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

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Who owns government records? Work Product, Ancestry, Reclaim the Records, Freedom of Information Acts, Copyright, and lots of other issues.

I recently ran across three news articles focusing on the efforts of to obtain copies of public records in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The issues discussed in the articles can be summarized with two questions:

Can a state acting through any state agent or agency contract to sell exclusive rights of access to what would otherwise be public documents and records?

When a third-party contractor pays for or is otherwise given permission to digitize public records, does the third-party contractor accrue any proprietary right due to any theory of its claim to ownership through work product?

Here are links to the three articles. 

Reclaim The Records. “The Maryland Motherlode: Births, Marriages, Deaths, and Naturalizations.” Accessed December 25, 2023.

Moyer, Justin Wm. “How Genealogists Got Millions of Md. Records Online for All to See.” Washington Post, December 24, 2023., Spotlight PA | For. “Inside the Pa. Court Case Pitting a Genealogist against Ancestry.Com.” pennlive, December 25, 2023.

These and many other issues are raised in the context of the efforts of and other companies to assert ownership over public domain works and public documents and records. A particularly egregious example is when a publisher or an online graphics website "republishes" works that are clearly in the public domain and then pretends to have copyright in order to charge for copies. Another example that is closer to genealogist's interest is when a large genealogy company "buys" the right to digitized records and then charges a fee to view those same records by asserting either a copyright interest or a "work product" interest or both. 

Genealogists benefit from the more available digital copies but the conflict comes when the same records supplied to the large genealogy company are otherwise public records and should be freely available to the public under almost all state Freedom of Information Acts. all 50 states and the District of Columbia have freedom of information laws. These laws are also known as Sunshine Laws, Public Records Laws, and Open Records Laws but those laws are meaningless if the state sells the right to control access to the covered records to a third party company that then claims ownership of the documents. 

Billions of records are presently in this category. One illustrative example of the manufactured complexity of this issue can be viewed in's 7,166 words long Terms and Conditions. See,your%20use%20of%20the%20Services You might be surprised and perhaps concerned about your own personal liability for using the website. I should also add that every other large online genealogy website has similar terms and conditions. You might also want to look at section 3.2 of the Terms and Conditions about's use of what information you supply to the website.

Paragraph 2.1 of the Terms and Conditions, entitled Intellectual Property Rights to Ancestry Content, simply restates basic copyright law. It is also interesting that despite the fact that the vast majority of the actual records hosted by are not subject to copyright claims, a copyright notice is placed on each collection of records including U.S. Census Records. 

There is no mention of any claim to "work product" in any part of the website. This is not surprising since the only legal meaning of the term "work product" is as follows:

The legal term “work product” refers to materials such as writings, notes, memoranda, reports on conversations with the client or witness, research, and confidential materials that an attorney has developed in anticipation of litigation or for trial.

Work product is generally privileged, meaning it is exempt from discovery. However, there are exceptions1. Work product is divided into two categories: ordinary and opinion.

Ordinary work product is the result of gathering basic facts or conducting interviews with witnesses, and is discoverable if there is a showing of substantial need, like a witness that becomes unavailable.

Opinion work product is the record of an attorney’s mental impressions, ideas or strategies, and is almost never subject to discovery.

For reference see

Despite the legal issues involved, genealogists benefit from the online access of records from around the world. But it is sad that both governments and some large online genealogy databases claim ownership of otherwise public domain or public records merely from having paid to digitize the records under claim of contracts. 

More about this later.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

MyHeritage Releases AI Record Finder™ and AI Biographer™ — Two Groundbreaking Features That Transform Genealogy Using Artificial Intelligence


If you have been following the online news about artificial intelligence or AI, you will already know that AI applications are expanding at a astronomical rate. Some of the AI features that have been implemented over the past few years by include Record Matches, Smart Matching™, DNA tools and a bundle of photo enhancement programs. But now, there is a giant leap in even more sophisticated chatbot features for I will be presenting three live classes at RootsTech 2024 on "Using Artificial Intelligence Tools to Expand Your Genealogical Research Universe." You can see from this announcement, by February 29th, 2024, I will probably have a lot more to talk about than I had previously began planning. See The schedule of the classes will be posted in the next few weeks. 

I fortunately had a sneak preview of the features and now they have been announced. Here are some of the features as set out in an email to me for release to the public.

TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah, December 27, 2023 — MyHeritage, the leading global family history service, announced today the release of two groundbreaking features that mark the next frontier in family history research: AI Record Finder™ and AI Biographer™. AI Record Finder™ revolutionizes genealogy like ChatGPT revolutionized searching the internet: it is an interactive, intelligent, free-text chat to help the user locate relevant historical records about a person of interest in MyHeritage’s vast database of 20 billion records. AI Biographer™ automatically compiles a rich narrative about an individual’s life using information from historical records that match the person, creating a Wikipedia-like biography about anyone. Narratives are enriched with relevant historical context using AI and are easy to share. MyHeritage is the only service to offer such groundbreaking features for family history, and the first to leverage conversational AI for searching historical records. The two features are integrated, allowing users to generate an AI Biography™ for individuals they find using AI Record Finder™. AI Biographies™ may also be generated directly for individuals in family trees on MyHeritage.

