I Found Five Pages And I’m Going To Use It

You’ve found a recently published book that contains a lovely five page write up on your family. Here’s some ways to responsibly use it:

  • Make a copy for yourself for your own personal use. This does not mean posting images of these pages to your Ancestry.com tree (public or private), your blog, website, or Facebook page. Make certain those personal pages for your personal use have a complete citation attached. We’re not going to discuss whether copyright or fair use “allows it.”  Reproducing someone else’s work without their permission is something we we do not do and recommend readers do not either.
  • Read the material and see if you agree with it.
  • Read the material again to see if additional research is suggested. After all, a second reading won’t hurt.
  • If you are using in any way, shape, or form, the author’s conclusions about any specific events (eg. where someone was married and the location), cite the published book each time you use it to reference a specific event. Specific events are facts and can be phrased in short, to-the-point sentences.
  • Ask the author if they mind the use of brief passages (verbatim, in context, and cited) before quoting them. Indicate generally how the quote will be used. It may not be necessary, but I just find it courteous and prudent to do so.
  • Facts cannot be copyrighted. “James Rampley was born in 1803 in Harford County, Maryland” is a fact. Anyone can use a fact–however, if a published book contains the first known discussion of the fact, it’s prudent to cite the book as a source for that fact.
  • Paragraphs of reasoning are subject to copyright–such as:
  • “Thomas Smith was first known to have been living in Montgomery County, Kentucky in 1830 when he married Susannah Ruckerton. It is assumed that because there was no consent given in the marriage record that Thomas was of legal age to marry in 1830. This would mean that he was at least twenty-one years of age and born in 1809 or before. Thomas served in the Iowa Graybeard regiment and on his pension application indicated he was born in 1810. Thomas’ death certificate indicated he was aged 80 (wow…he was old) upon his death in 1889, indicating he was born in approximately 1809. For these reasons, I have concluded that Thomas Smith was born in 1809 or 1810.”

I could use the “fact” that Thomas Smith was born in 1809 or 1810 in my database and cite the book and page where I located the paragraph above. I could include that specific fact in my published genealogy and cite the book and page. What I should not do is include the entire above paragraph about Thomas Smith and his records in my published material.

Communicate with the researcher regarding the records they have found. If they won’t or can’t communicate then locate the records mentioned in their discussion. Transcribe and analyze them yourself. You may located additional information or draw conclusions different from the author. That’s what researchers often do.

Oh, and remember–paragraphs of reasoning are subject to copyright even if they don’t make any sense.


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