What are we doing this for?

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to take long between posts anymore, but I have to tell you that right after my last post I saw a post on my Facebook stream that made me go insane and it has taken me this long to get my head together to address my thoughts on the issue.

I tried to read what others are doing in their genealogy businesses and what issues they confront…yada, yada, yada. It seems that lately I have seen more and more people complaining about people “stealing” photos from Ancestry.com and using them on their trees. This really got me going. Stealing? Really? I can certainly understand if you are talking about photos of your immediate family. You or your spouse or someone in your immediate family probably took those photos; therefore, you have actual ownership of them. When we start talking about photographs of folks three and four generations back, I would beg to differ with you on who has actual ownership of that photo. Here is my argument and you can weigh in on your opinion.

1. YOU DIDN’T TAKE THE PHOTO. YOU WERE NOT THERE. HOW MANY DESCENDANTS ARE THERE FROM THAT PERSON WHO COULD ALSO HAVE A COPY OF THAT EXACT SAME PHOTO? Prime example, my grandmother was the youngest of 13, the oldest being born in 1878. From that family, there were 31 grandchildren, there are untold numbers of great-grandchildren and so on. I posted the following photo to Ancestry.com a long time ago.

I was given this photo by my grandmother, but it is a photocopy of the original. She gave all of her family copies. No one knows where the original is or if it even still exists. It is my opinion that every descendant of every person in this photograph has a right to it.

2. ONCE A PHOTO IS UPLOADED, IT BECOMES A HINT FOR OTHERS RESEARCHING THAT PERSON/THOSE PEOPLE. I have seen my photos show up as hints. Do I care? Am I angry? No!!! I want people to see them and to be able to have them. Print it. Frame it. I do not care. If you don’t like it, then either stop uploading your photos or take it up with Ancestry, Find A Grave, or whomever.

3. READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE FOR THE WEBSITES, TOO! For example, Find A Grave…”Submitting a photo to Find A Grave grants Find A Grave a license to host the photo and facilitate the sharing of that photo across the Ancestry Community so that Find A Grave users can post that photo to other Ancestry Community websites. However, submitting a photo to Find A Grave does not permit other Find A Grave users to post or republish the photo anywhere else (e.g., posting the photo on non-Ancestry sites or publishing it in a book, etc.). If you want to use another user’s photo other than for personal use, you should contact the user who posted the photo and ask for permission.” This latter part, in my opinion, is simply ridiculous. Of course, they are going to say this because they cannot legally give authorization for photos uploaded to their sites to be used on other sites that they do not own, BUT, once someone has uploaded a photo to a site, it puts that photo into the public domain whether you like it or not.

BOTTOM LINE: If you want to get down to it. The real key is money. If I were going to write a book and I wanted to use a photo that I didn’t have in my collection originally, it was something I just picked up on Ancestry, I probably wouldn’t use it in a vehicle by which I am going to make money because of the simple fact that there is no way to know who owns the photo. Some of the photos I have seen on Ancestry have been scanned from books and magazines. This isn’t really kosher either, but I don’t hear people yelling about plagiarism or copyright infringement on these social media sites, including Ancestry themselves. As in my previous example with my the photograph of my grandmother’s family, there are way too many potential owners of this photograph. It would take far too long to contact each and everyone to make sure they would be okay with it. It’s just not worth it. I could find something else to use much more cheaply to buy online if the people in the photo didn’t matter–it was just about the time period or something.

But this isn’t what the majority of genealogy researchers are on Ancestry and these other sites to do. Most are just average, everyday folks who are interested in where they came from; and, many are like me, adoptees wanting to fill in the holes in their hearts, not their wallets. So, what is it that we are doing here anyway? Why are folks so darned territorial over something as trivial as historical photographs?

I really have no idea how many hours I have spent or dollars either on my genealogy research, but I do know this… I have spent ZERO dollars on my ancestral photographs. They were all given/shared with me either by photocopy, hard copy, or digital copy, and I will continue to do the same with my cousins however distant they may be.

Happy Tuesday! Let me know your thoughts.


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About Deanne Rhoades

I am the proud wife and mother of two children and a handsome husband. We live in the greatest place on the planet...the South!!!! We love our sweet tea and college football. We worship the Lord and believe in the Constitution of the United States of America. I proudly served in the United States Army. I have degrees in political science, international affairs, and criminal justice. I am a true conservative. If you would like to contact me, please feel free to do so at deanne_rhoades@americanrhoades.com.