It has not been hard to predict using chatbot technology for a data intensive pursuit such as genealogy. The only issue once the landslide of chatbots became available in the last year was when it would happen. It is also predictable that the technological leader of the large, online genealogy websites would be the first to implement chatbots. 

Here are some more detailed decriptions of the two new products from my email notification. 

AI Record FinderTM

Until now, searching for historical records on online genealogy platforms like MyHeritage has been very similar to using a regular internet search engine. One entered names and other terms into dedicated fields in a search form, and the search engine returned a large number of search results. Then, it was necessary to comb through the results to discover relevant information. AI Record Finder™ transforms this experience by enabling users to converse with an AI assistant in a chat to quickly find records about their ancestors, relatives, or other deceased individuals. Users can still use the traditional search engine on MyHeritage, but AI Record Finder™ adds an additional chat mode that increases the chances that users may be able to find elusive records they have never found before, thanks to the power of AI.

The chat is like an interview with a friendly concierge that the user can converse with in one of two modes: casual or formal. AI Record Finder™ processes the information the user enters, and understands what additional details are necessary to help narrow down the search results. It guides the user by asking the relevant questions according to the context and information provided by the user, to find the most relevant records about the person the user is searching for. Once located, the records can be reviewed and the details saved to the user’s family tree. AI Record Finder™ includes a seamless user interface, where historical records that are found appear directly within the chat.

AI BiographerTM

AI Biographer™ creates a rich Wikipedia-like biography summarizing a person’s life. This is especially useful for creating biographies about the billions of individuals who were not famous, and therefore do not appear in Wikipedia. An AI Biography™ can be created from historical records found via AI Record Finder™ and for deceased individuals within a user’s family tree on MyHeritage. AI Biographer™ utilizes MyHeritage’s acclaimed matching technologies to curate historical records and family tree profiles that pertain to the selected individual. All information from the pertinent records is then compiled into an biography that is enriched with photos and scanned documents, and in some cases, additional information from the web. The resulting biography includes the person’s immediate family, describes the main events of their life, and includes rich historical context and the origins of their surname. Each biography is a unique narrative that can be shared with family and friends, and saved for posterity. Facts listed in AI Biographies™ include footnotes and source citations, and link to the records from which they were obtained. Any inconsistencies within the information listed are noted. AI Biographies™ are saved as PDF files that are emailed to the user.

When created from the user’s family tree, an AI Biography™ is added to the family tree as a media item and tagged with the individual’s name, so that it is accessible through the MyHeritage mobile app and Family Tree Builder desktop software. The biography is included whenever the family tree is exported in GEDCOM format, ensuring that the enriched biographical information remains an integral part of the family tree. Biographies can easily be regenerated whenever new information becomes available. Additional entry points for generating an AI Biography™ such as from MyHeritage’s traditional form-based search engine, and from family tree profile pages, will be added soon.

“We’re constantly pushing the boundaries of genealogy to reinvent the way people can discover their family history as we implement a bold vision for genealogy in the 21st century” said Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “AI Record Finder™ is a disruptive feature that simplifies the way people can find information about their ancestors by making the search easier and more intuitive. AI Biographer™ curates the details about a person’s life into a compelling story. Not all our ancestors were famous, but they all deserve to be remembered! Together, these cutting-edge features strengthen MyHeritage’s position as the industry leader for innovative genealogy and continue our mission to make family history easier, more accessible, and more fun for everyone.”

AI Record Finder™ and AI Biographer™ both use automated third-party technology powered by OpenAI.

Availability, Cost, and Language Support

AI Record Finder™ and AI Biographer™ are currently accessible from desktop and mobile web browsers. Support for both features on the MyHeritage mobile app will be added soon.

AI Record Finder™ is free for limited use. To submit an unlimited number of chat messages, and to view and save historical records to the family tree, a Data or Complete subscription is required. Users can create a few AI Biographies™ for free. Beyond that, additional use of AI Biographer™ requires a Complete subscription.

AI Record Finder™ and AI Biographer™ are initially available in English and will support additional languages in the near future. It is possible to converse with AI Record Finder™ in multiple languages, but at launch, it responds in English only. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

RootsTech is Coming! You will want to come to the live conference

We are quickly coming to the end of 2023 and now RootsTech February 29th through March 2nd is right around the corner. If you have never been to a genealoogy conference, RootsTech 2024 will be your chance to come to largest and most memorable genealogy conference of all time. 

