25 February 2012

Protecting the Living

Cousin Kevin- Adorable? Yes! In my public tree? NO!
There are days I wish my family would stop breeding so I could catch up! Cousin Chris has a baby, then Cousin Lori. Few more weeks and Cousin Amber will be adding to her brood. If I'm not adding birthdays (how old are you now, Angela?), it's anniversaries (congrats on one year, Jared!), weddings (when's the party, Jack?), or funerals (miss you every day, Crystal). I want to keep this information straight and get it down in the tree as soon as I find it, but what rules are there for living people? How do I make sure I'm not infringing on their privacy?

Well the first thing to understand is that most professional genealogists won't list a living person in a family tree. This is a pretty good rule for us amateurs too. The thing is, when you add information about a living person to something that may be viewed by others, some of them possibly not even related to you, you want to make sure that there is no way their identity can be compromised or stolen. There are a few ways to go about that and the best way is to just keep them off your online tree!

I do have a list of living relatives and their current information, but I try to keep that off my online tree so that I am sure their information is safe and uncompromised. Ancestry does have a built in feature for protecting the living by not showing any information about them. Most of the time it works. I have noticed that adding a photo to a living person does allow others to see a thumbnail of the photo in their hints pages. All it takes is a copy/paste and that photo is theirs now. And if you share your tree with others, they can take anything they like and make it as public as they feel it should be. So use some common sense and either don't share your tree, or keep your information of living relatives out!

If you simply must add a living person (maybe you don't want papers that you can lose floating around), there are two precautions you should take. First, tell the relatives that you are adding them and what information will be available. Make sure it's okay with them. Some people are less open than others and will not want all their information out in the ether. I have a private tree with living relatives on it that I use for research and to connect branches that sometimes connect to other parts of my tree. I don't share this one, and I put only the barest information on it. Just enough to make my connections. Second, don't add pictures! Like I said, the thumbnail can still be viewable, even if the actual picture isn't. Just play it safe and add them to a file folder on your computer for the individual. Not everything needs to be online.

As always, I am going to remind you that once it's on the Internet, there is no going back. Don't put anything online that you don't want found. No matter how secure you think a website is, there is always the possibility that it can be compromised.


18 February 2012

For Better or For Worse- Finding a Marriage Record

Cousin Jack and his bride Heather
One of the most sought after documents in our family tree is the marriage record. This one little thing can help answer so many questions. Ages, full names, the wife's maiden name and, naturally, the date of the marriage. How do you find this important piece of paper? And what's the difference in obtaining an index, record, license, or certificate?

First, let's discuss the different forms of marriage records that you will come across and what you'll most likely find. The Marriage Index is usually a searchable database or record book (Marriage Register) of all marriages performed in a certain area for a certain time. This record usually includes the names of the bride and groom and the date of marriage, but little else. A Consent Affidavit would be a form filled out by a parent or guardian of an underage groom/bride to prove that the marriage contract was accepted by an adult who understood the consequences of marriage. Not all marriages required one to be written, some only needed a verbal consent. So you may not find this in your search. A Declaration of Intent is a written or verbal statement that these two people want to marry and are legally able to do so. Banns and Intentions were published documents declaring the intent of the couple to marry and a challenge should anyone object. Churches usually read aloud the Banns ("if anyone objects to this union....") during services/the ceremony. Intentions were usually posted in a public forum (like an newspaper engagement notice today) so the locals had the opportunity to object. These weren't always required, so again, you may not find them for your records. Bonds were usually a document of a fee that the groom and/or the father/brother of the bride posted to off-set litigation costs should the marriage be nullified. If your record has this, it's a great place to find names of the bride's relatives or guardians. Marriage Licenses are the most common and usually have the most information. These were usually filled out and returned to the county clerk for filing, so you will usually find these in the county records office. They could include names, ages, dates, witness/guardian names, races, and residence information. Licenses are usually confused for Certificates, which are the papers that are given/mailed to the couple and kept in their records as proof of their union. These are usually found in your family's files and may not have all the information a License has.

To find the record you're looking for, you need to know where to look. The most obvious place is going to be where the couple was living prior to their marriage. You can find clues in censuses to where they lived (some years even asked for the year or length of marriage) and go from there. Now, I have one word of caution on this: some people would travel great distances (one or two states over) if they wanted to get married quicker or with fewer legal complications. For example: my grandparents married in Clay County, Arkansas. Clay county became a "marriage mecca", because it allowed marriages to wave the three day wait if there was a special reason (and to the judge in Clay county, all marriages were special!). So even though they lived in Indiana, they went south with their witnesses so they could marry right away. Keep an open mind in your searches if you don't find the record where you think it should be.

