Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CASE STUDY: Ancestry's paid and FamilySearch's open access book images match - WHY?

Researching my family tree at Ancestry.com turned up the scanned images of a book Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania by Thomas Allen Glenn. However, the title page clearly labels the book as having been microfilmed 2-4-71 by the Genealogical Society of Utah, an organization now closely associated with FamilySearch. Those stamped and handwritten notations shown in the screen shot below, threw me  for a second. Ol' Myrt here wondered if I had clicked something different in my iPad and had inadvertently switched from Ancestry.com to FamilySearch.org. But I had not.

QUESTION: Is this a FamilySearch microfilm showing up on Ancestry.com as an Ancestry.com digital collection? Apparently yes.

As soon as I located the Ancestry.com presentation of Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania scanned book collection on my desktop computer, I took the following screen shot, adding red arrows to the title page showing those stamped and handwritten notations.

Image 1 - From Ancestry.com website.

A quick check of the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilm #496948 (corresponding to the same number found on the title page above) does indeed show the book is one of four items on the microfilm. Here is the screen shot from the FamilySearch Catalog:

Image 2 - From FamilySearch.org website.

In fact  "Welsh founders of Pennsylvania" is listed as available in "Digital Images" format. Two clicks later, Ol' Myrt found herself at the open access (freely available) and fully searchable Brigham Young University's Family History Archives presentation of the book. Note the title page of the book from the BYU website (shown below with green arrows) bears the same peculiar Genealogical Society of Utah stamps and handwritten notations found in the Ancestry.com presentation of the book's digital images (shown above.)

Image 3 - From BYU's Family History Archives website.

Here's a synopsis of my immediate reaction and thought process:
  • Certainly not. 
  • I cannot believe my eyes.
  • Certainly Ancestry.com hasn't taken free content and presented it as their own once again? 
  • I guess they OCR'd it (Optical Character Recognition)
  • Perhaps you've got it all wrong, Myrt, go back to Ancestry.com and check the source citation information.
So I went back to Ancestry.com and did check for a reference to the BYU collection. Nope, there is no reference to this book being in the Brigham Young University Collection. There is no mention of a partnership or agreement with FamilySearch back in 2005 when Ancestry.com apparently added this collection. The "Source" of the scanned images at Ancestry is described on the site as:

Ancestry.com. Welsh founders of Pennsylvania [database on-line]. Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: Glenn, Thomas Allen,. Welsh founders of Pennsylvania. Oxford: Fox, Jones and Co., 1911-1913.

Image 4 - from the Ancestry.com website.

 Has Ancestry somehow captured the free digital images of the Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania book and placed them behind the membership wall at Ancestry.com? [That "learn more" button merely divides out the various chapters in of the book for ease of navigation.]

I logged out of Ancestry.com and attempted to view the book collection as a non-subscriber to see if it was available for free. Unfortunately that wasn't possible. I was was given the "Explore the record match you just found -- and much more -- FREE for 14 days by choosing a 14-day free trial membership" screen. Not good! It would appear that indeed this free digital image collection found through FamilySearch and located at Brigham Young University is also part of the "members only" Ancestry.com website. Oh no! Say it ain't so!

Next I went to Google Books and located a free copy of the Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania book here. The title page in this copy is free of any Genealogical Society of Utah stamps or handwritten notations.

I don't know what to make of this, but clearly:
  • There are Genealogical Society of Utah / FamilySearch digital images of Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania available for free at the Brigham Young University Family History Archives website. This is logical, since they are associated organizations.
  • Ancestry.com is presenting digital images of Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania with the same title page, bearing the same distinctive stamps and peculiarly handwritten Genealogical Society of Utah notations behind it's members-only wall, calling itself the source of the data, though listing the original author and title.
  • It is true that the book itself is out of copyright, since it was published in 1911. 
Years ago, perhaps in the 1990s, I received copies of several old books from the Family History Library that had been cut from their spine to facilitate the microfilming process. But clearly this book was microfilmed in 1971, and I doubt the FHLibrary kept copies for ten years or more before moving them out after microfilming.

  • Does Ancestry.com have an agreement with FamilySearch to present Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania images on the Ancestry.com website in the subscribers-only portion of the site? 
  • If so, why doesn't Ancestry.com credit FamilySearch for the creation of the digital images?
  • How were the images acquired if Ancestry.com doesn't have an agreement to present Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania images on the Ancestry.com website? Were the digital images of the out-of-copyright book made from the FamilySearch microfilm?
  • Why is the Ancestry.com source citation so woefully inadequate? If there is a partnership, Ancestry.com should give FamilySearch at least a nod by stating "though a partnership with" or something like that.

I am not signing off with "Happy family tree climbing" today because I am concerned. I'll bet FamilySearch won't pursue this issue as they are generally non-combative. How on earth is a researcher to keep up? No wonder we need 900+ pages of evidence and citation examples by Elizabeth Shown Mills to keep track of all this. In this case, we are viewing images of an out-of-copyright book presented on our website of choice. I'd prefer to point my readers to the BYU website, since it provides free access to the images Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania images, and Ancestry.com requires a fee for the same images.

I'm stepping away from my desk now to work in my real-world vegetable garden. I've given up on Farmville as my crops there tend to wilt all to soon.

Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.