How much info do you include re your ancestors obit-complete or hyperlink

+4 votes
130 views
in Genealogy Help by Flora McRae G2G Crew (570 points)

3 Answers

+5 votes
Hi Flora,

Just like any other source record that I find ...

I include a full citation for the source of the obituary and I abstract the info from the obituary (omitting any info about anyone who may still be living). If accessed online, I also include along with the full citation a link (publicly accessible, if possible) to where I found the obituary.
by Rick Peterson G2G6 Pilot (154k points)
+5 votes
Privacy can often be a concern in recent obituaries since they name living relatives, so I avoid using them.

Personally, I would extract any pertinent information from the obituary (such as dates and locations, life details that help flesh out the biography) and then provide a source citation with a link to the full obituary.

Also note that obituaries, just like other sources, are not 100% reliable, so they are good for information, but need to be backed up by other original and primary sources.
by Steven Harris G2G6 Pilot (503k points)
Recent obituaries are usually copyrighted by the newspapers that published them.  Unless you wrote the obit and retain the copyright, it can only legally be abstracted or paraphrased.
Kathie's point about copyright is an important one in terms of content reproduction, but it can be difficult to determine where the copyright ownership resides.

The days are pretty much gone where newspapers actually had staff writers pen obituaries, and that's the only instance in which the copyright would be theirs. The publication entitles them to what's called a "compilation copyright," but that really only involves the presentation of the content as part of a larger work, i.e., a particular edition/page of the newspaper.

It's the actual creator of the work who owns the copyright. In many--if not most--instances today, the family will write the obituary and provide the text (and photos) to the funeral home. In those cases, even though the funeral home posts the obituary on its website and has a catch-all copyright statement in the footer of each webpage, the funeral home has no valid claim to copyright.

However, in some instances no family member will feel comfortable or capable of writing the obituary. Usually, then, an employee of the funeral home will ask questions of the family, compile the answers, and write the obit. In that case, the creator of the work is the funeral home employee and the funeral home does hold the copyright as a work-for-hire.

Bottom line, though, as Kathie noted, we have to be careful about the legalities. The words and images can be copyrighted, but not the information. So as Steve said, we can freely extract and restate the information, but to actually transcribe it we have to be certain we have that legal right. I've transcribed a number of obituaries (none, I don't believe, on WikiTree), but did so with the blessings of the family member(s) who wrote them; plus have written a few myself.

Kathie, that is a bit of a grey area for sure. I can however assure you that copyrights are not usually held by the newspapers, and are much less of a concern for obituaries and death notices than many people may think.

1. If the death notice or obituary contains statements of facts, it cannot be covered under copyright in the United States.[1]

I am no expert, but this will generally be the same for most other countries as well based on the Berne Convention and WIPO.

Statements of facts in this case would include Birth dates, death dates, locations of events, etc. Using this information, even in copy/paste format is not under the purview of copyright unless there is a creative element applied (e.g., a fully composed literary obituary of several paragraphs is more than likely copyrightable; a "death notice" is likely not copyrightable.)

2. Just because a newspaper (or website in this age) published a death notice or obituary doesn’t mean they own the copyright for the material.

These notices are often written a) by the family and provided to the newspaper for print for a fee, or b) details are provided by the family and written by the funeral home or a paid third party and then provided to the newspaper. So the family, funeral home or the third party would ultimately hold the copyright - not the newspaper as the publisher.

3. One of the most overlooked items in genealogy is "fair use". Reproduction of a copyrighted work for the purposes of research not an infringement of copyright. The basis of the "Fair Use Test", it is also important to consider[2]:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; [in this case, the reproduction of an obituary in WikiTree is not intended to be sold - this works in our favor].

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work; [in this case, we know that death notices and obituaries are primarily factual - this works in our favor]

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; [in this case, it is nearly impossible to identify the whole of the copyrighted work since there is no attribution provided, and we know that the newspaper will most likely not hold the copyright. In many cases, I would also say that most obituaries are not copied word for word (plagiarism) but are transformative, adding something new in the shape of a biographical outline - this works in our favor] and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. [in this case, there is not much market value for old newspaper obituaries (I doubt newspapers are reselling back-issues for profit) - this works in our favor].


