Let's say that I have sent away for a copy of my great-grandfather's birth certificate (or marriage or death.) Can I scan that document and put the image on my own website? What legal issues (if any) are there? What if the document is a copy of a census page or an ancestor's journal? What guidelines exist as to what I can post? If I transcribe the contents of the document, can I post that?
You won't have a problem with the vital records (birth, marriage and death) on deceased individuals as they are a matter of public record. DO NOT place any such items on your site concerning living individuals bowing to their right to privacy. I'd start with the grandparents or great-grandparents as a safe bet.
If you obtained the copy of the census page from an online service such as Ancestry.com or HeritageQuestOnline, you could have problems, because extensively you are robbing them of the opportunity for earning membership fees by others in your family who might join the service to view the same image. You could transcribe the census record for your website making sure to reference:
-- its Ancestry.com or HeritageQuestOnline location
-- its NARA microfilm number
-- its FHL microfilm number
If you looked at the census image on a microfilm from NARA or the FHL, then most certainly scan it into your computer and use that public record on your website. Ancestry & HQO have copyrights on their digital presentation, not on the census pages themselves.
If you have your great-grandfather's journal in your possession, then you know if you have extended his copyright following his death. Otherwise the journal is in the public domain, and you can use it on your website. I suggest scanning the image and placing thumbnail of it on the page where you have transcribed the page word-for-word. Thumbnails are smaller versions of a picture that when clicked open a larger view of the graphic. The advantage of the transcription, is that the typed text is "every word" searchable. When you've submitted your website to search engines, this fact will make it easier for people to find your site.
FOR FURTHER READING
-- Carrack's Guide to Copyright and Contracts: A Primer for Genealogists, Writers and Researchers, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. http://www.genealogical.com. 2005 ISBN#: 0806317582.
-- Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor. http://www.genealogical.com. 2001, reprinted 2004 ISBN#: 0806316489. The publisher provides the following breakdown of topics:
1. Defining Professionalism, by Don Devine, J.D., CG, CGI
2. Educational Preparation, by Claire Mire Bettag, CGRS
3. Certification and Accreditation, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG; Paul F. Smart, AG; Jimmy B. Parker, AG; and Claire Mire Bettag, CGRS
4. The Essential Library, by Joy Reisinger, CG
Ethics and Legalities
5. Ethical Standards, by Neil D. Thompson, LL.B., Ph.D., CG, FASG
6. Executing Contracts, by Patricia Gilliam Hastings, J.D.
7. Copyright and Fair Use, by Val D. Greenwood, J.D., AG
8. Alternative Careers, by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CGRS
9. Structuring A Business, by Melinda Shackleford Kashuba, Ph.D.
10. Setting Realistic Fees, by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking
11. Marketing Strategies, by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CGRS
12. Business Record Keeping, by Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG
13. Time Management, by Patricia Law Hatcher, CG, FASG
Professional Research Skills
14. Problem Analyses and Research Plans, by Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG
15. Research Procedures, by Linda Woodward Geiger, CGRS, CGL
16. Transcripts and Abstracts, by Mary McCampbell Bell, CLS, CGL
17. Evidence Analysis, by Donn Devine, J.D., CG, CGI
Writing and Compiling
18. Research Reports, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
19. Genealogy Columns, by Regina Hines Ellison, CGRS
20. Proof Arguments and Case Studies, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
21. Book and Media Reviews, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
22. Record Compilations, by Bettie Cummings Cook, CG
23. Family Histories, by Christine Rose, CG, CGL, FASG
24. Lineage Papers, by Mary McCampbell Bell, CLS, CGL and Elisabeth Whitman Schmidt, CLS
Editing and Publishing
25. Editing Periodicals, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
26. Proofreading and Indexing, by Birdie Monk Holsclaw
27. Preparing Books for Press, by Joan Ferris Curran, CG
28. Classroom Teaching, by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking
29. Lecturing, by Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG
Happy family tree climbing!
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