RootsTech 2024 is the premier event to celebrate your heritage and other meaningful connections through a deeper understanding of family history and genealogy1. Here are some reasons why you should attend:

  • Exclusive Sessions: Over 250 exclusive sessions are only available in Salt Lake City.
  • Expo Hall: More than 120 exhibitors/sponsors will be present in the Expo Hall.
  • Industry Innovations: Be the first to learn about industry innovations.
  • Networking: Develop new friendships and reunite with old friends.
  • Personalized Help: Get personalized help at the FamilySearch library.
  • Keynote Speakers: Hear from various talents from industries around the world who share their own family experiences and inspiring messages of hope and resiliency.

RootsTech 2024 is gearing up for a special year with the theme “Remember”, highlighting the essence of RootsTech, which is honoring and cherishing our families and ourselves while creating new relationships that transcend time. So, come join us and discover your story at RootsTech 20241 Register today to save your spot.

Here is the link to register

Why is the FamilySearch tree an unmoderated wiki and what happens because it is not moderated?


Imagine a major city with no traffic rules, no traffic control devices, and no policemen. This would probably seem to be ideal for an ararchist. So why would you think that a complex wiki program or app would not eventually end up chaotic also? The Family Tree is a wiki-based program or app. 

A wiki is a form of online hypertext publication, collaboratively edited and managed by its own audience, using a web browser. It typically contains multiple pages for the subjects or scope of the project, and could be either open to the public or limited to use within an organization for maintaining its internal knowledge base. (quote from Bing Chat)

A moderated wiki is a type of wiki where changes and contributions are reviewed by designated moderators or administrators before they are published. This process helps to ensure that the content aligns with the wiki’s guidelines and standards. The purpose of content moderation is to remove or apply a warning label to problematic content or allow users to block and filter content themselves. Major platforms use a combination of algorithmic tools, user reporting, and human review. Is the FamilySearch Family Tree a "moderated wiki?" 

Here are the general guidelines for using the FamilySearch Family Tree:

  • Appropriate Content: Content should support appropriate standards of modesty and virtue.
  • Relevance: Content should support a family history purpose.
  • Heart-turning: Content should support individuals coming to know and love their ancestors.
  • Noncommercial: Content should not advertise or promote products.
  • Intellectual Property Rights: They should not infringe on intellectual property rights.
  • Accuracy: Photos, Documents, and Audio Recordings may not be edited in such a way as to make them inaccurate, false, or misleading.

The glaring failure of the list and therefore the Family Tree is the lack of any sort of external moderation. This lack allows millions of entries to be added with no review or moderation at all. The idea of using a wiki format for the Family Tree was sound and valuable. But allowing the Family Tree to be changed on the whim of a user has lead to wholesale duplication, inaccuracies, and lack of reliability. There are significant numbers of potential users who refuse to use the Family Tree to store their own genealogical information or stop using the Family Tree because there are really no restrictions on the accuracy of the content. 

Two very damaging ways that wholesale duplicates and inaccurate information is being added to the Family Tree include projects that add millions of names without providing a minimum of supervision as to duplication or accuracies and the ability of any and all users to upload unsupervised GEDCOM files. 

I am not going to take the time in this post to review all of the possible, previously proposed modration suggestions that have been made over the years because to do so would essentially be a waste of time. 

Back in the 1960s and onward, FamilySearch or its predecessor the Genealogical Society of Utah, sponsored vast extraction programs where records were add to the existing data bases such as the International Genealogical Index and the Ancestral File with no limits on duplication of entries to an individual person. From my own personal ancestral lines, this allowed the same information about some of my ancestors to be added to the Family Tree hundreds of times. The present situation is no different with some areas of the Family Tree such as ancestors in New England being changed and duplicated sometimes dozens of times a week or even many times every day. This rampant lack of moderation or control results in what I call "revolving door ancestors" and futher results in my abandoning any research or additions to any one of my New England ancestral lines. Many of the bad entries and some of the corrections are being done by unresponsive and in many cases anonymous users. Those who do the research and try to get these people to add sources or even collaborate are frequently ignored. Some of these people are notorious for their disregard for propriety. 

The common user solution to the problem is to abandon adding information to the Family Tree and moving to an individually owned family tree either online or in a desktop programs. 

The basic motivation seems to be adding the numbers of entries while disregarding any attempts and limiting duplication or inaccuracy. Leaving the process of moderation entirely to the users results in some users spending more time correcting existing entries than actually doing the research needed to add new entries. 

If you need a prime example of this lack of control, here are a few individuals to look at with hundreds of changes. 
  • Dvid Kenyon I KNQL-7VM
  • John Kenyon II KNH4-2LX with 14 changes in the last two weeks
  • John Kenyon 273D-VZ6 with only four sources and 22 changes in the last two months
  • Philip Taber Jr. 945B-5CS with 28 sources but probably more than 200+ changes
  • Lydia Masters 9XPZ-KMZ with 13 sources but 9 changes in the last week and possibly hundreds of cumulative changes. 
The list could go on and on. The amount of time wasted on these revolving door entries is probably into the millions of hours. 

