How to Share Without Plagiarizing

Blogging and online articles have become popular as a result of the easy reach of the internet and social media. Most bloggers have an intended audience that follows them closely, as well as follows other social media resources on the same topics.

In other words, bloggers and their audiences share common interests and therefore common Facebook groups, etc.  Therefore, bloggers see what others post – and sometimes, they recognize their own work being posted, but not attributed to them.

It’s easy to become excited and want to share with others – and that is a wonderful attribute. Sharing is a good thing and collaboration makes the genetic genealogy world go around.

However, there’s a wrong way and a right way to share. Most people are very interested in following the rules, if they know what they are.

Our Friendly Lawyer

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not at attorney, so I’m not up to the moment on laws regarding copyright and plagiarism – but I know who is. If you want to read more from the legal perspective, I might suggest checking out any of Judy Russell’s links on the topic. Judy is, after all, The Legal Genealogist.

To quote Judy:

“One of The Legal Genealogist‘s pet peeves is when someone takes something another genealogist has done, strips off the identifying information and reposts it as if it was the second person’s work.

That, by definition, is plagiarism, and it’s a great big ethical no-no in genealogy.

Most of the time, people who do this are doing it without malicious intent. They don’t realize that they’re actually stealing someone else’s work and depriving the other person of credit for the work; most of the time they think they’re just sharing.”

To be very clear, I want my work to be shared, but I also want credit. Notice that when I quoted Judy, above, I not only said it was a quote from Judy Russell, but I also provided links to Judy’s work both in general and the article from which I quoted.

If you look at the bottom of Judy’s articles, you can also see perfectly executed examples of citing sources.

My Articles

Now, back to my work. I’m not dead and copyright clearly hasn’t expired. That expiration line in the sand is sometime around 1923 today, as Judy says here, and the copyright expiration for my work is a long way off. I won’t care by then, and neither will you. In fact, anything I write today about genetic genealogy will probably be viewed after the year 2110, about the time my copyrights would expire, with the looks of incredulity children give dinosaur skeletons in museums.

Copyright aside, taking someone else’s work and posting it, even if it’s edited or recombined slightly, without attribution, is plagiarism, pure and simple, intended or otherwise. Legal or not aside as well, it’s just plain wrong.

Ways to Share in a Good Way

  • Many people ask if it’s alright to post a link to one of by blogs someplace. In my book, it’s ALWAYS alright to post a link which directs people to the article. You don’t need to ask. I figure anyone who is going to post my link to someplace I would disapprove of (racism, sexism, discrimination, porn, etc.) isn’t going to ask anyway.
  • Sharing and forwarding links to my articles or postings on Facebook, Twitter and social media platforms are always just fine. It’s like spreading the word for the genetic genealogy gospel.  Please DO!
  • Republishing, under certain circumstances, is also alright. Some bloggers or rebloggers will use the first paragraph or so as a “leadin” to generate interest then have a link “for further reading” which links to the blog where the content was generated – meaning mine. I’m fine with that too.

Ask First

  • Sometimes I’m asked to allow a group to reprint an article in a journal or newsletter, or to use something from one of my articles or presentations for a conference or other event. I’m generally very generous with my materials, but I DO want to be asked before that type of sharing is done and I want the work to be properly credited to me.


  • Republishing by publishing or posting the entire text of an article, most of the article or even significant parts of an article, even WITH attribution, but WITHOUT permission is not OK with me. No one has ever done that with my work in an actual publication (that I know of,) but people feel freer on the internet.
  • Posting or republishing any part of an article (or graphic) in ANY way WITHOUT attribution is not OK. Changing or recombining the verbiage slightly and republishing is not acceptable either. If the author can recognize their work or material, it’s plagiarism and copyright infringement.


Attribution should always include the link to the original article and preferably that link along with the author’s name.  In fact, here’s a perfect example of attribution done correctly on Facebook!

