Are and other paying websites valid references at Wikitree

+4 votes
I will make a suggestion that references to paying websites such as  are no longer considered valid genealogical references.  They cannot be verified or they consulted by other wikitreers .
I will no longer accept these references in answers to questions unless a downloaded document is appended to the answer.
in Policy and Style by Derek Giroulle G2G6 Mach 1 (13.6k points)
Valid, yeah; good, no. At the very least, it should say what document the link is pointing to. The mistake a lot of people make is they just give you some meaningless link, which may or may not work 6 months from now. A lot of the older Ancestry links don't work anymore and contain no information that identifies what they were pointing to, so I would consider those to be effectively unsourced.
Along with the details of the source I often transcribe the source so that those who don't have subs still get all the info. It takes some time, quite monotonous, especially with census records for large families, but it makes the content of the source accesible for everyone whether they belong to the pay-site or not.

Valid, yeah; good, no.

@Ben, good yes (and no). Ancestry has two different types of sources, 1) actual documentation records, these are perfectly valid and good; 2) family trees, these can be good sources of clues, but can be unreliable (just like any other family tree site, including WikiTree).

Yeah, but regardless of whether a link is to a family tree or a document, Ancestry changes their internal link organization a lot. If all you have is a link, it could be gone tomorrow.
Exclude the link then, I do. No point in linking to anything at ancestry. So, cite the full details of the source and transcribe it - problems solved, source all good.

8 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

I don't think we can make such blanket statements regarding pay-wall sites, Derek.

Sites like, that are repositories of images of source documentation, are invaluable to our work and are the driving forces behind online genealogy.

Our citations should provide a direct link to the specific source images, not to a family tree or only to the site's home or search pages. Our citations for pay-wall documentation should also include a transcription (alternately, uploaded images; personally I avoid this option) of the information, since non-paying members and non-members cannot access the images from their personal computing devices.

Individually, we are all free to accept or not accept the validity of these, or any other, citations that do not provide sufficient information on how to access the referenced documents or that direct use to sites that we, personally, cannot access.

As WikiTree genealogists, however, our duty is to provide the relevant information from these limited accessibility records to our fellow researchers who, for whatever reason, choose not to pay for access to pay-wall restricted documents.


by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (261k points)
selected by April Dauenhauer
Lindy I agree with your thoughts on this issue very strongly, and thank you for expressing what I've felt reading this thread so politely.
+12 votes
Sure they're valid, if that's where someone found the data he/she is posting.  Those who have an account, or access to a library that has an account, can consult ancestry sources.  The problem with posting a downloaded document is that it can often violate either a copyright restriction or the terms of service of the site where it's obtained.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (575k points)
Then we should reduce the validity of those  references and disallow the http-links to them in references. this will make the m less popular until the site changes it paywall policy
...which is probably never going to happen.
+13 votes
Just naming the website would not be considered a valid source. Citing a specific record with information from the website would be vailid even though it is behind a paywall. However, it is preferable to cite sources which are freely available to everyone.
by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (685k points)
+15 votes
"Valid" is a strange term to use when referring to resources. An actual document is not a reference either.  Who in heck are you accepting references from in answer to questions?  I'm confused.  

Basically, if you find something on a particular site, you should say that's where you got it.  So, for information that is only available on a pay site (at least in online form), I rewrite the pathetic Ancestry citation, and cite it including a notation that I accessed it via on such and such a date.  If someone else wants to find that source, they can go to a public library or an FHC that has an Ancestry subscription and access it themselves, as long as they have a valid citation.  The citation is the important thing, not the document itself.  If someone cites a book written about their ancestor, would you expect them to submit the entire book to you as proof of its validity?  Nope, you'd go find the book yourself.

The important thing is the citation.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (234k points)
A valid reference imho is a document that can be consulted.
so if - like i do - one maintains a private archive of documents birth certificates, official id cards or passports, death certificates, marriage cetrificates (or family booklets),  copies of passenger manifests, immigration documents,  which i may or may not publish according to local legal rules, then a reference to my private archive is a valid reference  to the extend that anybody can contact me and ask to consult my archive.
Public archives are therefore valid references because they can be consulted  even if I have to physically go there
As the Ancestry website ( a website is accessible world wide by definition) is preventing you from consulting when you access it for money reasons  I think that  Wikitree shoudl not contribute to the profiteering by , there fore I think we should reduce the value of Ancestry refernces to ยจ unverifiable indications " and we should no allow links,   because through external links they make their money
Why are you singling out Ancestry? Findmypast has sources behind a paywall too. Both of these sites have some excellent primary sources. It's just a shame that some people don't know there is a difference between citing a primary source that they saw on Ancestry and citing an ancestry user family tree.

Ancestry is available through free locations, including FHCs.  It is far less available to me since I have agoraphobia, but it is available to most others without paying for it--just not from your home computer without paying for it.  

I hate Ancestry for many, many, many reasons.  I've advocated free Internet genealogy all my life.  However, sometimes Ancestry is the only source.  So, for example, my cousin Harold's death record is only available through BIRLS.  I've found no free way to access BIRLS, but it's an important source for information about Harold.  Since BIRLS is a government source, I felt free to copy the information about Harold's enlistment and add that to his profile, but the way I accessed it was via Ancestry (which I occasionally pay for and use for a month at a time).  I cited that source like this:  Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed via 8 May 2018.

