Episode 351 - Legal Genealogist Judy Russell On Copyright, Fair Use, and Ethics In Preparing Your HistoriesNov 15, 2020
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin with the story of an adjustment that was made on the headstone of Susan B. Anthony just in time for election day. Hear what it was and why it was done. Then, a Virginia State Senator has made a sad discovery on his own property, again involving headstones. Find out what it was. Then, the British are looking for descendants of three World War I casualties and another from World War II. Might you be one, or know of one? Next, the London Metropolitan Archives have begun a new database of Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous descent. Learn more about it. And finally, what a family feud! And recently, the sale of a dinosaur skeleton made it even worse. You’ll want to hear this one!
Next, in a classic rewind interview with Legal Genealogist Judy Russell from 2019, Fisher and Judy discuss copyright, fair use, ethics, and much more in two parts. If you are preparing to write a history on your family this is must-hear radio!
Then David Lambert returns for a pair of questions on Ask Us Anything.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript for Episode 351
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 351
Fisher:Welcome genies, to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, here come the holidays and I’ve been hearing from several of you who are thinking about writing up a history as a gift for the holidays, which is a great idea. And that’s why I decided to do a classic rewind this week of a great interview with Judy Russell. She is of course known as the Legal Genealogist, and she will talk about copyright, and fair use, and ethics, and photographs, and all kinds of things that you need to be concerned about if you’re going to write a history and share it with the world, let alone your family. So, stick around for that. That’s going to be coming up in about ten minutes from right now. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, now is the time. You can do it at ExtremeGenes.comor on our Facebook page. You get a blog from me each week, links to past and present shows, links to stories you’ll love as a family historian. It’s good stuff. Hey, it’s time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The Chief Genealogist is standing by. It is David Allen Lambert. Hello David.
David: Hey Fish, how you’re doing today?
Fisher: I am grand and glorious. Had some nice DNA matches this past week that helped validate a line that I wasn’t quite sure of. So, that’s always good. How about yourself?
David: Oh, you know, just looking at my own genealogy when I’m not working on somebody else’s genealogy. [Laughs]
David: Well, the election is over and if you have ever been to Rochester, New York, you may have visited Mount Hope Cemetery. That is where Susan B. Anthony is buried and a lot of people locally will go to her gravestone and put stickers that they had voted. Well, this year is a little different. There is a plastic shield to protect the 114-year-old marble stone from the glue residue. Preservationists are worried that the stickers will do damage to the stone over time. So, this little shield will be there every time there’s an election.
Fisher: That’s a good idea. And what a great tribute to Susan B. Anthony, that people would want to go out there to let her know that they voted.
David: That’s one good tribute to a gravestone. However, they’re not always treated the same way. Richard and Lisa Stuart of Potomac River I think it’s George County, Virginia, noticed odd rocks in the water’s edge by their home. And this senator realized that on his own property were the remains of African American gravestones dating from the 1850s to the 1960s from a former moved cemetery, Columbian Harmony Cemetery was moved. Well, not all the gravestones were. Something out of Poltergeist. So, you can walk to the water’s edge and see gravestones that are dated right through to the middle of the 20th century.
David: Pretty scary.
Fisher: That is.
David: So, these 37,000 individuals were moved, but not all the stones were.
Fisher: And he’s a Virginia State Senator, so what an interesting discovery for a guy whose interested in politics and the history of the country.
David: Yeah. And the governor, Ralph Northam has also stepped in to help Stuart to actually take care of this and there’s a tentative deal to maybe setup a memorial when these stones where the cemetery has moved to, and try to place them correctly. So, interesting stuff. Speaking of burials, over in England, the Commonwealth War Graves is currently looking for the descendants of three World War I veterans, Herbert Victor Cantrill, H.F.M. MacLean, Ernest Leonard Remnant and a World War II veteran George Harold Russell Bell. Now, these are four individuals that they are trying to find descendants, and it’s in regard to their memorial. So, if you are a descendant, you can take a peek on Extreme Genes where you’ll find a link to this to find out more on these veterans. So, listen to this story. You know, when you’re a kid, you fight about who’s going to keep the puppy in their room from time to time, or maybe you went off to college and you want to take that pet with you, or you move. How about this story. 28 years ago, legendary palaeontologist brothers, Peter and Neal Larson dug up a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus rex in South Dakota.