The quote Shannon used was from within the article, clearly is a quote, attributed correctly to me, and the title is a hotlink to the article itself.  Perfectly executed Shannon – thank you!

This is exactly what bloggers DO want.

My Rules

The above “rules” are Roberta’s rules. Other writers may feel differently about some things. If in doubt of any kind, just ask.

People who write and are not writing for an employer or do not sell items such as books are generally performing a public service. If you think writing is “free,” it most certainly is not “free” for the author. Not only is their time valuable, they clearly have to pay to keep the lights on, so to speak.  Please, be respectful of authors and do not kill the goose who laid the golden egg.

Citing Sources

If Judy is the queen of all things legal, Elizabeth Shown Mills is the queen of citing sources. If you want to cite the source perfectly, every single time, refer to Elizabeth’s blog for further instruction.

Personally, I don’t so much care HOW attribution is done, but I surely care a lot THAT it’s done.

Please Share

And yes, no need to ask, please DO share this article!! 😊



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31 thoughts on “How to Share Without Plagiarizing

    • I don’t know how personal communications is looked upon legally. I do, however, always ask the person if I can quote them, or use the information. Is that what you meant? If not, can you expand please?

  1. AND the bonus is, 6 months from now when you remember a word from that article but can’t remember the rest, you know where to look to read it again! And using the “save to my tree” button at saves the person that you got it from so when you want to confer, it’s right there.

      • Years ago I started my own genealogy website using PAF (Personal Ancestry File by Church of Latter Day Saints) to upload all of my ancestors, including all notes, sources, and photos. I included a link to download gedom files with full intention of sharing with anyone interested and was delighted to be contacted by unknown cousins. However, knowing that was a subscription-based website I uploaded my own tree there without any photos because I didn’t like the idea of Ancestry taking ownership of them, then I subsequently let my subscription lapse. Of course, Ancestry has been contacting me ever since with hints about photos, etc. I was less than thrilled to find all of my own year’s of work searching for and scanning photos had been uploaded to Ancestry without acknowledgement by one of those new-found cousins who had downloaded a gedcom from my website, and which are now attributed to that uploader cousin. Furthermore I could only view them by renewing my Ancestry subscription, which I did eventually only so I could attach my “own” photos to my own tree. It galls me every time I see that “submitted by . . .” notice. Sigh! Best-laid plans, as they say, “oft go astray.” Oh well, I content myself that before too long I’ll be dead and gone and won’t care because at least I and my ancestors will live on via

      • I have had the same experience with photos posted at Ancestry. A typical example is that I post a photo, and those who copy it see a notice that it was originally posted by me. Lately, however, I am seeing these same photos pop up as having been posted by someone I have never heard of. I can usually tell they aren’t duplicate copies that they inherited from their ancestor because I routinely crop them and often “photoshop” them. An example is when I crop one face out of a group photo to use it as the main portrait for that person.
        This isn’t the fault of my fellow Ancestry customer, who theoretically has no control over it; it is the fault of Ancestry, whose software apparently no longer “remembers” who originally posted the photos.
        Oh well…

        • The people who do that just download your stuff and upload it to their tree making it “theirs”. It happened to me so much I changed my tree to private.

      • @kaywf, I am inclined to disagree… I think the Ancestry customer must take the blame. I turned all my trees private, after a person (not even a relative) decided to make trees for herself of all my ancestors including those on my mother’s side. (The person is related maternally to my grandmother’s half-sister; I am related to my great aunt paternally). Anyway, this person photoshopped / cropped / lightened / darkened all sorts of photos of my kin and reloaded them to her trees. I get hints constantly for photos which are really mine (or my family’s) yet attributed to this stranger. Drives me nuts! Yes, Ancestry’s programs don’t recognize those jpegs as the same, but I think that person definitely bears some of the responsibility (and, i guess, myself for being stupid enough to have a public tree). Lesson learned!