What if you can't find an official record? Well, you can try churches in their area. Sometimes there may not have been an official depository for marriage records. Territories didn't have a "government" as we know it, so the churches would perform marriages and keep the records. Also peruse newspapers. Now, not all newspapers are online. And there's no main database. So you may need to go to a library, contact a historical society, or contact local newspapers to find an archive. Not everyone announced an engagement/marriage, so you may not get the answers you want.

When did people start recording marriages officially? Well, that'll depend on the area. Most marriage records will be at county level. You can Google search "vital records" of whatever location you are looking for and a link or two will come up telling when records started to be kept, where to find them, and how to contact the office to request a copy. With few exceptions, most vital records will have began sometime in the 1800's for the States. Some a little sooner, some a little later. Ancestry has many marriage indexes and even has some images. If they don't have a copy of the actual record, they usually have a link on how to order it, so it's an excellent first stop.

Because this record can hold so much detail about someone's adult life, especially women, it can be the holy grail for some researchers trying to make that next big leap back. Don't be discouraged if you don't find it right away, or if it doesn't have all that you need on it. In the end, it is one piece of a very large puzzle. There is more than one road into Rome.


11 February 2012

Time Is Short

Crystal Hood-Pawlak 5/25/80-2/6/12
On Monday, February 6, 2012, my cousin Crystal passed away. At a mere 32 years of age, with a loving husband and five beautiful children, she was taken from this world by a heart attack. She was planning a renewal of her vows. Had even picked out a wedding dress. The last Facebook post I saw from her was Saturday. She was excited about possibly getting her federal tax return and finally purchasing a house after many setbacks. We laid her to rest today. Gathering as a family, some of us not seeing each other except for funerals and weddings, put us all in the mood to remember the fragile threads that hold us to this life. I had talked with Crystal about sitting down to get her story for my family tree, but we hadn't picked a time. It seemed that this week was too busy and next week was always just around the corner. There are things she'll never share with any of us, and the loss is profound.

If you have been doing any sort of genealogy for more than a year, you should have a great number of photos and stories from your relatives. Your tree may have some dead ends, but mostly it flourishes and grows almost every day. And yet, how much information about yourself have you documented? Do you have a journal? Do you keep records of your moves, your jobs, your interests? Even if it's not online in your tree, do you have birthdays and anniversaries for yourself and immediate family written somewhere? And what of your extensive research into your family's past? Can someone pick up right where you left off when you shuffle loose the mortal coil? Or will all you've done be lost and forgotten?

In order to protect our privacy, U.S. Census records aren't published until 72 years have passed. Now, you may think, "I'll be in my 70's or 80's, but still around. How cool!" But in reality, you may not be. How not cool. Other records in different states and countries around the world are kept private for 100 years (sometimes more) to protect the living. How long will your grandchildren have to wait for the answers you are able to supply right here and now? If you could talk to your ancestors, what questions would you wish you could get answered? Answer them now for the next generation.

Ancestry provides blank templates for censuses up to 1940. The U.S. Census Bureau has a great read called Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. This can provide you with information of every census and what was asked. Take the time to make a "report" of your life for these censuses so that your family won't have to wait 72 years to know who you were! And go beyond a census, write a journal if you can. Use a digital recorder or camera to record yourself and your life. Tell your story to people not yet here. Let them see and hear and feel who you are. I have always said that the only way to live a life without regret is to never let a secret lie buried, a hurt unhealed, or a thought unsaid. Even if you can't let those who know you now know something about you, it could be the answer your great great grandchildren will need.

My grandfather Gibson kept a daily record of most of his adult life. He could tell you how much he paid for anything to the penny. He wrote about birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, weddings..... heck, he wrote about how many tulips were planted in my grandmother's garden! These were little, inconsequential things. And they were priceless. I can hear his voice when I read his words. And while my children will never meet him, never hear him, they will know him. The essence of his life is in those books. My father has recently started writing things down. In my opinion, he edits too much. It's not because he's worried what people will think when he's gone (he'll tell you to your face what he doesn't like about you), he just doesn't think it's at all important. It's hard to get him to understand, it is very important. I gave him a voice recorder so he could tell his stories in a free flowing way. That way he doesn't have to think, just talk. And those stories can be saved and played back after he is gone. No one tells his story like he does, and it'd be great to keep that alive. Whether he's using it or not, I have no idea. I don't pester him. It has to be something he wants to do.

The records of our life go beyond us, of course. You've been researching your family and there is a lot of detail that may be lost if it's not organised properly. How is your organisation? Do you have your photos labelled with who is in them and when they were taken? Are your sources documented so people know what you have found and where you have looked? If you handed over everything you have today to someone else, can they follow your lead? Do you have your passwords for your membership sites listed so they can access your information when you are gone? If you can't answer these questions with a sense of security that your passing will not mean a loss of all that you've spent your time on, then you need to get cracking! Don't expect to live, or be able to research, forever. Eventually you will have to pass the torch on to someone else. And don't hoard what you find. Share it with anyone in your family that's interested. Start grooming your "successor" while you're still around to insure they'll not screw up all your hard work.