David: Now, they thought that they could settle this long dispute. So, they decided to split their museum. So, one got the museum and the fossils, and the other brother ended up with the 40-foot tyrannosaurus rex. I think they both were about $8 million apiece. Yeah, Christie's auctioned off the T-Rex for a whopping $32 million.
Fisher: [Laughs] So, the one guy’s got the museum that’s still worth about $8 million, and the other brother’s got $32 million in his pocket for the 40-foot T-Rex.
David: Umhmm. And you know, who knows, we may have to go into their fossil record until this is resolved. But it just goes to show you that that bone that you throw away could be worth money someday, so save those chicken and steak bones kids. [Laughs]
Fisher: Well, as they say, family matters, right? I mean, wow. What a mess. That’s too bad. [Laughs]
David: Switching gears just a little bit, the London Municipal Archives, I was there actually a year ago during RootsTech London, they have a great project they’re working on and of course you know, there are so many people that have lived in London over the years and they have drawn a database of over 2600 individuals from Anglican church records at the London Municipal Archives, and it’s just the start. In its collection it’s called “Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Indigenous Heritage” from 1561 to 1840. They have over 2,600 individuals they found just in the church records.
Fisher: That’s just the start.
David: Then the project will be carried on and I’m sure there’ll probably be volunteer opportunities. There’s just so much out there to volunteer. I mean, it may be at FamilySearch, or with American Ancestors, and again, always glad to have volunteers at NEHGS, American Ancestors, but also, we’d like to have you as a member. [Laughs] So, just remember, you can always join AmericanAncestors.org and you can save $20 on your membership by using the coupon code “Extreme.” Well, that’s all I’ve got from Beantown. Stay well. I’ve got to go out and rake some more leaves.
Fisher: [Laughs] All right David. Thanks so much. And of course, we will see you again at the backend of the show. And coming up next in three minutes, the Legal Genealogist Judy Russell re-joins the show. It’s a classic rewind interview of great importance for anybody whose thinking about writing a family history. Maybe getting you prepared for the holidays. She will talk about copyright, she will talk about fair use, and ethics, all that stuff coming up in two segments starting in minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 351
(Originally recorded in 2019)
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Judy Russell
Fisher: And welcome back! It is America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and this is just one of those things that doesn’t happen often enough. I get to have my good friend, Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist in studio with me today, and we’ve locked the doors, Judy, there’s no escape.
Judy: Uh oh.
Fisher: Because we’ve got so many things to talk about! How are you?
Judy: I’m good. How about you?
Fisher: It’s great to see you. For people who are not familiar with Judy, she is one of the great national speakers. You will see her at conferences all over the country, talking about all kinds of things. She’s a very low-key person with very few opinions about anything.
Judy: Scott, your nose is growing.
Fisher: [Laughs] That is exactly right. So, you know, this is a great time to have you on because there have been some big changes this year about copyright. And for anybody who wants to write their own history, the history of the family, they want to include photographs, or quote from whatever, or grab whatever material from the past, it’s really important to know legally what to do, ethically what to do, what risks you might want to take concerning these things. We hear about it all the time and you’re the perfect person to talk to about this, so let’s explain the change that has gone on and put it in the context of people writing history and how it would affect them.
Judy: Yeah, 2019 is a terrific year for all of us who have to rely on materials that have been produced by somebody else, because for the first time since 1998 materials have shifted from being copyright protected to being in the public domain. Now, public domain is not a physical location.
Judy: It’s a legal status.
Judy: And it means we can do whatever we want with them. They’re no longer protected. We no longer have to ask permission. We can edit them, we can republish them, and they’re free for everybody. And what happened back when we had that in 1976 copyright law which was a complete revision of the law, and the Disney Corporation was a little concerned that the movie in which Mickey Mouse made his debut.
Fisher: [Laughs] That’s right, yeah. 1928.
Judy: Steamboat Willie was about to fall out of copyright protection so they got a change that stopped the clock for 20 years.
Judy: And so, we were all kind of sitting on the edge of our seats as December came along, 2018, waiting to see if Congress was going to, what’s the technical legal term, “muck it up”again?
Judy: And stop the clock from running again, but no, they were busy with other things or not busy at all. You never can tell.
Judy: And the clock ticked over on January 1, 2019, and everything published in 1923 fell into the public domain.
Judy: And as of January 1, 2020, it will be everything published in 1924, and so on.
