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.


  1. Hi Myrt:

    I think this Ancestry.com blog item from May 2011 (http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2011/05/13/announcing-new-web-search/) might explain why you are seeing this information. Seems Ancestry is trying to do an all-in-one search for us and bringing in sources that are not necessarily only within the domain.

  2. Dear Barbara,
    Ol' Myrt here wrote about this web search option in my blog post titled Ancestry.com Web Search is a winner. Key to my approval of such a project is such that:

    1. The link, and not the images themselves, are to be provided by Ancestry.com
    2. The link to the content is clearly labeled as a "web" resource, and not an Ancestry.com record.

    Sadly, this case study doesn't not encounter any such "web" resource notations. The 2005 date of acquisition predates the May 2010 Ancestry.com "Web Search" option.


  3. You've got your super-sleuth hat on again Myrt! Good eye and good find. I hope you've approached Ancestry to find out what they have to say? Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the genealogical community

  4. Actually, Ancestry placed it online on 31 May 2004.

    Sounds like Ancestry has some questions to answer.

  5. There may be a very simple answer.

    Maybe FamilySearch had an extra copy of this hard-bound book, and sold it to somebody at Ancestry, or that buyer gave it or sold it to Ancestry.

    An alternative is that someone stole it from the FHL and Ancestry got hold of it.

    In either case, they can copy it since the book was out of copyright protection.

  6. There is one other possibility...

    It was part of the old Infobases/Western Publishing stuff that was put on floppies and they finally got around to using it on Ancestry.

    The LDS had to be providing something to the Infobases/Western Publishing effort or they couldn't have produced all those floppies and actually started the computer genealogy ball rolling.

  7. Hi Myrt,

    Thank you for raising this issue, and for taking the time to discuss it at some length over the phone yesterday.

    Firstly, to resolve the underlying question, this content was part of a collection legitimately acquired by Ancestry.com for our customers from a 3rd party partner, and we originally published it in 2004 (pretty much as Randy has suggested in his post above). As part of this agreement we have full permissions to reproduce it for our members.

    As we discussed over the phone yesterday, the stamp at the beginning of the book clearly has the potential to cause confusion, and it would have been much clearer if the ”source information” on the search page for this collection (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=25346) had stated “Reproduced by permission”.

    We are sorry for any confusion this has caused. For the future, we will aim to include this statement within the source information of any similar collection we publish.

    With regard to the existing collections, we expect to be reviewing these as part of an ongoing content improvement project over the coming months, and will aim to adjust these source information statements at that time.

    Thanks again for raising this – we love to get feedback, and it helps us to get better for our users, and for the wider community

    Tony Macklin
    Head of Search, Ancestry.com

  8. Thanks, Tony for getting back to me so quickly on this. My readers are happy to hear this I am sure.

  9. On ancestry.com's home page there is prominently displayed the "BBB Accredited Business" logo, suggesting that the BBB has evaluated the practices of the site and extends its approval. However, consider the following which I quote from the BBB's own webpage:
    "If a business has been accredited by the BBB, it means BBB has determined that the business meets accreditation standards which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB accredited businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.

    BBB Code of Business Practices represents standards for business accreditation by BBB. Businesses based in the United States and Canada that meet these standards and complete all application procedures will be accredited by BBB. The Code is built on the BBB Standards for Trust, eight principles that summarize important elements of creating and maintaining trust in business..."

    (OK, so far so good--but here's the clincher, which seems to contradict what just went above):

    "BBB accreditation does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business’ product quality or competency in performing services."


    Does anyone else have a problem with the above, and do you also think ancestry's display of the BBB logo misleads consumers into thinking the BBB has indeed "made that determination as to the business' product quality or competency in performing services" and now we all can trust the company?

  10. It is no more misleading for Ancestry to display the BBB logo than for any other business to display it.

    Judging from the wording it seems to me that it is the BBB itself that is misleading people.


  11. Tony, in case you are still watching these comments, will the "Reproduced by permission" include who gave that permission?