I know one day, Crystal's youngest son may ask questions about a mother he barely had time to know. I deeply regret that I know he won't get those answers from me. I mourn the fact that some answers will never be given, as no one alive knows them. It's hard to believe that we would have to be diligent about documenting the life of such a young woman. I honestly thought that I could always catch up with her later, even if that was decades from now. That chance will never come for me. Don't let that chance pass your family by.


04 February 2012

Copyrights and Copy Wrongs

Inevitably, someone uses another person's information, photos and documents and issues of copyright come up. But what laws protect your rights and how do you exercise them? When have you relinquished your rights? How do you keep yourself from infringing on the rights of others?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ, to keep yourself from infringing on the rights of others, you should ask before you use someone else's work. What if you don't know who that is? Well, the copyright office will do a search for you for a fee, or you can go to their offices and search yourself for free if the copyright is before 1978. You can search online for anything after 1978. Of course, this only works if they have registered the copyright, and a lot of what you'll use in everyday genealogy isn't registered.

What about fair use? Well according to fair use doctrine, you can use excerpts or quotes for the purpose of commentary, criticism, news reporting or scholarly reports. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules, so sometimes you'll get away with it, other times not. If you are worried about not being protected by fair use, ask for permission to use the work. Always better safe than sorry. According to the copyright office, "Copyright protects the particular way authors have expressed themselves. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in a work." So there is a lot of grey area on both ends of this argument.

What do you mean I don't own my photographs? That's right, you don't own any photo of your own family unless you yourself took the picture. The photographer, or the owner of the photography studio, owns those photos and reproducing them can be infringement! Of course, most photographers won't enforce this copyright unless you start to use the photos for profit or they somehow feel misrepresented with your use of the photo.

Acknowledging the owner doesn't transfer ownership! Just because you give the original copyright owner credit doesn't mean you can use the work unless there is an expressly written agreement to that affect.

So how long do copyrights last? Well that depends on a few factors including what the work is and when it was created/published. After January 1, 1978, a copyright lasts 70 years after the author's death. If there is no author, or it's a work for hire, the termination of copyright is 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever is shorter). These are general rules and they get wonky when you start talking about publications before 1978, so I provided this link so you can familiarise yourself with some rules.

How do I protect what's mine???? Well first, know what's yours! Unless you created it, you aren't the owner. I don't care if you paid for a copy, you aren't the owner of the original work. You would need express written permission to post things willy-nilly on any website, blog or book. If someone contacts you saying you have their pictures/document/whatever and they want you to remove it, just do it. You can be facing serious litigation should they wish to pursue it and fair use isn't fairly implemented!

This is totes copyrighted!!!1!!11! Do not reproduce!

If it's a photo you are sharing online, add a watermark via photo software. If you're just worried that the people will attach the photograph to the wrong person(s) in their tree, do as I've shown here and label the people in the photo. Add a line about the date or location. Some people have complained that others are saving a copy of their photo and then uploading it to their tree. What this does on Ancestry.com is erase the original owner. Why's this a big deal? Well, when the next person wants more photos, they'll ask the copier who may have just the one. Meanwhile there you are with albums upon albums of precious memories to share and no one knows how to contact you!

As always, I remind you that ANYTHING shared publicly online can be taken by anyone who knows how to copy/paste. It doesn't make it right, and there are laws to protect you if you wish to retain a lawyer and pursue a suit. Many people will feel that if you chose to display it publicly, you are implying consent of use. And any site, whether it is Ancestry, Facebook, Youtube, etc. have terms and conditions that state that copyright infringement will not be tolerated if you can prove it and that they take no responsibility if there is an infringement, beyond helping to take it down. Ancestry even takes it farther to specifically mention that they take no responsibility for what you post (outside of obscene or copyrighted material), what people share, or any public member tree errors. So if you want your information to stay your information, don't post it publicly and don't share it. Even if you don't post it online, any family member you give it to can do so and lead to world of trouble. So know your rights and what the company will do to help you BEFORE you post.

With that all said, I'd like to end by asking that you share any and all information you feel comfortable with. I know there are those who feel that they spent time and money to hunt these items down and they don't want to just give them away; but for me, anything I have that can help means that that is one less step you have to take on the journey. It becomes a collective move forward. And by sharing the factual items I have, you can build a better family tree. There are always those who will abuse the right and add things that aren't true. But there's little I can do about that besides stress out. I can only hope that they will be a minority and that people following their research will see how flawed it is and ignore it. Life's too short to go scream at the wind.