Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, January 21, 2022

You can't take it with you!


Over the years of being involved in the larger genealogical community, I have found people who are overly protective of their own genealogical research. Sometimes, this protection extends to the extent that they will not allow anyone to copy or in some extreme cases, even view their accumulation of information about their family. They often justify this position by explaining that they are writing a book about their genealogy which some of them actually do. Their relatives soon learn that genealogy in their family is something done by this person and therefore there is no need for them to be interested at all. Of course, when the books are finally published, no one wants to buy or read the book. 

In the now closed Mesa Family History Library in Mesa, Arizona, where I volunteered for about ten years, we had a section of about 1500 or so surname or family books. These books were eventually, for the most part, transferred to the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. Many of these books have now been digitized and are available on the website. However, many of the authors of these books extended their protection of their work by adding a copyright notice. In these cases, even though the books are fully digitized and posted online, relatives of the author cannot view the contents unless they can find a paper copy of the book. 

Most of these surname books are self-published. There is even a minor industry of companies that specialize in publishing this type of book. Generally, the cost of publishing a small run of hard-bound books increases the cost of each copy beyond what most relatives are willing to pay. Some of these books are now listed on Amazon and other book sellers with individual volumes in the hundreds of dollars. Here is an example.

This ad states that there are two used copies available from $999.00. Hmm. Guess what? I have two cases of these books in my basement. How does that happen? The author realizes after a short exploration of the cost of publishing his or her book that it is going to be very expensive. So, the author approaches the more affluent of his or her relatives for a subsidy with the promise that their photo and their story will be prominently displayed in the book. Other relatives are offered the book and told that they can then give copies of the book to their children and grandchildren. What remains unsaid is that the contents of the book are borrowed primarily from earlier family books that are likely already online on some website or another. However, in this particular case, the author or whoever now owns the copyright, can release that copyright claim and allow the book to be not only digitized by made available to anyone who wants to read it. Here is the digital copy of the same book on Notwithstanding the fact that the book is digitized and on the website, some viewers may not be able to view the book due to either copyright or other restrictions. 

In addition, much of the genealogical content of this particular book is also available in this book. 

As I have written in the past, there is a tremendous value in searching for and finding such a book, but it is always necessary to spend time checking the sources of information provided. This second book is mostly accurate but contains some problematical conclusions about the family's ancestry that have caused a great deal of confusion and conflict. 

By the way, copies of this second book which is now out of copyright protection sell for amounts such as this online in both original and reprint copies. 

However, hardbound copy can cost more. 

But what about the original book? What would that cost bearing in mind that the book is digitized and freely available online? The answer is that, as far as I could determine, all of the copies of this book for sale were copies of the original. Maybe a collector might be interested in an original copy even when both paper and digital copies are available. 

Now, back to the issue of the protective genealogist. This pattern of protection often includes putting a private family tree online. The excuse for this is often that their work is in progress, and they don't want to publish their findings publicly until they come to a conclusion. 

In all these instances, the overriding fact of life is that these genealogists will die (as we all will) and most, if not all their work, will be lost. The reason for this loss lies in the protected nature of their research. Unless the information is freely shared with all of the relatives who might be even slightly interested, it is likely that no one in the family will value the work that has been done and will simply throw it in the trash when the genealogist dies. 

Sharing the work, especially sharing the work online on a family tree such as the Family Tree, at least gives the relatives a chance to become interested. Maybe you are like one of these artists who create works that disappear after a short time and you don't care if all your work is lost, but if you do care, you might want to start making your work generally available for others to copy. Afterall, you are all descendants of the same people. No one owns their ancestors.

If you do have the urge to publish a surname or descendancy book, remember to specifically waive any and all rights to a copyright. You just might end up having more people read your work than you would otherwise. 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the article, probably because I wholeheartedly agree. The only thing that I would add is the possibility of using "copyleft" - using one of the license approaches from Creative Commons . I think that this kind of research should be all about sharing.