Ownership of Data

I found this on Amazon.com about a family history/scrapbook product and just saw red about this person’s attitude, so I had to comment about it.

“So I am into researching my family history and yet again I get tangled into Ancestry.com’s greedy monopolizeing on information that should be ours anyway, its our family…not thiers! you can call me cheap but I’m sorry that I don’t want to PAY for information that is MINE. I degress…I bought the Album figureing it was a nice way to put together a family keep sake and the added plus was that you get a seven day free trial to Ancestry.com , the only question is….TO WHAT??? I have uploaded the Gencom file and there is my tree but not much else..what exactly you get a seven day trial to is beyond me! The album is fine and very nice. However, save your damn money if the prospect of the seven day trial is what caught your eye! you basicly get to make a family tree…you know the thing you where able to do for free on the site in the first place!”

While this comment is pretty old, I’m still going to comment on it. First of all, the information is not “YOURS”. It is public information that you are entitled to use, but you do not own it. Being a descendant of a person doesn’t make their life your property. What you are paying for with Ancestry is not the information. You are paying for using their equipment, software, time and man hours that have  been used to make that information available to you. Ancestry is a business like any other. You are totally free to walk into a library and courthouse, and if they are comfortable with your presence may allow you to do your own research in the books and files. Be aware that most of these places, if they still allow this to be done, will not allow you to bring in a pen or camera, just paper and a pencil where you can transcribe by hand what you read in the book or file. You will not be allowed to take the book or file home with you. You can also do what we use to do in the old days… write a letter to a courthouse, ask a very busy clerk to search for the document you want and hope they are willing to do so. You will also need to enclose some money to cover copy, paper and mailing costs. That’s how we had to do it before we had computers. But these clerks are not required to search for you and send you the information. That is not what they get paid to do. I use to volunteer at a genealogical library and I was amazed and appalled at the things people would do with books and documents because of their sense of entitlement… using pens to circle information in rare books, or use yellow highlighters, tearing pages out of books, or just out and out stealing the book and document because it was about “their” family. Unless you are an only child of an only child of an only child back 10 generations, you are not the only descendant. You can not own “data” anymore than you can own ingredients of a recipe. What you can own is the presentation of that data, how it is compiled, therefore information in any library or archives is not yours!! You only own your collection of that information.

Sites like Ancestry, as well as libraries and archives have costs to maintain that data… rent, heat, lights, electronic equipment, insurance, paper goods and payroll for the people they hire to do all of the things that makes this information available to you. Things like indexing books and microfiche, scanning those as well as documents so they are available digitally, maintaining the computer equipment so that when you put in a name to search for those documents it actually works. All of this costs money, even if they aren’t in it as a business. Genealogical societies request you pay for a membership to help cover those costs. Public libraries and the national archives depend on local and federal taxes to cover them. The Family Search site is maintained mostly by volunteers of the LDS church, since genealogy is a mainstay of their religion. But I’ll bet that many of the churches are now paying people to help out with this due to both the demand and the inconsideration of too many people. Apparently you believe that genealogists should just do all of this for free so you can have the information you believe is yours. I’ve been a family genealogist for almost 50 years, long before family history information became available online. I’ve spent many hours collecting the information I have. But I still get requests that say, “send me all of the information you have on so-and-so.” Not even “please send me…” And then they create a free tree on Ancestry and make it private because they don’t want to share “their” research with anyone else. When Family Treemaker first came out, I was one of the first ones to use it. I believed that people were good and kind and fair, so I published my family tree on one of their first CD-ROMs. I was naive enough to believe it would be used responsibly, so it included information about my children and other family members that were still alive. In my notes I said that much of this information was working data and not all of it had been proved with documentation. I had lots of little personal reminders to myself in the notes that I had forgotten about, but they turned out to be a good thing. Shortly after my tree was published on this CD, I found my tree published on another person’s webpage with her “copyright” on it. When I confronted her, asking if her children had the same names and birthdates as mine, she admitted that she took the data off of the CD and tried to pass it off as her own. She wanted me to share my information, but she didn’t want anyone else to use it, without her permission, even though she didn’t bother to ask me about using mine. It included her family, therefore it was hers. No. It’s not. You can use the data to make your own collection, but you can not use someone else’s collection and call it yours.

So the information on Ancestry, on FamilySearch, from the National Archives, from libraries, from other people’s webpages is not “YOURS”. The data is available for you to use, but it’s not yours, and people and sites who make this information available for you to use have the right to charge a fee to cover their costs of providing the information. It’s this selfish attitude of too many people is why so many people these days are hesitant to share their hard work with others. I’m glad that Ancestry charges for some of their information, and I’m willing to pay for it, documents that would have cost me in time and work as well as money anyway. I was able to print out a dozen documents of marriage certificates and census records last night, that would have cost me at least five dollars a piece if I had to send away for it. My yearly membership is more than worth that alone.

So before you rant about being charged for something you think is yours, stop and think about all that goes into making that information easily available to you. If you don’t want to pay for it, visit the hundreds of other genealogy sites first to see if it truly is there for free… in many cases, it is. But if you want something for nothing, sorry, I don’t have any sympathy for you. You wouldn’t do your job for free, why do you expect others do it?

Additional thoughts about this:

Two things that bugged me the most about her post. Obviously, she is not a true researcher, or she would know that Ancestry does not have a monopoly on genealogy. All you have have to do is go to Cyndi’s list to see the hundreds of sites devoted to the family history research. The second thing is that she says she “joined” Ancestry and all she got was her own tree. What did she expect, that Ancestry was going to magically provide everything she was looking for just by her joining? She still has to go and look for the information, which is why they call it research. It’s people like this that give genealogists a bad name. 

Link to site:

2 thoughts on “Ownership of Data

    1. I know.. I was really surprised that someone could think that $25 would supply their entire family tree. I guess she thought that some fairies in her computer compiled all of the data so that it would be there at her command. But that’s the problem. She didn’t “think”. She just assumed.

      Liked by 1 person

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