Note: I am not a lawyer, but have spoken with a few surrounding genealogical usage of data. It is also important to note that fair use cannot be legally defined in any case until ruled by a judge.

I can assure you the newspaper that published the obit I wrote for my late husband does NOT hold the copyright for my words, or my photograph, or anything else I submitted and then paid for.  I hold the copyright.

Yep, exactly Melanie!
I'm a relative newcomer to WikiTree so please be patient with my ignorance of WikiTree Standards.  (1) Is it acceptable to add a link in a person's sources to an image of an obituary? My understanding is that obits published prior to 1925 are unlikely to be covered by any copyright.  What about after 1925.  (2) Does any policy or standard of WikiTree prohibit the publication of family members named in either images of obits or a transcription of an obit?   My understanding is that once in the public domain, the information is free to use by anyone.  I have frequently linked to obit images thinking the fair use doctrine of copyrights covered me from any infringement issues.  (3)Bottom Line: what, if any, restrictions apply to use of obituary images within WikiTree?
You can add a link to an image; as others have noted, links often break and web sites change, so an abstract of the information should always be included.  

There is no policy about including family members other than the prohibition on including information about living people.  An abstract or transcript of a recent obit that included living siblings or children, for example, should just say something like "he left three sisters and two brothers," or "She had six children, John, Mary, and Sue (all deceased) and three living sons."  

Linking is not a problem.  It's snipping and posting an actual image is problematic if it's copyrighted.  Facts can't be copyrighted, so any information in the obituary that is factual can be included in a profile.
I'm still a little confused. (1) both funeral homes and newspapers (multiple) often print the same obituary and claim copyright. This seem to imply obits can be used under the "fair use doctrine".  (2) you state Linking is not a problem.  Does this mean I can link to a funeral home or newspaper page that has an obituary, but should not cut/paste that information into a citation on WikiTree?(3) I have some obits published prior to 1900, is it acceptable to publish an image of them on WikiTree? Thanks for your help.  I just don't want to have to undo or remove information I post, and I have thousands of obits.  I also have many thousands of tombstone photos, and I own the copyright on them.  (4) Is it preferable to link to them or add them as an image?
As an earlier poster noted, who holds the copyright for a specific obit is often unclear.  In some cases (mostly in the 21st century) the obit was written by a family member who retains the copyright.  For many years newspapers had staff members who wrote obits so the newspapers held the copyright.  In more modern times, obituaries are frequently created by funeral homes, and are then distributed to multiple newspapers.  In those cases, the funeral home would hold the copyright.  

It's OK to include a link to something posted on the web, Assuming you've included an abstract or transcripted part of it in the profile bio, you just cite what and where "Obituary for John J. Smith, May 23, 1948.  "Cleveland Dispatch" newspaper, published May 25, 1948. Page 10, col. 3.  [link]

Your citation should make it possible for someone to still find the item if the link doesn't work.

If you're using a 19th or early 20th century clipping you're probably safe to assume it's no longer copyrighted and can attach as an image to the profile.    

If you own the copyright, then feel free to post images; if you don't then post the link.
Thanks, your information clarifies precisely what I was seeking.
+6 votes

Whether there is a transcription or not, a relatively complete source citation for an obituary should always be used, and is distinct from a transcription. In other words, never just a link.

On her website, Elizabeth Shown Mills addressed a question a couple of years ago about citing a funeral home obituary: https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/citing-online-obituary-funeral-home-website. She even steps through how she constructed the citation, which I think is really helpful to see. Here is the final example citation:

Obituary,” Layton-Anderson Funeral Home (http://www.laytonandersonfh.com/obituary?id=315593 : accessed 24 March 2018), Alexander Hinshelwood, died 15 March 2018.

As a great example of why a link is never adequate as a standalone reference element, the link in the citation still lands you at the funeral home website but, just two years later, no longer takes you to the specific obituary.

And did I mention I tend to include more information rather than less? I would add additional details beyond the date of death, at a minimum the described date and place of birth, if provided, and the place of death. Doesn't change the format of the citation, but adds just a bit more relevant info gleaned from the obit.

by Edison Williams G2G6 Pilot (309k points)
Many thanks to the three replies.  All were very helpful

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