Fisher: Yeah, forever more, hopefully.
Judy: Yes, and once it’s in the public domain, it’s very hard to take it out.
Judy: So, these are things like, for example, some town records from New England that were published by the New England Historical Genealogical Society, some of the SAR application books that were published in 1923, all of these have now fallen into the public domain, and that means we can use them for anything we want.
Fisher: Any images of them?
Judy: Anything published, whether it’s an image, a motion picture, a radio program, anything legally published in the United States.
Judy: Before 1924, is now in the public domain.
Fisher: Right, and then next year it just moves up and it keeps on going. And you know, the thing is, over the next, just say five years, think of how much material that is.
Judy: We were trying to get an estimate of how many books, just books, were published in the United States in 1923. It’s thousands, thousands of books that were published in 1923. Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” was published in 1923.
Fisher: And people could take these books, then, and make movies out of them.
Judy: Make movies.
Fisher: Without permission or whatever it may be.
Judy: Yes, and think of the movies that came out in 1923.
Judy: We can now use clips in a presentation, or on television, or anywhere we’d like.
Fisher: Sure. Let’s go back now to histories. If I’m writing a history and I want to put in a photograph, say, of my grandfather’s hometown in 1924, I’ve got a copyright issue there to deal with.
Judy: You have a potential copyright issue.
Fisher: A potential one. Okay.
Judy: One of the things that we kind of forget sometimes is that if something was published let’s say in a newspaper in 1925.
Judy: So, it’s clearly potentially copyrighted.
Judy: And the newspaper said in the newspaper, this is a copyrighted publication, and they registered it with the copyright office. It was for 28 years.
Judy: Did they re-register the copyright?
Judy: So that it persists to today? They may not have. The estimate is that only 5-10% of things that were ever copyrighted were then extended, so there’s a lot that’s out there that is in the public domain and we don’t know that it’s in the public domain, because we haven’t done our homework.
Fisher: Well see, that’s where people like you come in with a law degree who know how to do that kind of homework.
Judy: Oh, it’s so hard.
Judy: Can I see that without my nose growing?
Fisher: [Laughs] Go ahead.
Judy: There’s a database at Stanford University, and it’s online. So, you can go to the Stanford University database, plug in your item, and see whether there was an extension filed.
Fisher: Oh wow.
Judy: Between 1923.
Fisher: That simple?
Judy: Yep. It’s that simple.
Fisher: Who knew? I would’ve gotten a law degree if I knew it was going to be that simple. [Laughs]
Judy: Well there are certain other parts of the law that are probably not quite that easy.
Fisher: Then the other question comes in, if it didn’t fall out of copyright 28 years later, and I would imagine it was only a very small percentage that actually went to the trouble to renew it. What did they care about in 1925?
Judy: About a newspaper in 1925?
Fisher: 1924-25. They didn’t, you know, and so it’s more than likely that they did not renew that copyright. But now here it is, 2019, and you’ve got this picture from 1925 that was maybe in the newspaper, and you’re going to reproduce the image that was in that newspaper. Is there really a concern on the part of the people who would technically own that copyright? Do they even know they own it, first of all? And would they spend the time on it? And I guess the question is, there’s the ethic side of it.
Fisher: But there’s also the practicality side of it. Are you doing any harm? And these are questions you have to ask. So, what is the real risk to somebody who says you know, I’m going to run this picture from 1925 of grandpa’s hometown, and I’m going to put it in a book. And it’s one thing to say I’m going to put it in a book and give it to my family.
Fisher: I think it’s another thing to say I’m going to put it in a book and I’m going to have somebody publish this, and we’re going to sell it nationwide and it’s going to be through Barnes and Noble and all that.
Judy: There’s always a risk benefit analysis in these things on whether or not there really is somebody who’s going to come and come after you. But if they do, here’s the problem.
Judy: If you should’ve known, you really should’ve known. You stopped and you thought about copyright.
Judy: And you decided to take the risk anyway, and they come after you, the statutory damages, meaning they don’t even have to prove they were damaged. They just have to prove that you knowingly published this in spite of the potential copyright problems. You can have like an automatic damage of $30,000 to $150,000 per incident.
Judy: So, there is a risk. The question is how do you balance that against the chance that somebody really is going to come after you, they really are going to be concerned. And that’s why I think the factors that the statute sets out on what’s called “fair use” come into play, and there’re four of them that the courts will look at, and it’s a complete defense to a copyright claim. The statute says it is not a violation of copyright if it’s a fair use, and one of the factors, and each of them has to be looked at, so don’t stop at one.
