Category: Writing for Genealogy

Delia Speaks

The Pejepscot Genealogical Society (PGS) will hold its next meeting in the Morrell Mtg Rm of the Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME on Sun, March 8, 2020 at 2 pm.   PGS member Delia Wilson Lunsford will present ” One Name Genealogy Projects“.  This will include how to research all folks in a geographical area with the same surname as a way to find your family’s earliest roots.  Using online resources and others, she will recommend how to keep track of individuals/names, how to distinguish different families, and how to place name “orphans” into a family tree.  Delia has been researching her own Maine family, the Wilsons and the Alexanders, in recent years.  

Our new monthly theme for March is “Irish” so feel free to share a quick family “Irish” story at our gathering after the presentation!  Also, you are welcome to bring with you an Irish food item to share!  Our monthly refreshment volunteer will bring drinks and paper products to share. 

This link to the presentation PDF will be active soon.

Is It Legal?

Recently I dug into what is in the public domain and what is not. Please do not use this post as evidence in your quest for such proof as I’m certainly no lawyer. I will borrow heavily from the Stanford University Libraries section on this topic.

But here are the facts as I can determine:

Public domain is mostly about date of publication.

  1. the copyright has expired
  2. the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  3. the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain,
  4. copyright law does not protect this type of work.

1. So first, anything written and copyrighted before 1924 is now in the public domain (every year this advances one more year until 1977. Any works published after that have different rules.)

2. Unless, during the years leading up to 1964, the copyright holder applied for renewal. So just because it was published before 1924 does not automatically make the work public domain but in all likelihood it is.

3. Deliberately stating in the book that it is dedicated to the public domain.

4. It can’t be copyrighted. In general, copyright is reserved for whole works, art, books, music but not titles etc.

That’s pretty straightforward but once you start applying those rules as I had to do recently, it gets muddy.

It’s all about the websites, well, mostly. First, most of the vital records I collected were published by the Maine Historical Society in conjunction with the state. Those were published under a law passed in 1921. The copyright reads “under the authority” of MHS, not “copyrighted by” in reality. I have asked MHS for clarification and so far no one has weighed in on this. I’m not sure how long these books were published but at least until 1933. So I’m assuming that all of these books are public domain.

But websites do have their policies and states ” You may not post content from this site on another website or on a computer network without our permission.” I have queried them on that because they have digitized versions of public domain materials and they then do not own the copyright. I got several responses referring me to pages and other contact forms and in the end, have no response from them.

The problem concerns digitized versions of public domain materials. Can someone like Family Search or a university library or even Google digitized such works and then claim some sort of ownership or control? There’s an extensive conversation about this very topic here:

Also very pertinent to the discussion is Bridgeman vs Corel (1999) where the ruling was “exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright in the United States because the copies lack originality.” So no, someone cannot claim copyright ownership just because they digitized something. That court case is about images, not books but I suspect it applies to digitized books.

But digitizing books can take the material into a different realm and I don’t know this has been tested in court. I received a book digitized from the original and it also had bookmarks added so contained an accurate table of contents. A well done job but does that take that source out of originality? I don’t know for sure but I cannot imagine a court allowing something like to be newly copyrighted.

Of course, website can state what their site policies are. The question is can they control what actually happens. That’s a no, just in case you were wondering. All they can do is block someone from using their site but even that can usually be overcome. As a web designer, I know this stuff! I just wonder what and how expects to enforce compliance of their site policies as they sound a bit draconian to me. Also, a digital file may appear nearly identical to another so who knows how that digital file was created or where it came from.

As a web designer, writer and author of copyrighted books and websites, I’m fully aware I have no real solution to someone stealing my “stuff”. I simply don’t have the resources to try to go after someone and I can tell you from experience that many local judges just don’t have the knowledge to allow them to fairly oversee a proceeding with these type of issues. Technology is great but when you are the only one in the courtroom with actual knowledge and understanding of that technology, well, the outcome can be very dicey.

And genealogy itself comes with other issues – too many people think their family tree is private when vital records are never copyrighted and their tree is just a compilation of those vital records.

For most genealogy buffs, these issues never come up but when they do, it is a complicated world to navigate. I hope I’ve cleared up some questions and I then leave it up to you to determine whether you can do what you want with whatever you have. Good Luck! (and if anyone has any new information pertinent to this discussion, please let me know!)

Public Domain Resources

With the advent of, a non-profit permanent storage website, I saw the opportunity to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I have collected nearly 150 digital files over the years, vital records of Maine, state and local histories, and genealogies. Now I can share them with you on a permanent basis.

This link, is a redirect link to the storage space. Since the base link will continue to change due to the addition of new files and future changes to urls on the website itself, I set up this redirect to be sure you can find all the files I’ve uploaded. (So remember if you bookmark the actual link, you may be missing new files.)

What is collected there is volumes in the public domain like vital records (23), city histories (40) – most done for the bicentennial, genealogies (34) either in the public domain or never copyrighted and others (3).

The files come from all over, google books and mainly and I’m presently trying to get clarification on other files that are in the public domain but uploaded to other sites that are not clear on the availability and use of materials that they do not hold the copyright to (another 37 books).