        • Yes. Happened to me. I have no idea who she is. She does not return messages, not only from me but from anyone I’ve asked to contact her. What really irked me were the pictures taken in my parent’s house that according to her tree were taken in her house. I personally know my sister. I do not know this person. This person is not my sister. So I went private tree. Then in a recent blog I read the question, “If you had a picture in a drawer of your great grandmother would you leave it there to be put in the dumpster when you die or would you put it on the internet in hopes it would survive for someone to find someday?” or words to that effect. And that really made the public/private decision more difficult. I will share. And I have lots of documents and lots of research but give me the credit for buying the documents I had to buy and for the hours and hours and hours I spent researching. Is that asking too much?

  2. Interesting and quite understandable as I am sure some of your work gets “reused”.
    However, I feel you could have developed your article further along the lines of what obligations does a writer, such as yourself, have to reveal conflicts of interest. It would seem to me, that some bloggers have financial ties to one (or more) of the DNA companies. It would be good to know who is or isn’t objective. Also, is it legit for a blogger to post information as their own, when some or all was essentially written by a staff member or other paid assistant.

    • I only know of one blogger with any staff, but then I don’t know all the bloggers, obviously. I certainly don’t. If I had staff, they would be doing administrative things for me, not writing. As for conflicts of interest, I have my associations posted, as most bloggers do. However, I know of at least two bloggers whose information is incomplete. And then there are grey lines. Let’s say you were on a conference call with a company that is now offering a test when they launched their product. You were paid nothing, you received nothing – but you were on a call that was restricted to a few bloggers and educators. Does that count? For me, that was Living DNA and when I wrote the article, I said as much. But it’s not on my disclosure page because there is no relationship to disclose. Same with Ancestry for me. Some things aren’t as cut and dried. I personally have a bigger issue with a new phenomenon which is someone that recommends anything and everything they can make commission from, whether or not it’s legit or what the community considers “shady.”

      • I agree. I do not like repeated posts or emails from bloggers where you have to click on the link to read the rest of the post because doing so will get them paid. Especially when it was taken from a press release from the company but does not include a link to the original post.

  3. I strongly agree with your comments about attribution. However one of the issues I see with linking to sites is that over time links disappear as websites cease publication or are migrated to new hosts.

    Another issue I’ve experienced is the inability to contact authors to request permission to use information with attribution. Some of my sources are postings by researchers in the 1990’s to Rootsweb lists or now defunct genealogy sites. Long ago I often made paper copies of web pages containing discussion of specific people or events for my notes but always included sources on those copies. Today, as I write my family history I’m trying to connect with some of those researchers or posters, using email addresses on the source documents, without success. Likely the contributors of information changed addresses or are no longer living. For deceased authors/contributors to various genealogy internet postings from 20 years ago, it is impossible to locate next of kin who may have inherited copyright rights. My only solution is to try to recreate the research on my own that supports the claim or statement made in the 20 year old post or observation.

    I have always tried to share my painstaking and well documented research with others as I believe it encourages others to do the same and therefore helps us all. However, like many other researchers I am becoming annoyed by people on Ancestry borrowing and distributing my research and photographs without attribution. It is particularly irritating to see new “hints” which are simply another person taking a document from my tree. My frustration is reaching the point where I am not spending the time to upload research information which is not widely available on the internet and which would save other researchers significant time and cost.

    It would be helpful to the entire genealogy community if Ancestry (and other internet sites) would modify its online website software to require any Ancestry subscriber uploaded materials to incorporate a copyright notice and attribution details. From my perspective the Ancestry software would not allow Ancestry subscribers who copy, borrow, and redistribute this information to change the copyright and attribution data placed on the information by the original contributor. Only the original submitter of the information would be able to modify attribution or copyright data once a document, photo, or other data source is uploaded by an Ancestry subscriber.

    In closing, let me thank you Roberta Estes for your work in behalf of the genealogical community. The information you share freely in your blog is invaluable and inspirational. You have helped me to become a better, and more disciplined, researcher.