Judy: But one of the factors is, what use are you making of it? Is it educational? Is it very commercial? Are you using it in a presentation to teach genealogists how to do genealogy, or are you putting it on a t-shirt and selling it at the beach?
Judy: That’s a big difference between educational purposes and commercial purposes.
Fisher: Sure. Okay. Yeah.
Judy: The second thing is, what’s the nature of the work? If it’s mostly factual, it’s going to get very low protection.
Fisher: So, like the newspaper article?
Judy: A newspaper article, or something like that which is mostly factual.
Fisher: Is it the image of the article, or is it just the words itself that you could quote?
Judy: Well, it’s both, actually.
Judy: Because the image doesn’t get any greater or lesser protection than the copyrighted item itself.
Judy: If it’s very artistic, if it’s a sculpture or a painting, then it’s going to get a lot higher protection. The third thing is, how much of it are you using, and how important is that part of it? You know, we were taught in school, I think, as long as you don’t use more than 10%, it’s okay.
Fisher: 10% of…
Judy: An original.
Fisher: Of an article?
Judy: 10% of an article, 10% of the newspaper, 10% of the picture.
Fisher: A photo, yeah, okay.
Judy: That’s not true. It’s not mathematical. It’s substantiality. It’s what’s the significance of this. Great example is a magazine and a book publisher. The book publisher publishes a book, 350,000 words.
Judy: The magazine publishes 350 of those 350,000. Case goes all the way to the US Supreme Court. US Supreme Court says that’s not fair use.
Judy: Because the book was the autobiography of Gerald Ford, and the 350 words was his explanation for the very first time why he pardoned Richard Nixon. It was the heart of the book. It was why people were buying the book.
Fisher: Oh, so they guttered it basically.
Judy: And then there’s the fourth factor which is, what’s the impact on the value of the original?
Judy: And the courts are going to look at all four of those. Now for a single image of your grandfather’s town in 1925…
Fisher: On a postcard.
Judy: Those are all going to go over into fair use. I would be very surprised if there’s an issue at all. Now ethically, and this is an easy one for us as genealogists, the big thing is, give them credit.
Fisher: That’s right. You give them credit and you’ve really covered yourself to a great extent.
Judy: And we do that as genealogists. We cite our sources.
Fisher: Exactly. She’s Judy Russell. She’s The Legal Genealogist. She’s trapped in my studio, and we’re going to come back and talk some more about this and some other issues when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 351
(Originally recorded in 2019)
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Judy Russell
Fisher: All right, we’re talking law, we’re talking ethics. We’re talking all those things that the Legal Genealogist talks about, Judy Russell. Hey, it’s Fisher here. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And, it’s great to have you in the studio once again Judy. We rarely get to do this.
Judy: It’s always a lot of fun but time is always a problem.
Fisher: Yes, it is! So, you know, we’re going to keep the door locked until we get done with this segment at least and then we’ll get you to where you’ve got to go. We’ve been talking a lot about copyright and how people deal with that in the context of maybe creating histories or writing stories and including photographs, clips from newspapers, and you know it’s kind of a complicated thing for the average person to navigate. One thing that came up that you talked about in the last segment was the idea that copyright only extended 28 years and it was really very rarely. Ninety percent of the time it wasn’t renewed after 28 years.
Judy: Certainly, for books, magazines, and newspapers.
Judy: Five to ten percent would be the only ones.
Fisher: That’s it.
Judy: Because they wouldn’t see a financial benefit to renewing it the second time.
Fisher: Of course, too much trouble and too much money. Anything would be too much money in that case because you’re right they couldn’t use it and they didn’t see the value in content because they couldn’t see to this day.
Judy: What we’d do with it?
Fisher: Right. So, going back to 2008, YouTube was the new thing and I found on YouTube a video from 1936 of the Russ Morgan Orchestra. My dad was a professional musician. He was 22 years old, featured playing clarinet in the middle of this thing and it was an emotional find because I had never seen my dad play. He was always a musical arranger while I was growing up. So, this was very exciting to me and I actually even found the full film version of this on eBay which I bought and then loaded that up onto YouTube as well. But, to use it in another way brings up a question. Now, 1936 is definitely in a period of copyright.
Judy: It is.