I have started a spreadsheet to document these volumes and need assistance in getting all the pertinent data entered. Volunteers please contact me!


Recently I was asked to write up something in honor of a cousin who I’ve gotten to know in the last few years. I finally got around to writing it up this morning, a bit ahead of the deadline (meaning I can’t post this until after August 23!) Here’s the core of the piece I wrote but expanded into a look at today’s society.

Today on Facebook my cousin, Dan, posted a bit about finding out that Tennessee Williams is a 5th cousin. He may be closer related to Dan than I am!

It’s all about connections. In this crazy mixed up world we live in now, it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile.

Back some years ago I found a DNA match to a guy named Dana Ward who was not a southerner. As a half southerner / half yankee, I figured he was related to me through my Maine family so I believe I contacted him first. We couldn’t see the exact relationship then but realized that he was a southern cousin instead. My Elam family was massive – making me related to possibly all Elams in the US now. Elams intermarried with Wards, a good bit closer to my family branch than other Elams. We are both descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s family (directly for me his uncle, not TJ). I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time so we pretty much said we have to visit each other. Dan never made it back to Virginia while we there but I certainly made it to Maine.

Since then I have been graciously hosted by Dan in Maine twice. We have a lot in common – but mostly the insane idea of chasing our far flung families to see what we can dig up. Now that we live in Maine, we’ve already seen Dan and Julia once and plan on getting together for more fun, food and “family” in Unity.

We still aren’t completely sure how we are related but it really doesn’t matter. It’s those connections that save me. It’s finding my Maine cousins and moving north that has saved me. It’s knowing that no matter where I go, there is a cousin lurking in there somewhere.

In Dan’s case, that cousinship helped me to further my research and find friendship out in the countryside of Maine. His constant genealogy work continues to prod me to continue, to remind me how important these connections are.  

Expanding on that theme from my birthday essay above, I can link these connections with a few truisms of our life today.

When I was growing up, it was all about family. There were 10 first cousins with my sister as the oldest and me as the next to oldest. Sis watched us all coming into the world as she is seven years older than I. I remember the other cousins starting more with one 8 years younger. I baby sat some for the youngest ones.

There were a few family reunions I attended and still can’t remember who any of those more distant relatives were. It was a little surreal to have old folks saying hello ’cause they knew who I was and remembered my birth! But I had family.

My son, an only child, with only 2 first cousins at all and none from my side of the family, was raised as a military dependent. Which really means he was raised to be independent. There was no family and no one besides me for him to rely on during his pre-teen years. I didn’t realize how much this made his life so different from mine. When he was about 4, we were living on base in a housing area of mostly 3 and 4 bedroom homes. Which means we were in a 2 bedroom due to less children in the household. He had only one friend who also didn’t have a sibling. One day he was visibly upset. Being a very non-verbal child, I had to dig into the problem. He finally asked me why everyone else had a brother or sister. He was very sad, unusual for him.

He didn’t have the family I had and have grown away from. In that particular circumstance it also made him different from our neighbors. Today it’s actually getting common to not have all those cousins around with society becoming more transient and families moving to get jobs.

One thing I loved so much about the military was holidays. We were usually not near family so we had to do new things to compensate. I had a wonderful time inviting young people to come to my table, to join with us as we made new connections overseas.

I started my genealogy work some years ago kinda by accident. I wasn’t looking for connections at the time. I was indulging my desire to get away from an untenable living situation that I could not walk away from. It was my escape at first.

Then I went ahead and got a DNA test and started getting matches. Mostly Yankee matches. 2nd and 3rd cousins – and even reconnected with one of my Yankee first cousins I hadn’t talked to in decades. I found many cousins from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts; one came south on his way to his North Carolina home to meet in person. Most I met just through the tree on and not in person.

Once I decided to write a book on the Wilsons of Maine, I started a new path and many new connections. I found, in the end, that I’m related to half of southern Maine and found how much of my identity was rooted in New England food and customs, handed down from my Bostonian great-grandfather. I traveled to Maine and fell in love – no, that’s not really correct – I felt like I had come home.

I established new connections, found new friends and family, and moved to Maine last summer. I am home now because I went looking for those new connections as many of my ‘new’ cousins have also done, thus leading to their journey on

If we are going to talk about what’s wrong with today’s society, this needs to be part of the discussion. We need connections and they are continually being destroyed in this century. So my question to you is, have you found new connections? Have you made an effort to find what floats your boat in a non-selfish way? Who do you call family? Who and what sustains you?

(originally posted

Home! In Maine.

Finally! I have taken a long hiatus after a surgery and the move to Maine but I’m back now. 

We moved to Maine last July and now that the daffodils are peeking their heads up, we are all coming out of the winter hibernation. So many things shut down during the winter that sometimes doing research is a bit iffy – especially if the weather turns. I’ve only gotten stuck once this year – on top of a ridge of hardened snow on a slippery road. Not too bad for this southerner but still….

I’m presently looking at my business and the accompanying websites to decide which direction I want to go. I cannot give up my web business as it still is our principal income beyond social security but with the move comes changes. I’m still putting the updated info online but at least finally have new business cards. I got my first Maine web design job recently – making me feel like we really are here!

