Is it appropriate to include scans of geneological records and books?

+4 votes
Recently I've been trying to add cited sources to profiles. I feel it might be more valuable instead of just citing the source to actually add a scan of the page of the book or source I got the information from so others can verify it. They are all in the Public Domain as far as I know.

Is this an acceptable practice?
in Genealogy Help by Jeff Freeman G2G Crew (810 points)
If I read Evidence Explained correctly, their ideas about citing sources are that they should be very complete and done in such a way that someone can easily find the source for themselves.  That being said, it would seem that a good citation might be better than trying to include a scanned copy.  Scanning something that is already scanned seems problematic, and scanning a transcription could include errors.
And scanning a book may involve breach of copyright.
I am specifically talking public domain stuff.. The problem is much of what is out there isnt easily accesible, you'd have to go to a library in person to get access to it in some cases.

I find more often than not I am unable to find or follow cited sources at all.

So I am talking about the specific case where the information is in the public domain and there is no free and easy access to scans online to link to.

Also keep in mind linked to resources on other sites may not exist forever. If the information goes down it can be lost forever and it would be hard if not impossible to prove the cited sources at that point.

Jeff, make sure to check out these Space pages that have many online 'genealogy books' with a sample source and inline citation examples, as well as online locations.

Family Genealogies by Surname

Genealogies by Location

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

If the work truly is "in the public domain" I see no harm. I think you would really have to do some research to be sure of that. If the work was published before 1924, it could be in the public domain because the copyright expired, but that is not always true because the copyright may have been renewed. If it was published after 1924 it is probably not in the public domain, but there are exceptions to that (such as if the author dedicated the work to the public domain.)

Public Domain

by Nelda Spires G2G6 Pilot (464k points)
selected by Jeff Freeman
+6 votes
In my opinion, posting an image of a readily available public domain source is a waste of profile and/or image space. Just provide a full citation and, optionally, a link to where a copy of the source can be found.
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (256k points)
What about the case where

1) the link may go down int he future and thus the citation can no longer be followed


2) (more importantly) the source is in the public domain but there is no online reference to it. The only way to get access to it is a physical copy in a library?
In both of your examples, it might make sense to post an image.

By "readily available", I meant available online at multiple cites and likely to remain so - e.g., secondary sources available on, and
Thanks, makes sense then.

I agree with Chase.  Include at a minimum the full citation, then optionally an image. However there are lots of considerations for images, as John noted.

Depending on how common the source is, there's a good chance you can find it here Sources, along with a way to cite it in the profile and isolate the link in one place to simplify changes when links break.

@Jeff. The way you get to your source is not relevant for the way you cite the source. Nobody knows what happens in the future, so your citation/reference should be complete enough that it is always clear what the source is.

And yes, in the good old days (cough) you got to visit all sorts of nice little churches, libraries and archives with grey people looking up old dusty books wink. That now only seems to happen on TV...

That is why -in my strongly science based opinion- the source is not a website, but the document itself. So a page in a numbered access system at an archive. Not a weblink alone, as you say, those might change in future. (unless you use linked open data links like WikiData/DOI, but that is another discussion).

+7 votes

Some general comments about images on WikiTree.

Some of the images posted on WikiTree profiles are in breach of copyright and/or in breach of re-use of material found on other sites.

Even if the images are available via public domain or creative commons licences, then I find they are rarely cited correctly.  I've lost count of the number of times I've seen an image taken from a Wikipedia article where Wikipedia is cited and there is no attribution to the originator of the image, which is a essential element of re-use of a Creative Commons image.

Lastly I often see rights to use images based on WikiTree being a 'not-for-profit' but this is incorrect, WikiTree might be free to use, but it is a commercial website and can't be described as not-for-profit.

Sorry to be a bit strident about this, up until recently I was a Librarian at a university and had to be strict about copyright and give advice on appropriate use at times.  My advice is to be really clear that you have rights to re-use the material and make sure it is correctly cited according to the licence.

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (542k points)
Good answer, but even if it is a copyrighted image wouldnt this fall under "fair use" which does allow someone to share snippets of copyrighted sources as a reference or depiction.

Fair use is a part of American copyright law, and I'm more familiar with Australian Copyright, where it is a principle. 

However from what I've read when this issue has arisen before, if it was for the purposes of research and you were adding something to the copyrighted work, or perhaps refuting a conclusion in that work then that might be acceptable, but if as you seem to be suggesting it is purely in case it doesn't become available online elsewhere then I think that would be difficult to argue is 'fair use'.

WikiTree, in particular, has problems with the first factor of the four factors (scroll down to the bottom of the page) that should be considered because as I said in my answer, it is a commercial website, and not a 'not for profit educational' one even though that is often how we view it.

Interesting. I can tell you from my own understanding of fair use in teh USA it does not have the non-profit requirement it has in Australia, though oddly we do still have four factors, but they are different four factors.

But at least in the USA fair use still applies in a commercial setting.

With that said one of the four criteria does involve whether or not the use deprives the original copyright holder of a market they would otherwise make profit in but are denied through the fair use.

The link was quoting the American law, so it's not just an Australian interpretation.  However this site about Fair Use in Digital Media does state that factor one isn't as simple as 'not for profit - good' and 'commercial - bad'

Although the website does state that it is no longer updated, I do note this quote If you merely reprint or repost a copyrighted work without anything more, however, it is less likely to qualify for protection  

Fair, the truth is, we are kinda straddling a greyline here if we look a fair use cases... For example if you publish a snippet of a copyrighted material for research papers (for example, say, as part of a geneological research, or chemistry paper) where you reference someone elses material it has generally qualified as fair use, even if the research is for profit. So clearly unaltered copying of a portion of text verbatim is allowed so long as you add something original (the research) on top of that.

On the other hand an encylopedia of harry potter of harry potter references was considered to be not fair use because almost all of the content was copyrighted material and the only aspect being added to the content was indexing and organization with minimal commentary.

So verbatim copying of small snippets can still fall under fair use so long as the context in which it is uses adds something substantial on top of it.
+2 votes
John Atkinson has rightly expressed cautions. The legal position is complicated. And it is not just about copyright law - it is also about the terms and conditions of each website that hosts images. Those also need to be checked out.

A further complication is that some sites clean up some images of scanned books and documents. That cleaning up gives them legal rights. For instance, I believe Ancestry has cleaned up some images.

Unless one is absolutely certain that it is legally safe to use a scan of a book page or a document, the best course is just to link to the image, give a proper citation (which will be to the book or document itself), extract the relevant facts from the page or document, and incorporate them in the biography on the profile. The facts and citation, with a link to the image, should be put on the biography even if the image is added.

When Projects review or work on profiles, they will often check whether it is clear that it is permissible to use images. If it isn't clear, the images are likely to be removed.
by Michael Cayley G2G6 Pilot (154k points)

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