    • And I think it would be fair if I can see how someone uses MY photos taken in my parent’s living room without paying ancestry to see them. Ancestry has the best of both worlds. People working for them for free and ownership of the work we have done and given them and then charging us to follow up on its usage.

  4. Public information like birth, death, marriage dates and information such as where someone went to school, lived etc. is I believe considered and is not covered by copyright.

    • You’re right that the actual information is not covered under copyright. But if I write a story that includes the information, the story is covered. Someone can utilize the information without using the text of my story and that isn’t a violation.

      • That is the difference between raw data information and intellectual property. Once that data is incorporated into a history (“story”) or a chart (“tree”) it is no longer merely raw data. Once thought, time, effort, money and analysis have been applied and added to that raw data, it becomes part of a broader encompassing work that has far greater value. Then it is up to the author of that work whether to sell that work, give it away, or leave it unpublished.

        Also realize that copyright only gives you the legal capability to sue someone if they violate that right. It becomes a moot point or unenforceable in virtually all cases. Unless you have sales of a book that has sold millions of copies and made millions of dollars, and copyright was violated, it would cost you more to pursue a copyright lawsuit than your work is worth. So posting or threatening a violation of copyright is usually a ‘paper tiger’ at best.

        If you don’t want your car or home burglarized, don’t leave your doors open. If you don’t want your family history or your trees purloined, don’t post them where others can take them.

  5. There’s another factor involved besides those mentioned. What if someone copies your information then the information changes? That happens all the time in family research. I’ve never copyrighted anything and never plan to, but those who copy my work should at least let people know where they got it in case new information comes to light. I uploaded my GEDCOM to Ancestral File in the late 1980s. I can easily recognize when people copy it from all the mistakes that are in the pedigree WHICH I HAVE SINCE CORRECTED. If people copy my un-copyrighted personal websites (,, data posted on public websites (,,, MyHeritage,com, etc.), or from the two books I’ve published, I wish they would tell others where it came from. That way if there’s ever a question of accuracy, hopefully they could contact me and get the latest, most accurate info instead of repeating mistakes over and over as folks are prone to do.

    • Oh, yes! I’ve tried to get some trees to update the new information I’ve discovered with found documents but some people will not change what they have; not even look at what I’ve found as new evidence. If there are 19 trees that have the same person entered and I was able to find the corrected relationship, how many will investigate the 19 that are the same (wrong) but not the one that I’ve found is the right person?

  6. Thank you! A good refresher. No matter how careful I am, I still make mistakes which have potential to travel and multiply. If I do realize that I have been mistaken, I try to make it right. But, once that toothpaste comes out of the tube… Every once in a while more than one person may write down the same thought. That’s why I was so happy to have an editor. I have told people that although I am an author, I am not particularly well read. Others’ works tend to stick and subconsciously influence. I am always a bit afraid that I will have a thought and not know where it came from. I keep thinking that if I do write another book that it should be a work of pure fiction. I think there are plenty of people who just don’t know the rules or just forget in the excitement of a discovery. There are, as noted above, some grey areas. I always take the attitude that if I am in doubt, I don’t. I will try to track down the source and ask permission. I was encouraged to get a subscription to Ancestry by more than one person who just loved it and I thought they would know if it was a “bad” thing. Turns out that one of the people had done so much unpaid work for Ancestry, that Ancestry gave them a free subscription and was using them to promote Ancestry. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my well-intended public family tree had quickly grown into an infinity monster. Ancestry subscription falls into “mistakes I’ve made” category.

