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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

November 14, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Is Donated Resarch Copyrighted?

Q: Many years ago, a cousin of my mother wrote and offered to share pictures and information with her. He died before I was able to contact him but he donated his research to the local historical society. I got copies of his family group sheets from society and was able to find some new leads to follow. My findings and conclusions regarding some of the records vary from his. I've made arrangements to send copies of my research to a local library to help future researchers and would love to include a copy of my deceased relative's family group sheets. I'm not sure if I am allowed to do this since he did not publish the genealogy material himself. I would really like to include his information because he spent decades researching his family and because our research differs (I feel I should provide that other view point for a later researcher to decide on their own). Also he included references that I haven't been able to track down and locate but someone later might be able to. Is there a copyright on genealogy material donated to a historical society? -- Karen

A: If I have understood you correctly, you wish to incorporate the family group sheets that your cousin compiled in the family history you are now wishing to publish. I am assuming that you were going to scan or photocopy the family group sheets and include them, not only for the information that they share but also to remember him for the work he put into the family history.

It sounds like your concern is in making sure that you don't usurp your cousin's copyright by including the forms in the book. If all you are going to do is to transcribe the forms into your genealogy, there is no copyright issue since facts cannot be copyrighted. Of course, you would want to acknowledge that the information came from the now deceased cousin.

If you wanted to photocopy the forms themselves and include them in the book, it is my understanding that this would be acceptable as well. The information was donated to the historical society. You would probably want to make mention of where the original files can be found, and be sure that the historical society does not object to your including the records in your book.

Copyright was created to protect that creativity. While genealogy involves a lot of work, a family group sheet is simply made up of facts and is generally not protected by copyright. A published family history is protected because of the organization and the inclusion of anecdotes, analysis, photographs and such. A family group sheet does not include anything creative, simply acting as a form in which to record the facts that have been uncovered, thus exempting it from the copyright laws.

It might be a good idea to check with the surviving family of the cousin though to make sure that they did not wish to publish the information. This just helps to keep good feelings among the family. Your motives are to preserve his information and make it available to anyone researching that lineage. I suspect that you would be able to include them in your work, provided you acknowledge who compiled them and where they now can be found.

If you haven't done so yet, you will want to visit the Library of Congress Web site and investigate their Copyright section. There are many useful pages there.

Hit a Brick Wall

Q: I have traced my family tree to my great-great-grandfather but have unable to find information on his parents. Do you have any suggestions for getting over this brick wall? -- James

A: When we first get into genealogy we are often amazed at how quickly and easily we uncover information. At some point, however, virtually all researchers find themselves up against a brick wall.

When you come up against a brick wall, you need to examine the wall and see if there is a spot where you can get through or at least over it. This means that you need to not concentrate on just your great-great-grandfather. It is likely that he had siblings. It is likely that there are other families living in the area where you have found him that share the same surname.

You need to get to know them all. Just as you have collected records on your great-great-grandfather, you must begin to compile records on these others as well. Are there similarities? Do you see naming patterns in the offspring of those who are around the same age as your great-great-grandfather? Could they be siblings? Do these individuals interact with your great-great-grandfather in records, acting as witnesses for one another for land sales or probate? Have you looked at the probate records for those sharing your great-great-grandfather's surname?

Often if the information you need cannot be found in the records on your direct ancestor, they may be found in the records of siblings. Of course there are times when it becomes necessary to build a case that supports your assumptions as to who you think the parents are. Usually this requires showing how everyone else of the same surname in the area cannot be the parents. While we would love to find that one record that states unequivocally who the parents are, there are families in which this isn't the case and instead we must just spend the time and energy building a case that leaves no question as to the relationship.

In Search of Great-Grandfather

Q: I was wondering if you could assist me in locating vital information concerning my great-grandfather, Cluad G. ReQua. According to my grandfather's (Shelton Elmo ReQua, who was born February 23, 1912, in Blackwell, Oklahoma) birth certificate, he was born in Kansas, and was 32 years of age at the time of Shelton's birth. I have contact both the state of Oklahoma and the state of Kansas vital records but they could offer no additional information. What do you suggest as my next course of action? -- Richard

A: Vital records, that is the recording of birth certificates and death certificates, are a relatively contemporary resource. Most states did not begin to record them until the early 1900s, though some counties were recording them in the late 1800s. Given that your grandfather was born in 1912 when your great-grandfather was 32, that means he was born about 1880 and it is possible that vital records were not being recorded at that time.

It sounds like you do not yet know where in Kansas your great-grandfather was born. Thus, the first step in your research is to narrow down your search to a county rather than the entire state of Kansas. Based on the information you supplied, it does not appear that you have as yet attempted to search for the death record on your great-grandfather. This would be the first step I would take. Usually the death certificates not only supply you with full birth dates, but they may also supply you with the names of your great-grandfather's parents, something you would want to find out anyway.

If you do have the names of his parents, then I would turn my attention to the 1880 census. Now with an every name index, I would see if I could find your great-great-grandparents listed. Finding them listed in the 1880 census would give you a county in which to concentrate on for any available birth certificates or church records.

If you don't know his parents' names, it would hurt to do a search on the ReQua surname in the 1880 census index to see how many families can be found in Kansas and in what counties they are localized. Then you would want to begin systematically going through each county ruling out those who are living there as potential family.

So, first, try to find the death certificate for your great-grandfather. Second, be sure that you are not trying to jump back, skipping valuable records, such as the 1920, 1910, and 1900 census as you research the ReQua surname. If you can find your great-grandfather living in Kansas in 1900, that would be a good county to begin your research. When combined with those of the ReQua surname who were living in Kansas in 1880, you may begin to see a pattern and be able to more easily identify where in Kansas your great-grandfather was born.

Creating My Web Site

Q: I have my own personal web site and I would like to add my family tree for my family to view. How do I create family tree web pages? -- Chuck

A: If you are using the Family Tree Maker software there are two methods in which you can share your information online through your own personal Web site.

Create an RTF File - The first method requires that you have a software program, such as your word processing program, that can read the RTF (Rich Text Format) file and then be saved as a Web page or copied and pasted to an HTML or Web design program. Most of the current versions of word processors do much more than simply send our creations to the printer. They often allow you to be creative and then save the document as an HTML file. Once the file is an HTML file, then it can be uploaded to your personal Web site and displayed online for cousins to find.

Create a PDF File - If you have Version 10 of Family Tree Maker, there is another option available to you. More and more I am finding people using PDF (Portable Document Format) to share information. Unlike HTML that may adjust what the person sees when they visit your site, based on their computer's settings and limitations, a PDF file is almost like you have taken a photograph of the report as it would look if you sent it to the printer. While a PDF file requires that those trying view the files have a special program, the good news is that the program in question, Adobe's Acrobat Reader, is available for free.

One of the reason I like the PDF file is that I can be very creative in Family Tree Maker, and then export the elaborate chart or report as a PDF and not lose anything I have added. Those accessing the file will find that it is easy enough to view and there is even a search function built into the viewer. Another plus to the PDF files is that while people can view your information it is a little harder to copy and paste it into their database.

In addition to sharing your family history on your own Web site, you may also want to think about uploading a page on the Family Tree Maker site as well. This will be indexed in the FamilyFinder and may help you in making a connection with another cousin. Uploading to the Family Tree Maker site is easy given the entire process is simplified by streamlining it. The uploading and placement of the files is all done behind the scenes as your Family Tree Maker software talks with the Web site to get the right files uploaded and displayed.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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