Fisher: That has not yet been released to public domain no matter what. But, it’s very possible I suppose that, that film itself was not renewed 28 years later which would have been 1964. So, are you telling me that I could actually go to the Stanford University site and see if that was renewed or not?
Judy: That’s one place you could go. The copyright office which is at the Library of Congress is another option. But yeah, you’re going to need to check that because it does have potential value.
Judy: Films, music, all kinds of things have the same copyright protection.
Fisher: Sure. Fascinating, and you’ve got to think some of that though did expire. I mean, wasn’t there a big thing about Jimmy Stewart’s movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and there were copyright issues with that for a long time.
Fisher: And that’s why everybody and their brother, well, it was shown everyday on like nineteen channels. [Laughs]
Judy: [Laughs] To the point where you get tired of listening to this. I don’t want to hear the bell anymore.
Fisher: The bell, the bell. Exactly right! So, that’s an interesting point to clean up is that we can go back to some of these places fairly easily. According to you they should go and figure out if some of these things have been copyrighted or not and you can use them in histories. It’s great to know.
Judy: But one of the important things to understand in this context is that the fact that you own a copy of that film, you bought it legally on eBay.
Judy: Doesn’t mean you acquired the copyright on it.
Fisher: No, I understand that, yes.
Judy: There’s a difference and a lot of people don’t understand that if they own a thing, they may not own the rights to the thing. Big example, are school photographs.
Judy: Where, unless the photographer assigned the copyright to the parent who bought the picture, the photographer still owns the copyright. And sending it out to all the grandparents without buying another copy is technically a violation of the copyright.
Fisher: And we have a lot of school year books that are online now, all over the place. Are you aware of any instance where somebody connected with a school photographer from the 1950s, has come back on somebody for using an image of themselves?
Judy: Not so much the 1950s but certainly later there have been photographers who have said, “Wait a minute, I didn’t give permission for this to be online.”
Judy: And there are a lot of individual students who don’t want their high school pictures online.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Judy: So, that’s an ethical issue and a privacy issue.
Fisher: Yeah. That’s right. [Argh]
Judy: So, there were all kinds of things to come up in this respect.
Fisher: This is a complicated world here.
Judy: It is a complicated world. It’s a wonderful world of having all of these things available online. But, knowing when we can and can’t use them is tough stuff.
Fisher: Sure. Well, you don’t want to lose sleep over things you’re trying to do and decisions you’re trying to make to share.
Fisher: You know, that’s really the bottom line because people who are into this aren’t looking to harm anybody.
Fisher: They’re looking to help.
Judy: We want to help but the idea that we can defend ourselves from a copyright claim by just saying, well I was just sharing.
Fisher: Yeah, it doesn’t work.
Judy: And this for example comes up all the time with pictures that are on FindAGrave.
Fisher: Yes. Okay, let’s go to cemetery photographs.
Judy: Cemetery photographs are tough things for two ways. One is, I took the picture.
Fisher: Right, so you own it.
Judy: I own the copyright. Have I given permission to everybody else to use it? And a lot of FindAGrave contributors do, in their profile say, “You can use this as long as you give me credit.”
Judy: So, you have to look and see.
Judy: A bigger issue that’s coming up more and more these days are cemeteries putting up….
Judy: Barriers to people wanting to take pictures.
Judy: They say that you have to have permission of the family for example, to take a tombstone photograph. I’ve had that situation myself when I was asked as a random act of kindness contributor, to take a picture of a tombstone in a Catholic cemetery in New Jersey. When I went to the office to find out where the stone was. They said, where’s your authority from the family? Fortunately, I had the email with me.
Judy: But if I had not had that they would not have allowed me to take that picture.
Fisher: Well, and because it is private property essentially. The cemetery can make its own rules, right?
Judy: They absolutely can make their own rules. We’ve had a couple of instances of communities in Canada where the cemetery is owned by the town or the county, saying, we don’t want cemetery photography. And they have said no photographs.
Fisher: Wow. You know, I would think this, okay, that’s my grandfather’s grave. My family paid for that tombstone. That’s my right to have an image of that grave.
Judy: Right. And in general, even the cemeteries that have restrictions will allow the family but then the question is, who is the family? There was a time in Germany when I wasn’t regarded as closely enough related to my great grandfather to get his death record, under German privacy laws. So, we have to define who’s the family? A direct descendant. Okay, how about this is your mother’s aunt? Well, you’re not a direct descendent.