  7. I have shared hundreds, if not thousands, of photos with friends and relatives. Many of these photos took hours of editing on Adobe Photoshop. The people with whom I share I willingly share, with no return, at least financially, for my investment of time, energy, painstaking effort, and resources. Other people also have shared with me. The problem with doing what I do is that anyone could repost any of my edited photos and give no attribution. This has happened. I saw several of my edited photos appear on with no credit to me and no acceptable attribution. I taught high school English for 39 years and was meticulous about teaching plagiarism. Much of plagiarism may be unintentional or done out of ignorance. It is still plagiarism. One of my biggest objections to is that the company is profiting enormously off your thousands of hours of work if you make your work publicly accessible. Then they charge you a steep membership fee. I don’t know how to avoid this rotten deal unless you choose to make your info available only to certain individuals. Right now I have chosen not to post all my work on Ancestry for that reason. They’re taking freely donated research and profiting enormously from it. Kind of a scam, in my opinion.

    • I have only my direct line ancestral tree on Ancestry, because I want those DNA tree hints, and only one photo per ancestor. Others, I share through my blog or directly, not through Ancestry.

      • Have you stopped to think how impossible it is for the rest of us to figure out where our DNA match is when you have such a bare bones tree? Maybe you can remember every name in your tree but I can’t remember every name in mine and when it gets back to, say, 10 generations, I need to see names that I can work with.

    • Yes they are and yes, I agree with you. I hate giving everything I’ve done to ancestry which is what we do if we have a tree there, but I also would be willing to share with other FAMILY members or people working on their behalf to share what I’ve found. So what do we do? Keep the trees private which is what I did until about a month ago, or put them public so that ancestry can make up “facts” out of them. And believe you me! That is exactly what they do. More than once something that I put in the facts with the heading SPECULATION has later become a “fact” that comes up in a search there. Unless I can see the original document that fact came from I don’t believe it. And none of that Index Only stuff either! My contempt for ancestry knows no bounds but until there is a better online tree, I’m captive. Yes, there are other online trees but, for me, they are difficult to use. I tried really hard to learn a couple of other ones but they just aren’t as good. When rootsmagic can sync with them…..I prefer to work on line rather on a software program but that’s just me. I back up to their software which is another problem I won’t go into here.

  8. David R. BRYAN on May 19, 2017 at 11:44 pm said:
    “…Much of plagiarism may be unintentional or done out of ignorance. It is still plagiarism. One of my biggest objections to is that the company is profiting enormously off your thousands of hours of work if you make your work publicly accessible. Then they charge you a steep membership fee. I don’t know how to avoid this rotten deal unless you choose to make your info available only to certain individuals. Right now I have chosen not to post all my work on Ancestry for that reason. They’re taking freely donated research and profiting enormously from it. Kind of a scam, in my opinion”

    Very well said, and I agree totally.

    Several things to consider: One is that most people who have no formal research skills or scholarly training think that everything that is posted anywhere on the web is up for grabs and can be disseminated without considering it to be plagiarism. They either don’t understand or they refuse to acknowledge the difference between raw data (such as public records) and assembled trees. Available records are a source of raw information, accessible through research. But once that data is assembled into a tree it becomes a form of intellectual property that often required much time and effort to determine, prove and assemble.

    Worse still is the currently popular attitude that since you researched something and discovered it you are obliged to give it away or “share” it with others, be they distant DNA relatives or the public at large – those who make no effort other than to expect that it be handed to them as an entitlement. It amounts to “beggar-thy-neighbor”.

    This is why I never have and never will post any of my trees on any public website. If anyone can demonstrate that they are related to me, no matter how distantly, I will gladly share with them the relevant portions of my voluminous trees that are specifically applicable and prove how we are related. But it is of no concern to others. Nor will I give a license to profit from it. That’s my personal policy and it is not one based upon selfishness. It’s being protective of the hard work and expense of professional research that went into my forming those trees.

  9. Same thing happens at any site where you post your family tree, photos, etc. They take what they want, add your records to their index, people steal your tree, etc. Just like on Facebook. Some have suggested that you put a watermark across all images so they can’t get a good copy. I have heard others suggest you just put a note that says to contact you for more information and to see images. I don’t know if that works.

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