In the meantime don’t hesitate to contact me about genealogy or compiling your family history!

And the Work Proceeds…

I’ve been incredibly busy since my return from New England while trying to incorporate all the new “stuff” I found and figured out while I was gone. I’ve got several blog posts planned – just haven’t had time to write them!

I’ve gotten some parts of the book pinned down and having decided on a structure (which still may change before publication), I now have a partial table of contents that I can release for those who are interested.

Since I’m formatting and typesetting as I write, the decisions are being made on the fly but I believe I’ve created an arrangement that will allow me to deliver the genealogical information in a format that will be easier to follow than traditional genealogies. After all, what I want is something that folks can read – while not having to figure out where in the world they are at the same time. (I haven’t had readers to test this out yet – and I will need readers before it goes to print. If you are interested, please contact me.)

In general each of James’ children get one chapter. Some of their children get their own chaper. There are two chapters that tell some great stories about two Mainers who went south, one to Virginia and one to Florida. I also give strong weight and a chapter to my third great-grandfather and the families of us second and third cousins, the ones I found during this journey.

The table of contents are in a PDF format so you can download it or read it online.  You can view the Wilson book table of contents here.

New England Here I Come

I'm heading to Boston and Maine in by the end of this month to do on-the-ground research for my Wilson book. Trying to prepare for this trip is turning out to be a race against time – unexpected for sure!

Though I'll be there for weeks, I will need to spend my time doing research and not writing it all up. In order to know what to research, however, I have to have done research and writing to find out what to research. Of course, it turns out that I have less time now to devote to that than I have had in the past. My web business is booming and I'm staying busier than I thought possible right now. Timing is everything and as usual life forces driving that timing just aren't cooperating!

So making lists and doing what I can before I leave. I spent a wonderful afternoon with a very distant cousin recently. Now when I talk about distant cousins, I'm really talking distant!  He's my 7th cousin once removed, a descendant of Edward Paul Dyer of Maine and Virginia. We met up in the mountains at Graves Mountain Lodge, visited a local cemetery and his old "homeplace", a cabin still standing next to a noisy babbling brook up next to the Shenandoah Park boundary. 

anderson_cabinWhat I found was that it was easy to get captivated by simply the "ambience" of the location. It's gorgeous up there but not only that, I fell under the spell of history, imagining what it would be like to be living in that cabin without electricity or plumbing back in the 1860s like Edward Dyer or the 1940s/1950s like when Roy lived there. It's hard to describe how I felt and as I pulled out my phone to take a picture, I said, "I've got to capture this." 

Thus the pics you see here. The closeup of the cabin combined with the long view with the mountain backdrop may help you see what I mean. It certainly helps to remind me that the human story behind a family genealogy has so much more to it than just dates and family facts. 


This is why I'm heading to New England  – to put myself in that same place these people walked and lived, to get a feel for what it's really like. So I'm going to be looking for cemeteries, photographing graves, digging through old records, talking to cousins and soaking up that which is New England.

 Genealogists aren't required to do that. Writers doing genealogy are. 

I also must remember to not get caught up in all of that and not get that research done. Hmm, gee, well, I guess I won't mind having to go back again later!

Scholarly Writing on the Web

I have an English degree. I have written a grammar book. I taught English for many years. I have been a web developer since 2000. I have written blog posts for almost that long. And, oh boy, this blog is a challenge.

The most important thing a genealogist can do is document. I'll say it again: the most important thing a genealogist can do is document.

So that means footnotes. No problem. I had to do a brush up on footnotes and the like because it's been a really long time since I had to obey style guides. And then it gets even trickier. There are recommendations; there are requirements – possibly differing requirements – by associations, certification boards, the Chicago Manual of Style. It's all enough to make one dizzy. 

I've bought books and laminated cheatsheets from Amazon but I'm planning on certification from The Board of Certification of Genealogists. They recommend Chicago Manual of Style as well as a book that was just published last year – after I bought several others – and a book that costs $60 bucks in print but free edition exists online as an entire website.

So mastering the basics was what I did in the first 100 hours of the Wilson project. Writing required keeping one or more of the resources on hand at all times. Then there are footnotes online.

I can find literally reams of resource material for genealogy, for citing online resources, but most genealogists aren't writing for the web. Newsletters and magazines are still in print (yes!!) but when posted online, they are in the PDF format. Most folks aren't blogging and giving away info for free. (Note to self: don't tell all!)

There has to be a balance of HTML, readability, navigation and proper citations online. Now that's complicated. I found several pages, blogs, question and answer forums that addressed this. As usual, everyone on the internet has an opinion.

So in the end I've decided to follow the format of Of course, due to the complicated nature of WikiPedia's style sheets, not all info was accessible. So I experimented; I got irritated. WordPress balked. The WP editor didn't do it the way I wanted. So back to old style, creating HTML and pasting it into the editor in admin.

I really hate it when I cannot bend a javascript editor to my will. Alas, Xinha, I miss you! Geez, even the website for it is gone. So goes the way of the internet. They come and they go.

Now back to your regularly sheduled program…

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