Fisher: By marriage.
Judy: Yeah, no one.
Fisher: Uh huh.
Judy: So, there are all of these issues that come into play.
Fisher: And you’re from one of the toughest states I’ve ever seen for records, New Jersey.
Judy: Actually New Jersey is getting better.
Fisher: They are.
Judy: New York is now the problem, that whole area.
Fisher: Yeah. But I remember reaching out to them to get a death record from 1939 of my grandfather’s half-brother and they wanted to really question me. Well, what do you need this for? Who are you? What’s your relationship? Can you prove it? I’m like, “He died in 1939. I can’t steal his identity. Are you kidding me?!” [Laughs]
Judy: In Texas, I was not allowed to take a picture of a death register showing my second great grandfather who died in 1903.
Fisher: Because they’re concerned about identity theft.
Judy: Identity theft.
Fisher: And of course, Texas was the place that was the heart of all this stuff about the Social Security Death Index.
Judy: Well, the congressman who let that fight close the Social Security Death Index, was from Texas.
Fisher: Yeah. Boy, it is a complicated world here. I don’t know if I feel better after talking to you or not.
Judy: There are some ways and the big thing is there is so much out there that is in the public domain and now more every year.
Fisher: All right, what are you up to coming up here so people can follow you?
Judy: Well, I’m going to be in Alabama speaking to the Alabama Genealogical Society in early March. Oh, the West Valley Genealogical Society in Phoenix, right outside of Phoenix in late February. So, there are really some good stuff coming up, some organizations that I’m really pleased to be speaking to.
Fisher: And of course, at the LegalGenealogist.com. You’ve got some great blogs there on all kinds of topics. Her mind just spews these things out and there they are.
Fisher: And they’re always fascinating. Hey, it’s always a joy to have you on Judy. Thanks so much for coming on and we’ll talk to you again soon, okay?
Judy: Thank you for having me.
Fisher: David returns for another round of Ask Us Anything coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 351
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: It is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from Boston. And David, our first question comes from Liz in Schenectady, New York today and she says, "I am researching an allusive ancestor who lived around Salem, Massachusetts around the time of the witch trials." and she says, "Records are scarce and I'm not finding anything much beyond the vital records. Any ideas?"
David: Well, you know actually for Salem, there's vital records and there's of course church records you can look at, but there's also the probate records. American Ancestors has the Essex county probates, which includes Salem. Family Search, you can search deeds right online for Essex county, so the grantor, grantee. One of the things that you may not know about and if you drill into the family history library catalogue on FamilySearch.org, look for Salem, Massachusetts and then look for taxation. They have really good tax records from 1686 right on through to 1700. I mean, of course beyond that until the 19th century. And that's where you'll find an aspect a lot of people don't look at, Fish. I don't know, tax records are so valuable, because they're kind of like mini censuses in a way, you know, with the kids being listed. You can put a person specifically in a town on a given year. Like for instance, one person I've researched up in Essex county, I know they're in the tax records, but I don't find a deed for them, so it’s a clue. So there's different types of taxes they paid in colonial New England, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this with your ancestors. So you have a local tax that was often paid for the upkeep on the minister in the town, because there was just one church back then and then you have a town tax for taking care of the roads and whatnot, you had a county tax and you would have a provincial tax, which would be for in this case, for Massachusetts bay colony. There's a variety of different taxes that were often raised for particular reasons, maybe for the military. So, you can use tax records to fill in the blanks a little bit with your Salem people, again using FamilySearch.org with the millions upon millions of images that you can search there. That's just one of them. And of course,American Ancestors has the probate, you can take a peek at that as well.
Fisher: One other thing I found out with tax records, Dave is, sometimes you can identify who are children of certain people, because they have to reach a certain age before they're taxed. And so, when somebody first appears on a tax record, you can assume that's the year they turned, say, 21 years old, and if prior to that the father was the only person in town of that surname, you can assume these are all kids from that same family if you put other factors together, but I think that's a real key thing.
David: It is. And the other thing is you can notice when someone listed as a widow, all of a sudden she's paying the taxes or it says EST for the estate of somebody. So you may not have a death record, but you know that he paid taxes in, say, 1695 and in 1696 he has a widow in the place of that tax assessment.
