Is it useful to add source images to profiles?

+5 votes

I've downloaded all primary sources about my ancestors, like baptism, birth, marriage and death certificates. They are directly downloaded from the archives in the Netherlands, not from Familysearch.

Is it useful to add cropped images of those primary sources to the person profiles on WikiTree like this one:

I was especially thinking about older (pre-1850) sources, because there names tend to vary a lot in the Netherlands. This would clear up the names a lot to people visiting a profile.

There are no copyright issues. I'm not totally sure if official documents even have copyright in the Netherlands. Laws, regulations, policies, etc. explicitly don't have copyright here, but official documents aren't mentioned explicitly in the law. Although for pre-1850 the author would be death for at least 70 years and copyright would be expired anyway.

The only problem I see would be storage capacity of WikiTree. I have seen these kind of documents on other profiles. Does the usefulness outweigh the need for storage capacity?

in Policy and Style by Koen van Hoof G2G6 Mach 2 (29.4k points)
For simple BMD documents, I would say they do not add much; the data fields get the essential facts. But if you find an early document with your ancestor's signature, from, say, the mid-1600s, that would be interesting (I have found a few of these in the early Mexican Catholic Church records). I found a marriage record for a person in the Mexican Army with a statement from an officer allowing the marriage. Some of the early marriage dispensations (Mexican Catholic Church) show very ornate and artistic family trees demonstrating the degree(s) of consanguinity. These all spice up a profile.

6 Answers

+11 votes
Yes if it's not copyrighted. The value of these images very much out weighs the storage question.
by Richard Devlin G2G6 Pilot (275k points)
+6 votes
Yes, uploading images of interesting or significant primary sources is a good thing, particularly if they are not readily accessible for free somewhere on line.

This does not apply to your case, but I do not think it is desirable to upload images of secondary sources that are readily available online, even if there are no copyright or licensing issues.
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (203k points)
Thanks, but I'm talking about primary sources, not secondary sources. The image I showed is for example a baptism record that was written on 24 May 1718.
You can't guarantee that something that is online today will be still online tommorrow. Licence agreements reach the end of their term, sites go down, etc.

"Thanks, but I'm talking about primary sources," - Yes, I know. That's why I started the paragraph about secondary sources with "This does not apply to your case." Per my first paragraph, I think uploading the images you are talking about is fine. I was addressing the broader issue that your subject line asked.

"You can't guarantee that something that is online today will be still online tommorrow. Licence agreements reach the end of their term, sites go down, etc."

I was thinking about sources available on,, etc., which are most secondary sources (at least most that I use). These are public domain materials that don't need licenses. It's probably more likely that wikitree will cease to exist than these public domain secondary sources will cease to be publicly available online.

Chase Ashley, I misunderstood your reply. I thought you meant that the first paragraph didn't apply to my case, but you meant the second. Thanks for clearing this up!
+2 votes
I'm not too familiar with different forms of copyright law (and of course its jurisdiction dependent), but I was under the impression that typically items from over about 100 years ago have no copyright (again jurisdiction dependent), however the images made/photos taken of those old items do have copyright. I don't know what the Netherlands archives says with regards to copyright or rehosting images that they make available.

I personally don't like when images of scanned documents are uploaded, but am interested in what other people have to say. One reason, like what you outlined, being potential storage issues if documents are to be increasingly uploaded. And relatedly if the same document is uploaded multiple times to multiple individuals it compounds the storage issue. I think if a document were to be uploaded, then it should not be uploaded to the profile itself but to a space page for that source, with that image then referenced in the profile (which I think the wiki format can handle?).

I like using a transcription with citation (and link) as the preferred method.

For cases where the name is spelt differently, I'd record in the biography something like "[Person]'s name was recorded variously as [name1]<sup>[1][2]</sup> (and how they usually signed)<sup>[3]</sup>, [name2]<sup>[4]</sup>, [name3]<sup>[5][6]</sup>".

One thing that I can get behind for uploaded images is if it is something made by the individual - like art, a photo of a building, a photo of a person, their signature etc., especially if it is referenced in or improves the profile.
by T B G2G2 (2.5k points)

About the copyright, the Dutch supreme court has ruled in 1991 that a work can only has copyright when it has a 'original character and personal touch' (Arrest Van Dale/Romme). A derived work can only be copyrighted when it has an original addition. So a scan of a certificate isn't copyrighted in the Netherlands.

Some certificates have a signature of one of my ancestors. That's indeed a good idea to add to profiles.
T.B., I'm not sure what you mean by storage problems, particularly when you mention duplicate uploads to multiple profiles.  The two genealogy websites I'm most familiar with, Ancestry and WikiTree, both allow a single uploaded image to be linked to as many profiles as one wishes.  In fact, when I've sometimes inadvertently tried to upload an image to a WikiTree profile that I've already uploaded to a different profile, WikiTree detects it and reminds me it is already on the site.
With regards to storage issues, I was thinking long term issues with ballooning server costs. Images, especially high resolution and colour images, can take up a lot of space, moreso when you start to get tens of thousands or more of these images uploaded. I don't think this would be a problem in the short term, but long term it could develop into a problem if people (and assuming in the future even more people will be using WikiTree) keep uploading images of documents to every profile, when a transcription could get the information across just as well, and for a fraction of the memory.

