Making Connections: Photo Copyright, Immigration Collection

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Pictures of Frustration

After reading Maureen A. Taylor’s article about copyright laws (Now What?, June 2004), I had to respond. A month ago, my husband and I took our family photos down to our local Wal-Mart and made some copies of late-1800s and early-1900s photos for my heritage album. We spent well over an hour doing this, only to be told by the green-haired, nose-pierced 17-year-old clerk that we couldn’t have the copies! Watching the horror on my husband’s face as she took the duplicated photos of his Lebanese great-great-grandmother and put them in the shredder, I asked for the manager. It is Wal-Mart’s policy that, regardless of copyright law, the store will not let you make a copy until 75 years after the picture was taken, unless you have written permission from the photographer.

I ran into another problem with pictures that my grandfather, an amateur photographer, had taken of me at age 5. When the teenage Wal-Mart employee asked who took them, I said my grandfather did and that he’d died four years ago. She insisted they were professional photos. I insisted on talking to the manager again, and finally did get my copies.

When I got the June issue, off I went to Wal-Mart to have the manager and employee read Maureen’s article!

I must mention that I had second-, third-and fourth-generation portraits taken at Sears Portrait Studio, and Sears will sell you the copyright for $25. The manager there told me that after six months, you can make copies with or without the copyright paper.

So if anybody has an amateur photographer in the family, be prepared for some fierce exchanges of words (because those teenagers just know too much!), and don’t leave home without the copyright documents from the studio that took your portraits. Armed with my copyright paper and portraits, I will make copies for my heritage album and grin when the green-haired 17-year-old questions me. I might even tell her an address for the photographer’s tombstone and let her do the math.

Nancy Webb

via e-mail

Challenging ‘Authority’

I’m writing in response to your article “Port Authority,” about’s < > US Immigration Collection (June 2004). I, like all fools, rushed in with the greatest anticipation of finding my Swiss ancestors easily. After several fruitless [search] attempts, I decided to input known data about my family to test the site. Again, no results, even though I knew my family had arrived in New York Oct. 12, 1880. After much more searching, I realized the lack of results was because had badly misspelled the surname, as Jene instead of Jud. I noticed other errors, too, and canceled my subscription. I think it’s inexcusable for such errors to occur, and apparently, exercises little quality control. Because of this, all its products will be tainted in my mind, and I will no longer subscribe to its service.

Charles Kulp

State College, Pa.

Editor’s note: Alas, name-spelling errors occur on many genealogy-records Web sites. As Sharon DeBartolo Carmack points out in this issue’s feature on verifying Web data, such mistakes often result from simple typographical slipups or transcribers interpreting hard-to-read, handwritten records. Our advice: Check every imaginable spelling of ancestors’ names — even ones that might not seem logical. And always confirm online data with original records, using the steps on page 34.

Shooting for Answers

My favorite column is Maureen A. Taylor’s Photo Detective. I am training myself to study old photos with her inquisitive eye — that is, if I’m lucky to have a photograph of an ancestor! I’m not sure which is worse: having a photograph of an unknown ancestor or no photo at all. That’s why Taylor’s suggestion to consult Carl Mautz’s Biographies of Western Photographers (April 2004) jumped out at me. My question is this: Although it’s quite obvious that books are written to make a profit, do the authors ever take queries for those of us who can’t spring $50 for every book (though I’d dearly love to)? I haven’t found the book in the library yet.

Commie Parrott

Houston, Texas

Editor’s note: Due to the volume of correspondence we receive, our staff and experts can’t do lookups or provide personal research advice. But there’s still a way to get our experts’ help: We invite you to submit general genealogy questions — head-scratchers you ‘re sure confound your fellow readers, too — to our Now What? column. Our genealogy gurus might respond in a future issue or in our e-mail newsletter. You can post your questions to our Forum at <>.
From the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine