggers’ opinions on this subject: Jasia of Creative Gene, Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter, Denise Olson of Family Matters, Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie, Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian, Steve Danko of Steve’s Genealogy’s Blog, Bill West of West in New England all had interesting points to make, and not necessarily were all in agreement (which makes for a good and lively discussion, I think!). There may be more genea-bloggers out there who’ve made points on this hot topic, but these were all the ones that are on my Google Reader. If you or someone you know has blogged about this, please leave a comment or contact me (my e-mail address is listed in my profile; link in right-hand sidebar).

(Another blogger who posted on this topic on this day was Schelley Talalay Dardashti from Tracing the Tribe.)

UPDATE #3 (The Storm Rages On): (Wednesday, 28 Aug 2007) For those of my readers who are not already genea-bloggers and thus may not have be aware of the lastest updates, here are additional posts on this hot topic written by some of the aforementioned bloggers: Kimberly Powell at About.com: Genealogy, Becky Wiseman at kinexxions; Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings; Amy Crooks at Untangled Family Roots; and Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie. It’s also interesting to read the many comments posted by the readers of Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and Dick, himself, to his two posts, “The Generations Network Receives Patent for Correlating Genealogy Records” and “Internet Biographical Collection is Free at Ancestry.com”. There are also many comments at Ancestry’s blog, 24-7 Family History Circle on the post, “Internet Biographical Information is Free at Ancestry.”

In addition, I found more on this topic at these posts: Jessica Oswalt at Jessica’s Genejournal, Leland Meitzler of Genealogy Blog, and Pat Richley of DearMYRTLE: Your Friend in Genealogy. Ol’ Myrt brings up a valid point about the “Numbers Game,” that is definitely worth reading.

UPDATE #4 (Resolution…for the time being): (Wednesday, 29 Aug 2007) Ancestry.com has removed its Internet Biographical Collection, for now. See their 24-7 Family History Circle blog here (don’t forget to read the comments).

The following genea-bloggers had their response as well. I encourage you to read them, because some of these contain interesting facts and intriguing analogies:

UPDATE #5 (More genea-bloggers weigh in): (Thursday, 30 Aug 2007) I found a few more responses to the IBD furor/removal this morning:

And you really should go over and read Tim Agazio’s non-commentary on the situation, “So, What’s New in the Genealogy World?” It’s quite amusing.

Thank you to whomever informed me that I had a bad link to Becky Wiseman’s kinexxions blog in yesterday’s Update #4. Sheesh…she’s gotten the brunt of my poor memory (I listed her as Becky Phend earlier this week) and spelling mistakes (thus the bad link) these last few days.

UPDATE #6: (Thursday, 30 Aug 2007) I forgot to add another response to the IBD issue this morning. Actually, there are two by GeneaBlogie author, Craig Manson, here and here. I read with interest that Craig, a law and public policy professor, has been having conversations about this matter with his colleagues, and will be posting a series on his blog about the legal issues involved. Stay tuned!