Friday, September 26, 2014

If You Need an Attorney to Do It,
It Can’t Be Fun Anymore

Gah. This latest development couldn’t have come at a worse moment. I really didn’t have time for fine print. And yet, that is exactly what I found myself muddling over last night.

It all happened in an innocuous way. It was on the cool-down period after one solitary meltdown over realizing I leave for Ireland in three days, and I am way not prepared to go. I thought, I’ll just cool my heels for a while and wander around some of my favorite blogs. After all, I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t had time to stop by and read what’s been going on with my blogging friends.

I made it all the way to the Es—and no, I do not generally read my subscriptions in alphabetical order; it just happened that way—when I realized this might not have been a good idea.

It was E for Ellie’s Ancestors that broke the news to me: that online genealogy resource I’ve already written a rant about has decided to change their policy on charges, from pay-as-you-go to subscription.

Oh? This could be an improvement.

Or not.

It wasn’t lost on me that I had already laid money down on the books. What was to become of that?

As it turned out, the company had a handy dandy device with which to convert one’s current balance to the new balance. But not so fast—this was the same nickel-and-dime-you company over which I had already been frustrated. I decided to take my time and—groan—read through their updated terms of service. After all, “buyer beware” and all that. This is the type of late night reading that cannot possibly be termed as fun. And, of course, a little surge of ye olde blood pressure ensued upon stumbling upon that rock of offense that reminded me
Online or other republication of content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy.

What is that supposed to mean? That I am bound and gagged and prevented from mentioning anything I find about my family? What is the use of looking, if you can’t share what you find? It’s a reward of the chase to be able to gloat over fresh discoveries, isn’t it?

And how can one have a “unique family history”? Even an only child could not boast of such a thing. After all, it takes two to tango.

This is where I started realizing that only through the professional guidance of my unique personal attorney could I safely navigate this mined field of words. And if it takes an attorney to make it safely to the other side of my genealogical research quest, it isn’t a fun journey anymore.

Yes, I know everyone needs to look out for number one. What better way to do so than to hire a passel of attorneys to insure your every right is thoroughly protected? But if I have to hire an attorney so that my attorney can talk to your attorney, I stop wanting to play this game.

I had once read that none other than John Grenham had labeled the site “clunky” or “byzantine” or another such term. Though I failed to locate that comment via a Google search, I was nonetheless rewarded for my efforts with two other Grenham commentaries on the site’s past charging policies which I found here and here. Click through and see what you think. Apparently, I am not alone in my longstanding frustration.

There is, however, another way. When I think about this current distress, my mind flies immediately to another company’s terms of service, the spirit of which I vastly prefer. A while back, I took up an offer to subscribe to findmypast Ireland. While the company’s genealogical documentation didn’t meet my needs at the time, I wish it had—not just because of the disappointment of those still-elusive records, but on account of how the company conducted its business.

Take their terms of service. I was almost positive I saw phrases in their terms directing the customer to “kindly” do certain things. Their genial demeanor shone through their straightforward and fair wording on their terms of service. How can one not help but like a company that makes statements like
These Terms & Conditions are made under Irish law and any arguments about them (heaven forbid) will only be heard in Irish courts.

At the outset, findmypast Ireland stated in their terms,
We hate jargon as much as you do, so our Terms & Conditions are written in plain English.

And they kept their promise. Kindly.

Why can’t everyone conduct business like this? Especially in Ireland. After all, the Emerald Isle has a reputation to uphold. We customers of Irish descent always heard it was that way back in the Old Country. And we’re not ready to be disappointed.

Above: County Limerick native Norman Garstin, "Autumn," 1882 oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 


  1. Add to the legalese the fact that it is not American English, but rather Irish Englisg with the subtle differences in word meaning.

    I would think birthdates and such would be unique data- I am at a loss for what the website owners would construe as "illegal" short of wholesale downloading of complete items - e.g., an entire baptismal book and publishing that.

    1. Good point about the "Irish English" wording, Iggy. And yet, somehow the Irish seem to generally exhibit so much more of a charm about it all; this seems to uncharacteristically stodgy. Most likely you are right about their concern that one not abscond with an entire baptismal book or such, but it would be nice if they could just come out and say it like they mean it. I feel frozen in my tracks, otherwise. What I'd really like is to just have the liberty to say, "See, I found this fact, and you can find it, too, at this website."

  2. Hi Jacqi, just so you know that exact same wording you quoted forms part of the T&C for Ancestry. I understand it is to stop people downloading and publishing the information for entire parishes, etc. My biggest gripe is that rootsireland only provide transcriptions! The €25 monthly subscription is a great improvement for me, as I will be able to afford the records for all the siblings too. Unfortunately, they seem to have altered the search function, so finding all the siblings might be more difficult.

    1. I agree with Dara's interpretation - not that my opinion counts.

    2. It's good to know that you consider the subscription change a better deal than the previous offer, Dara. I guess I've become gun shy in that I'm hesitant to check it out without knowing ahead of time whether that is just the fee to get in the door, and then more would be expected once you find the transcription you would like to examine. It's also disappointing to hear they have altered their search function. It did seem fairly straightforward, before, to be able to hone the search terms to find exactly what was needed.

      Change is apparently something that so many seem to resist, once we settle upon a site we appreciate--and even regarding a site which has been beleaguered with complaints in the past. New and improved? Even if it claims to be "improved," it's the claim of "new" that has us wary!

  3. If I were you, I'd ask Judy Russell. She loves to parse a phrase. She's the blogger's lawyer, after all.

    1. Good point, Wendy! And she just blogged about recent changes in Ancestry's Terms of Service, as well. Not to mention, I hear she is headed out my way to teach an all-day seminar. I may just take you up on that suggestion, Wendy--in person!

  4. I'm not an attorney, but as a civilian, I would change out "unique" and substitute "single" meaning you could use it for your own family history, but not mine the site to collect their records in vast quantities to reproduce and/or profit from.

    1. Linda, thanks for stopping by to comment! I had seen your blog mentioned a number of times recently, but didn't realize it was yours. Welcome!

      I'm sure that is the spirit of the wording, just as you put it, but it would be helpful if they had just said it as they meant it. Once "understandings" get moved to the legal realm, they seem to aggregate more nuances than I could ever dream of thinking up. I tend to stay away from risks like those. Now, that's the kind of job that calls for an attorney!

  5. Hi Jacqi,

    Reading your article reminded me of how much I miss reading your blog. Hopefully, I will find more time to read it and even write an article or post another letter on my own blog. I'm just spread too thin as they say. :-) or I say, whatever. Good luck on your trip.

    Regards, Grant

    1. Grant, I had noticed that you are back. Welcome! Hope your research is coming along--you have a fascinating story.


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