Saturday, April 04, 2009

Genealogists in Glass Houses

After reading 5 Bad Genealogy Sources, reading the author's defense of himself here, and offering my own take here, I wondered—why hadn't I listed the Genealogy and Family History blog in my Blog Finder? Surely a blog that incites such debate should have a place in the directory.

After a little investigating, I discovered the answer: I had blacklisted the blog because of suspected duplicate content. Take this post, "Genealogy Software: Tips on Finding the Right One," posted November 30, 2008. The advice is pretty generic, which immediately makes me suspect that it came from an article mill. Googling the first sentence brings up 170 results. Here it is posted on a different blog a year earlier.

This must be a fluke, right? Well, how about this post, " The Best Website to Learn About Your Genealogy," published October 30, 2008. 307 Google results. This post appears to have come from here, and this post from here. But given the lack of proper attribution, it's impossible to tell who wrote what when.

[Update: Please note that use of content from article mills on a website is not illegal and does not constitute "stealing," though it may in some cases be unethical, unseemly, or contribute to making the website seem worthless and laughable.]

To be fair, the proprietor of Genealogy and Family History seems to have cleaned up his act a bit in the past month or so. But maybe not. He wrote this just four days ago:

I recalled that I had written an article last year about Genealogists using Twitter as a means of connecting with others who were researching their Family History. So as it’s obviously a topic of interest to folks I searched the blog and here’s a link to the article which originally appeared back in October 2008:

Genealogists and Twitter
The linked article is remarkably similar to a tutorial at, submitted by a user named Moomettesgram a month earlier.

I have no interest in embarrassing anyone, or attacking anyone else's business model. But I won't stand by while my fellow bloggers are maligned by someone claiming to speak from a position of authority, but who may be guilty of something far worse than omitting a footnote.


Getting posts from article mills is one thing. I wouldn't do it, but it gives a blog some verisimilitude, without really doing anything 'wrong' per se, as if I understand correctly, the articles are there to be taken by those who feel they need them. One of the sites you linked warns against reposting in entirety, as GoogleSearchBots could catch it, but the site doesn't say they care.

But eHow is not meant for that purpose. So taking an ehow article and just changing a few words here and there is something much worse. There's a word for it, even.



I hope you don't mind what I did on my blog:


Bravo! I followed so many links back to the offending blog, "5 Bad Genealogy Sources", and just shook my head.

Blogs as a bad genealogy source? Nah.

Anybody with some experience uses them as a guideline to maybe help their research, and not as a "source" in the first place. Genealogy blogs can be incredibly useful and informative, whether they discuss genealogical how-to's or focus on one's own family.

What matters is how we approach the information given.

Patti Hobbs

he's explained on his blog, but I'm not satisfied with the free-use-as-if-its-my-own package of articles. It may be legally legitimate, but it doesn't seem ethical to pass off someone else's work as one's own. I assume that anything on a blog not attributed to someone else is the author's own work. I do appreciate those who excerpt and deliberately point readers to other sites of possible interest.


Interesting entry. I don't know the history of this situation but plan to read the things to which you link. By the way, the first link you have is bad.


Thanks, CookinsForMe, I fixed the link.


The author has emailed me and (with the warning that "The contents of this email are confidential to the recipient") requested that I clarify my statements regarding the use of article mills. So I have. I was very careful not to accuse him of anything illegal, and if anyone has inferred that then I am ever so sorry.


Thank you for this troubling update to this story.

In light of this news you may be interested in the dialogue I had in my blog comments, yesterday, with Paul Duxbury, in response to my own long blog post responding to his original story.

I am no professional, just an ordinary guy, interested in his roots, who has spent 20 years digging when he can, slowly learning to do new things, and sharing his adventures, successes, and mysteries, from time to time, on his blog.

Kiril The Mad Macedonian

Andy E. Wold

I love the fact that he uses a blog to state that blogs are invalid.

Then, to close the Comments on his own blog.



I should also note that the author has stated on John's blog that both he and the eHow contributor copied their content from the same source. In doing so, he has confirmed that the article he explicitly claimed to have written was written by someone else.


I have been a blogger since 2002, and from the earliest days, excerpting, with links to the original artcile has been the approved standard among bloggers of all interests.

It is a practice that probably got its start among the Political & MilBlogs, and has spread to everyone who blogs no matter the subject.

Most bloggers put some sort of Copyright Notice on their own blogs to help protect ownership of their original content.

Kiril The Mad Macedonian

Dana Huff

Interesting post, Chris, and thanks for sharing it. Genealogy is, to me, such a personal subject. If I don't have much research going on or much to say, I let mine go dormant for months rather than post filler. I know that has cost me an audience, but I decided early on my blog would focus on my own family history rather than genealogy tips or news. I like genealogy tips and news although I do like genealogy tips and news. I have found genealogy blogs to be interesting and insightful sources.


Kiril, I agree, that is and should be the standard.

This isn't (in this case) a legal issue, but an ethical issue. There are tons of genealogy sites that use these off-the-shelf articles without proper atribution, and I have never written a blog post about them. I just ignore them, exclude them from my blog directory, and move on. But when one of these website owners wags his finger in the face of genealogy bloggers and chastises them for their sloppy research habits, the hypocrisy just makes me livid.

In the end, Paul Duxbury has taught us an important lesson. Approach genealogy blogs as you would any other source--with caution.


You guys crack me up:

Elizabeth O'Neal

You guys are making my head spin. I'm going to go get a dictionary to keep up with John's big words.


The issue with "he who shall not be named" lies with the ethics involved with his posting of statements regarding Geneablogs and not with the veracity of those statements.

As a GeneaBlogger, I do not/will not justify my work based on the comments of one with such questionable ethics, but he should have to justify his.

The ethics I refer to are the posting of undocumented unsubstantiated statements as fact.

I have a cat who suns himself on the back of the couch. He relaxes, loses his grip, and falls; immediately jumping up and acting as if "he meant to do that."

Someone has relaxed, lost their grip and fallen. Justification is always easy to manufacturer after the fact.

The solution? I will do to him what I did to my ex-husband. Ignore him. Neither one of them will be able to stand it.

AKA The footnoteMaven


One of the most important lessons I learned as a freshman philosophy student was the difference between justification and rationalization. Any action or statement may be rationalized—even those for which no real justification can be found. The rationalizer may be able to persuade, but he should not be allowed to convince. The audience for his rationalizations, in the end, should be an audience of one.

Becky Wiseman

Thanks Chris, for the additional info about "Mr. D" and his blog. Quite frankly, I had never heard of him or his blog prior to this week.

He's gotten a lot of free publicity out of all this, though most of it is not good, and I suspect his "stats" have gone through the roof too. Was that what he was after?

He can rationalize his actions (and writings) to himself but that certainly doesn't make what he has done and said right.

Untangled Family Roots

Thank you for posting this. I sometimes want to add or bring attention to what someone has posts as I find it to be useful information, but I always link back to what they did as their article, not mine. It really irritates me that some of us put hours of work into our blogs, make them completely original and yet others think they have the right, like Ancestry (yes that still burns me sometimes) to steal our work and pass it off as their own. Bravo!

Untangled Family Roots

By the way Footnote. I love your response! Which is why his blog is one that I don't even read until something like this is pointed out.

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