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Credit where credit is due

Randy Seaver, author of the Genea-Musings blog, is one of the most prolific genealogy writers around, with a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly output that far exceeds anything The Legal Genealogist could ever envision.

thiefHis “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” posts always attract my eye, even if I haven’t got time always to join in the fun. He’s constantly posting transcriptions of documents from his family history, and — sometimes more than once a week — he posts lengthy family reports online.

Randy’s reports are well-researched, well-documented genealogical reports on an individual or a couple somewhere in his very large family tree.

The kind of reports that make you dearly wish you were related to Randy.

The kind of reports that will get noticed by those are related to Randy.

The kind of reports that get scarfed up and reposted online, often as attachments to family trees posted by subscribers at

And that’s what has Randy perplexed.

Last week, he threw out a question to his readers: “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?”1

He offered a number of possible responses to his own quandary:

“* 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.”2

And, he adds:

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.”3


The Legal Genealogist just doesn’t get it. How is it that so many in our community don’t see that it’s wrong to take ideas and words and work from our fellow genealogists?

There’s no reason, legally or ethically, why Randy — or anyone else who has worked hard and long to produce good work — should have to go to these lengths to get credit where credit is due.

The law is clearly on Randy’s side: the minute he wrote his blog post, it automatically had his copyright attached. As the U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”4

He puts the copyright symbol and notice on every one of his blog posts, but he doesn’t have to under the law. Copyright is automatic: the author don’t have to put the © copyright symbol on the material,5 doesn’t have to register his copyright with the copyright office of the country where he lives,6 though he can — and there are some extra protections if he does.7

And every ethical code you can think of — in our field and in life in general — is on Randy’s side too. Copying from others without giving credit to the original author is not sharing; it’s plagiarizing someone else’s work.

It’s something professional genealogists all expressly pledge to avoid. As the holder of Certified GenealogistSM and Certified Genealogical LecturerSMcredentials, I have pledged that:

• I will not represent as my own the work of another. …
• … In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.8

As a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, I have agreed to “fully and accurately cite references; and … (g)ive proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance.”9

And lest anyone think these rules are only for professionals, let me quote from the National Genealogical Society’s Standards For Sharing Information With Others:

(R)esponsible family historians consistently—

* respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement.

* observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law’s “fair use” exceptions.

* identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another’s intellectual work is plagiarism.10

Need help recognizing where the line is between sharing and plagiarism? Check out “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing” at Elizabeth Shown Mills’ EvidenceExplained site.11 Or, if you’re a member of the National Genealogical Society, read Debbie Mieszala’s “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” in the April-June 2012 NGS News Magazine.12

Now I want to repeat something Randy said: “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.’”

In other words, give credit where credit is due.

Because doing anything else — taking Randy’s work and putting it online with our family trees without his permission (law) and without giving him credit (ethics) — is theft.

Let’s all work together and stop the thieves — ourselves included.


  1. Randy Seaver, “Should I Add My Own Family Stories to my Ancestry Member Tree?,” Genea-Musings, posted 27 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright in General: When is my work protected?,” ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at p. 4 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014) (“The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law”).
  6. Ibid., p. 3.
  7. Ibid., p. 7.
  8. Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014). This code is also followed by Accredited Genealogists pursuant to the Professional Ethics Agreements of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.
  9. Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  10. National Genealogical Society, Standards For Sharing Information With Others, PDF ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  11. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing,” EvidenceExplained ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  12. Debbie Mieszala, “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” 38 National Genealogical Society News Magazine (April-June 2012) 17-20.
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