I could also spend a great deal of time explaining exact why and how this situation exists. The problem is that many really good genealogists have quit using the Family Tree or are close to quitting. I have chosen to ignore any entry that shows a tendency to change frequently. I no longer care if those entries are accurate or not. Meanwhile almost entirely ignores these entries and continues to allow wholesale addition of millions of duplicates. I spend a significant time merging duplicates that officially do not exist. 

If you have read this far, you probably know exactly what I am writing about. Can the Family Tree continue exist despite this condition? Yes, if it used merely as a dumping gound but it will also continue to lose confidence in its reliability as a place to do real genealogy. 

Do I need to list all the times I have written about this subject? By the way, I have been and continue to be an ardent supporter of FamilySearch and the Family Tree. I just wish there were some movement towards controlling the uncontrolled. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Reclaim the Records Liberates Millions of Records from the State of Maryland

Because this is so important, I am going to copy some of the text of the above email. Here it is. 



Hi. Please excuse the all-caps, but we're currently hyped up on a sugar high from the pumpkin pie, and a records-high from OVER A HUNDRED YEARS OF NEW AND TOTALLY FREE GENEALOGY RECORDS THAT WE JUST PUT ONLINE and we're all pretty darn excited.

Ahem. We at Reclaim The Records are so proud to finally announce one of our largest record acquisitions to date: millions of vital records spanning over one hundred years of history for the state of Maryland.

These records have never previously been publicly available online anywhere else — not on FamilySearch and not on Ancestry and not on MyHeritage and not on [insert some other genealogy website here] — except for some records that had only been available at the Maryland State Archives' internal website, if you happened to be sitting in their building in Annapolis and using their in-house computers, or on their external website, but only if those records were more than a hundred years old.

This announcement is groundbreaking for us at RTR. Not only is this an unusually large cache of materials for one of our records projects, but this time, our acquisition was not limited to a basic name and date index — although we did get those, too! — but in addition to the decades of vital records indices, we also got the digital images of the actual birth, marriage, and death certificates for the state of Maryland. Yep, the real certificates. And now we've put them online, free!

Because my wife and I served as missionaries with in digitizing records from the Maryland State Archive, we are extremely happy to see more of the records being made available outside of the Maryland State Archives. 

See more liberated records on the Reclaim the Records website.

The Records are now freely available on, the Internet Archive. See 

All of the records on the Internet Archive or are searchable by Google. 

Welcome to the Brand New MyHeritage Wiki

During this past year, it was my honor and privilege to assist in developing the new MyHeritage Wiki, along with other talented writers and software developers. As with all wikis, you have to start with a concept and a design. The new MyHeritage wiki has both an outstanding concept and clean an uncluttered design. Take some time to explore the content and rest assured that there will be more content. There is a simple was to apply to be a contributor also. I am sure there will be a lot more I will be writing about this very useful addition to the greater genealogical, worldwide, community. 

Saturday, December 2, 2023

10 Million Names Project from

The 10 Million Names is a collaborative project that includes many prominent genealogical and academic organizations. See The objective of the project is described in the Project's Mission Statement.

10 Million Names is a collaborative project dedicated to recovering the names of the estimated 10 million men, women, and children of African descent who were enslaved in pre- and post-colonial America (specifically, the territory that would become the United States) between the 1500s and 1865.

The project seeks to amplify the voices of people who have been telling their family stories for centuries, connect researchers and data partners with people seeking answers to family history questions, and expand access to data, resources, and information about enslaved African Americans.

The project originated through the efforts of, a genealogical research website and resource provided by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). NEHGS is one of the oldest and largest genealogical societies in the United States. Here is a statement about the involvement of collaborators from the 10 Million Names website. See

American Ancestors, a nonprofit center for the study of family history, heritage, and culture, founded in 1845—the country’s oldest genealogical institution—has undertaken this project in collaboration with organizations, individuals, and scholars dedicated to African American history and genealogy. Collaborative partners include the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, FamilySearch, the New Bedford Historical Society, and Daughters of the American Revolution.

During the time my wife and I were serving as Church Service Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and helping to digitize records at the Maryland State Archives, in Annapolis, Maryland, we came face to face with magnitude of the endeavor to identify former enslaved people through our efforts to digitize Maryland Probate Records. Here is a sample page from a probate file that shows the inventory of an enslaver. 

 You can clearly see the enslaved people listed along with the oxen, cows, and sheep. Day after day, we were confronted with the reality of slavery. At times, we were overcome with grief for the enslaved people. I think it is more than important, I think it is imperative that we document every one of these people. 

Think about it.