If someone wants to find that source, at this time, they can only find it via Ancestry.  This citation lets them know that.  I needed this source.  I obtained it.  I used it.  I cited it so others could find it if they need it.  That's how citation works.  


@Gillian_Causier  In my initial remark I was saying  paying websites and
If Ancestry and Findmypast used honest and transparent payment systems, and honest subscription schedules , I would agree but they aren't  they are cheaters and fraudsters  that bill people when they say its free, that don't refund.  
especially people that are outside the US will be victims of their activity.
That is why a global resource like Wikitree should NOT contribute to these sides profiteering
That's not been my experience, as someone outside the US who had a free Ancestry account for several years after doing a free trial weekend and developed my tree on there, before subscribing. I've also had an account at Findmypast where I bought individual credits long before I subscribed. Neither has billed me inappropriately or bugged me to cough up.
Don't think Wikitree contributes to Ancestry. I do. Then I give what I have found to Wikitree. I have also bought certificates from HMG. I give them to Wikitree. I travel, take pictures, then give them to Wikitree. What is so wrong with that? Ancestry is an amazing resource if you know what you are doing. I've heard it argued that they sell the content of user provided trees which is true, but one doesn't have to make one's tree public. I remarked some time ago that if there wasn't a way to get paid for doing it many of the records would never see the light of day. This I know as my husband was for a while employed by the military to go through old records and select what should be kept and destroy the rest. The bulk of what he handled was destroyed.
+14 votes

Of course they are valid.

Sure, everyone would like to have freely accessible sources, but those are just the tip of the iceburg as to what is available. A much larger percentage of information is stored behind paywalls

A valid reference imho is a document that can be consulted.

But that doesn'r mean it has to be free, or even freely available. It may cost you, or take considerable effort in order to consult some referenced documents.

Consider traditionally published works. There are no live internet links in my books. And consulting the referenced works can be quite time consuming, and sometimes expensive, and often no longer possible, as some older works become out-of-print and unavailable.

by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (585k points)
+15 votes
Of course a full citation to a record digitised and available on a commercial site is valid.
Before  digitisation, many UK records such as parish registers and wills would only have been available to view at an archives . Indeed, that is still the case for many other records. Would you consider a citation to a record seen at an archives invalid?
Digitisation helps preserve 'popular' fragile records and putting them on the internet extends accessibility but this costs money. Some archives, such as  Essex (UK) and Scotland have digitised records 'in house' In those  case you have to pay to view those  records  on their own website .
Elsewhere records have been digitised and this has been funded fully or partly by one of the commercial companies.They then have exclusive internet rights (for a period) .As a result more people have access to the records than before digitisation.( through a personal subscription or at a library)

 The commercial company certainly makes a profit but they aren't philanthropists.
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
+6 votes
Derek, Saying that you won't "accept" a reference to to a record at Ancestry (assuming it a record and not a family tree) is like saying that you will not accept a reference to a book at my local library because YOUR library doesn't have the book and you don't want to travel to my library.  A reference to a valid work it just that. I don't have access to many of the works cited in the Register, but I still cite the articles.
by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (366k points)
Vic Watt you clearly and intentionally misread  and misrepresent my statements

It is possible that I misread your statement, but it certainly wasn't intentional. Your statement said: "I will no longer accept these references in answers to questions unless a downloaded document is appended to the answer." Due to contractual limitations, it is not possible (legal?) to attach downloaded images to all references to Ancestry.

Please read our Honor Code.

III. We know mistakes are inevitable. We don't want to be afraid to make them. We assume that mistakes are unintentional when others make them and ask for the same understanding.


+2 votes
I will clarify my objections to paywall sites
A) they use publicly and often freely accessible records and trun them into payable documents
B) they claim undue copyright, public records are per definition never copyrighted
C) they unduely collect money without providing the promised service and refuse refunds

Why do i suggest that wikitree removes the HTTP-links from references and that wikitree reduces their "value" to unverifiable indications",  because the LINKS are the bread and butter of these paywall sites. the more links you put in your records the more money they earn , on other words the mebership contributions they earn from their paywall is not their main source of income,...

When I state that a "valid reference" is a document I can consult then i mean that i can go to a library/archive and consult the document, if that library/archive is not in my city, i can go to the national library/ national archives, and yes i might have to go there physically.
If want a US book i  can consult about every published book in the library of congress. In The UK I can use the national library and the national archives   

My opinion is that I don't  like paywall operators, cheating leeching companies,   that leech money from people who do research,  don't provide the services they promise ( no value for money), they don't tell me how they earn their money besides membership contribution, neither what they spend their money on,  but clearly  they earn a lot more money , they are cheaters that promise fake free weekends but charge you anyway and don't reimburse you,  and hide in jurisdictions and legal constructions where they cannot be prosecuted.

IMHO no linking and transscribing ...  don't be fooled by fake copyrighting
by Derek Giroulle G2G6 Mach 1 (13.6k points)
people (and companies), have a right to charge and get paid for the services they perform. and you have a right to not use them, but it doesn't mean they are cheating you.

scanning documents and transcribing them is not cheap, or free.

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