Fisher: Yeah, we had one where the ancestor was listed as having moved on, basically having left the area and that really helped us with our timeline. And as everybody knows, I'm really big on timelines for putting people's stories together, but tax records can do that as well. So, that tax record was essential to us linking this ancestor to his parents and then to his siblings and then to the timeline of when he moved from this area, in this case it was in Pennsylvania and left for Maryland.
David: Great stuff. You know, one of the things I found with the tax records is, these are something that you can search quite a lot online and in cases of, you know, a county burned and there are no probate or deeds or no vital records, sometimes its county tax records or town tax records are all you really have, and that's one thing to know is that towns did collect taxes so did counties sometimes there's even a state tax. One I love in Massachusetts was a book that was published a number of years ago called, The Direct Tax of 1771, and I use that all the time, because I mean, here's something that's nearly two decades before the first federal census.
David: So it becomes sort of a quasi census.
Fisher: Well, you've already inspired me to go on and check some tax records on some of the people I've been researching lately. So, great question, Liz. Thanks so much for it. We've got another one coming up for you next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 351
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, part two of Ask Us Anything this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And Dave, we've got a question here from Rick Anderson in Reno, Nevada. He asks, "Guys, is there any listing of diaries that may have been kept in ancient times in places?" And that's a really good question, Dave. I don't think I've ever really looked for indexes of who may have kept a diary that's somehow publicly available. Do you know of any?
David: Well, I mean obviously there are a lot of diaries out there and of course some of them are still in private hands, but you have to rely on the ones that may have made it to a historical society or library.
David: Hang on just a second. I'm going to just reach over here and grab a book. Yeah, so here's one. This was published back in 1923 and it’s for New England and its New England diaries compiled by Harriette Merrifield Forbes and it’s a catalogue of these diaries and orderly books and sea journals kept between about 1602 and 1800. Now that's just for New England.
David: And the key thing is, this is only published in 1923, so nearly 100 years ago. So, what do we use now? WorldCat, that's one of the best things to use, looking at WorldCat or just simply Googling. If you put in the person's name and quotes and put the word "diary" you'd be surprised what you come up with. Somebody may have had a transcription for instance, like I know somebody in my family had looked at a diary a number of years back and never wrote down where they saw it, but put enough information that I can tell the year and where it may have been. And sure enough, the local historical society had it. I mean, they're not all in the Library of Congress.
David: But the nice thing in the digital age, so many things are being copied. I mean, I know that Family Search has all those scanners at like RootsTech and whatnot, and you know, scanning books. I'm wondering if they're doing that with journals and diaries as well. I would imagine they probably would be.
Fisher: Well, they do have those scanners at all the Family Search centers. Unfortunately, we can't get in them anytime soon, but yeah, there's a lot of material that's being created all the time. Wouldn't it be fun to update that book by the way from 1923 and figure out, all right, what has been added to these collections and those repositories over time, because it’s got to be startling.
David: How about updating where the material is, because you know, people sell things, people de-acquisition, libraries burn down, libraries merge, so where something sat on a shelf in 1922/23 may not be where it sits in 2020. So, that's one thing you have to keep in mind. So of course you look at a book like this and the first thing you want to do is look and see is that organization still there.
David: And then secondly, see if they have a catalogue online, send that place an email and pick up the phone maybe if they're currently open during COVID and see if they still have that, because chances are the catalogue number, which is what they currently have it filed under is probably not some archaic description that was published, say, in 1923. But, WorldCat is great. You basically can plug in a title of a book or any form of media technically and then you put in your zip code and it tells you the nearest library that it’s close to you. So, occasionally, people will come into my library in Boston and be looking for this obscure book and if we don't have it, that's what I use and plug in their zip code and find out, wow, that library was only five miles down the street from my house. [Laughs]
Fisher: Wow isn't that amazing to think that that important document is right there. And you know, I'm always reminding people by the way that really, the best repository to your family is when you start thinking about all your cousins and distant cousins of all being branch libraries basically of your family collections. Check around, those people that you're distantly related to and see what they might have.
David: And of course one other place to look, one of our favorite shopping places, eBay.
David:You never know what's going to turn up.
Fisher: There’s a lot of stuff there, too. Thanks for the question, Rick. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. Talk to you next week, Dave.
Fisher: And that's our show for this week. Thank you for joining us. And if you missed any part of it or you want to catch it again, it’s easy to do. Just catch the podcast version on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio and Spotify. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!