I don't know the plans WikiTree has for server upkeep etc., I was just giving my two cents.

Ancestry has a subscription platform as income, and presumably if they needed to increase the amount of servers to store their data, they'd charge more for their services. But considering that they already host most of the records people reference, its an already solved issue for them.

I didn't know that WikiTree automatically detects similar images - I'd think it was perhaps comparing two similarly named image uploads from the same contributor?
In my experience, WikiTree has detected images I've already uploaded, even when I've given them a different name for the second attempt.  I remember one past G2G thread in which we discussed ways to outwit the system in order to properly sequence the display of documents on a profile (e.g. page 1, then page 2, etc.).

WikiTree just completed another Scan-a-Thon, so I'd guess is not yet worried about storage.
That's good to know!
0 votes
Actually, I'm not that keen on images of source documents.  Personal items, yes - like an image of a sampler stitched by the profile when she was alive.  But a source document?  Not really - and I would certainly not call them 'useful', merely 'nice to have'.  After all, you will have transcribed the document anyway.

If you absolutely must, then I agree with TB's idea of putting all the images onto a freespace page, and linking them wherever you need them.
by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
I don't like to take someone's word for what a primary source says, so if a primary source is not otherwise readily available, I'd appreciate it if the person making the transcription would post the original image somewhere. I don't care where they post it, however, so long as I can see it.
+7 votes
No one seems to have mentioned the problems with mis-transcribed documents.  So if the image is not readily accessible, I absolutely like to see the original image, so I can judge for myself what it says.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (315k points)
That is a good point and for this reason I'm all for having scans of the original documents available.  I think a lot of the folks in this thread who don't like the idea are referring to having many source documents in the inline text of the bio or having the right column cluttered with them.  I think that a space page with 12 scans and one or two small crops of a page between paragraphs in the bio add some nice color and substance to the biography.
Thanks! Good point. It indeed makes a mis-transcribed document easily visible. You don't have to check every document on the archive websites this way.
I have run across so many mis-transcribed documents over the years.  I feel like it will get worse as fewer people are able to read cursive.  I try to double check images of documents with the transcription as often as I can.  Ts and Fs, as well as Ls and Ss, seem to get mixed up often.  I'm a big proponent of having images readily accessible.
+4 votes
Hi Koen,

I am all for including images of primary sources on profiles. Not only do they provide an easy way to check the claims that are made on the profile, they also inspire confidence and, in my opinion, help bringing a profile to life. There are some caveats however (and I'm not implying they apply to your work): these images should not replace a properly written biography, they should be properly cropped to the relevant part of the scan, and they should not be copyrighted (see my thoughts on that below).

About your concern about storage capacity: if every of the 20 million profiles on WT would have an image of 1 megabyte, that would require a storage capacity of 20 terabytes. With hard drives of 10 TB readily available for a few hundred dollars (and server solutions for the same capacity for a similar cost per month), I don't think this should be a concern. And by far the majority of profiles do not have images.

I'd like to broaden your question a bit (not only about Dutch archives) when it comes to copyright. I'm not a legal expert, and the situation is different in different countries (in the UK for instance, there is something like crown-copyright that applies), but in most cases I think copyright laws do not apply (certainly not for the original documents, and also not for the scans and pictures that are taken of them). The originality of the work, necessary for copyright, is in most cases not enough in the case of a simple scan. One might even argue that our work of selecting, cropping, interpreting and placing into context of these images does constitute original work.

But there is another matter, that is not the same as copyright, and this is the "terms of use" of the website that provide the images, and that we (explicitly or implicitly) agree with when we use the website. In many cases these terms of use state that the images are for personal use, and should not be distributed. This is not because of copyright, this is a "contract" between you and the website.

There is an important difference: in the case of copyright, Wikitree itself (as the distributor of copyrighted material) is responsible (and thus at risk). In the case of Terms of Use, the user downloading the image and then placing it on WT is responsible (and thus at risk). For me that's an important difference: I won't do anything that puts WT at risk, but I'm willing to take a personal risk (in any case, the risk is small).

As long as there's no copyright, I think that both the added value and the (legal and moral) considerations are a personal choice. My own choice is to include cropped images, and I justify this to myself with the added (original) work I perform to give meaning to the image, and with the fact that the honor code of WT only talks about copyright (not about terms of use). But I am aware that, strictly speaking, I'm probably violating the terms of use of some websites.

Again: I'm not a legal expert, so I might have interpreted things wrongly. Also, I'm taking a respect for privacy and proper citation and acknowledgement of the source as a given.

Best regards,

by Filip Beunis G2G6 Mach 2 (24.5k points)

"in the case of copyright, Wikitree itself (as the distributor of copyrighted material) is responsible (and thus at risk)."

That's not true, at least in the US. Section 230 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects platform providers such as YouTube, Facebook, and Wikitree from liability for material posted by their users. See, eg,

Good poin Chase but I believe that this is short term protection.  Once discovered, the material needs to be taken down.  If someone posted a copyrighted photo here and someone made a squawk about it and WT didn't take it down, then they could be at risk.  If you post a copy of the latest movie on Youtube and 10,000 people view it before someone flags it, then Youtube has no risk.  But once it is flagged, if they don't remove it in an appropriate amount of time, they could get sued.

In answer to Filip's points, I'm going to copy and paste from Chase's answer to my own post a few months ago:

Neither US Censuses, nor any other work created by the US government, are protected by the US copyright laws. See, eg, Images of the US Censuses made by third parties (such as are also not protected by US copyright laws because, there must be some creative element in order for an image to be protected. Mere photocopies/scans of public domain material, such as images of US Census pages are therefore not protected by copyright law, despite what Ancestry or anyone else might say.

This issue, however, is that when you sign up with Ancestry and other websites you agree to their terms of use. which restrict your use of the images. This is by contract law, not copyright. HOWEVER, only prohibits use of large portions of materials. The following is from their Terms and Conditions:

Some Ancestry Content may be in the public domain, and yet also subject to restrictions on reuse. We refer to Ancestry Content in the public domain as “Public Domain Content.” You are free to use a small portion of individual photos and documents that are Public Domain Content, but you must obtain our written permission to use more than a small portion of these collections

Since US Census are not protected by copyright law, that means they are public domain content. A single page of a US Census seems pretty clearly a small portion of a US Census (the document). This means it's OK to repost individual US Census pages from on wikitree. They are really only concerned about someone copying their entire database to compete with their service. Copying individual pages here or there is OK.

On the point raised by Filip about WikiTree guidance on terms of use: the Honor Code is supplemented by other help pages. The help page on copying text states:

"Public domain content is generally defined as material that is not copyrighted. It is either:

  • not eligible for copyright in the first place, or
  • copyright has expired, or
  • the copyright holder has released the material into the public domain.

However, it may not be permissible to copy public domain content that you find on another website. The organization or presentation of the content may be copyrighted. Moreover, many websites have Terms of Service that prohibit copying."

The FAQ on photos also refers, in the section on permissions, to terms of use of images on websites. It states explicitly "You need to check their terms of use."

To my mind the WikiTree guidance makes it clear that WikiTree members are expected to respect the terms of use of material they have found on other websites.

It also seems to me evident that behaviour which breaches the terms of use of what is on a website is unethical.

Finally, it may be worth adding a reminder that, when uploading images to WikiTree, there is a requirement to give an explanation about copyright and permissions - why it is OK for the image to be shared.

"If someone posted a copyrighted photo here and someone made a squawk about it and WT didn't take it down, then they could be at risk."

Agreed. Although I think the someone who makes the squawk has to be the copyright holder. I doubt most copyright holders care about the types of postings that are done here on wikitree, eg a page here a page there -- and those limited postings may well qualify as fair use -- as opposed to, say, people posting entire movies on youtube or if someone uploaded pdfs of all the Royal Ancestry volumes.

Thank you all for your thoughts!

I'd like to clarify some aspects of my answer. First of all, I think none of us should post copyrighted material (original works), neither as an image nor as a textual copy. If WT is protected, all the better, but it might still cause trouble or extra work. My main point was that (depending on the country) things like censuses, birth records, etc. (either originals or scans) are in many cases not copyrighted.

Secondly, I don't find it "evidently" unethical to not follow every letter of a terms of use. Ethical behavior, to me, is to assess the fairness and intent of the terms and of my behavior. That might result in refraining from doing something even if it is allowed, or it might result in doing something that is not strictly allowed when the terms are taken literally. In the case of FS, Ancestry and the like, I don't think the intention of their terms is aimed against us, small genealogists, that want to share (a part of a scan of a page containing) the birth record of our great-grandfather, after we have done research that results in an original and different context and presentation of that material.

Thanks especially, Michael, for the passages in the WT help pages. I did know them, and I do take them seriously, as I feel I'm part of this community and responsible for its mission. It does bother me that, taken to the letter, I sometimes violate these guidelines. I do however think that, also here, the intent of these guidelines is not primarily aimed against a scan of a birth record, but rather against plagiarism of original work (whether text or image), even if it is not copyrighted. In my opinion, it is sometimes better for the mission of WT to include scans of primary sources than to not include them.

Best regards,


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