Plagiarism Raises Its Ugly Head Again within the Genealogy Community

Here is a quote from


  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

Plagiarism has been found in genealogy books and magazines for probably a century or more. However, with the explosion of publishing on the Internet, plagiarism appears to be more popular than ever. Sadly, one individual has been caught before in the act of republishing other writer’s words without crediting the source. In fact, he was even sued for doing so although the case was later settled out of court. Even though already being notorious for such actions, he continues the practice even today.

I won’t quote the latest article about his actions, not even with attribution to that article. Instead, I strongly suggest you should read the entire article for yourself. More Accusations of Plagiarism Leveled at Barry Ewell can be found in The Ancestry Insider blog at

I will add one comment: I invite anyone to copy articles from this newsletter for non-commercial purposes although I do ask for attribution. Details may be found at

Those guidelines apply only to Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, however. Other writers and publishers usually have their own guidelines. Please follow the guidelines of each publisher.


Disgraceful for sure. However pickpockets abound in the field. An examination of some online information services indicates that they are capable of the practice.


I had never heard of this individual before today, but after seeing this and a few other blog posts I looked him up. I had to laugh when I found his website – and the clearly set apart notice asking people to contact him for permission to use the contents of his site. Do as I say, not as I do…

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As soon as I saw the title of this article in the e-mail newsletter, I knew who this would be about. Sigh. Unbelievable.


    I’d actually placed him completely out of my memory. The amount of physical and emotional suffering he put Cyndi Howells through demanded it, and I’m deeply saddened he’s still able to harm others with these methods.


I have found many well-meaning people willing to help me from afar, searching out newspaper obituaries, accounts of weddings and court proceedings, as well as other materials that reflect on members of my family tree. Regrettably, far too often, these kind souls — sometimes even including public libraries — provide the articles without any sourcing information, leaving me with little choice beyond a generic “name and date of newspaper source unknown.” It makes my skin crawl to do that, but sometimes I have no other source for important facts included in the unsourced article.


    This is quite different from uncited information in family trees, however. Mr. Ewell is making a very profitable career off of stealing the work of others. It goes well beyond a hobbyist at home being sloppy with research.

    A personal story: I attended some sessions with him at a major genealogy convention a few years ago. A few months later, he sent me a PDF of his upcoming book to ask for feedback. (This was not some self-published thing; he had a contract with a real publisher.) The book contained, *word for word*, notes I had taken off slides at sessions we’d both been in. He even used the same formatting from handouts we’d received.

    That is not “being sloppy.” That is deliberate theft with the intent of profiting off it. He needs to be stopped. And companies and associations need to stop working with him.

    Liked by 1 person

I knew about the Cyndi’s List lawsuit but was not aware of the person who was sued. I followed your link to the article and then searched for more information. It is really sad that anyone is forced to spend money to sue someone like this and go to all the fuss and bother. And, the person at fault continues to do the same thing over and over again.


I know people do it. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it unless you have an endless supply of money & time. But, besides the fact they stole it they could at least copy and paste or learn how to use spell check. It really irks me to se my work someplace and the spelling is off or the dates are wrong because someone was lazy. C’mon, if you’re going to steal something do it right, don’t be a slob about it. I used to have my genealogy on a couple of websites. I pulled it all because I didn’t want the information I worked so hard on to be accurate, being propagated by lazy people and having someone else come along and take it for gospel. A lot of so called genealogists out there today are copy & paster’s that never bother to verify anything they have “copied”.


    Susan Diteman Watson April 2, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    I understand what you are saying. I have gotten info from others in my family tree , I check for sources they have used and make sure dates are plausible. If there are special family photos I post an acknowledgement on their comment . It is so special that someone has photos.
    The one thing I have noticed that people do not review are the birth and death dates. They can be hysterical that a child is born to a little child or years after the mother listed died. So I leave off the dates and start my own search. But people do not look and just copy away.
    I have one large family that insists my ggf is there’s. I so wish, but it doesn’t track with all I know of him that I have researched and can verify.
    The premise of Dick’s column was someone who steals others works
    as his own and profits from this.


Some years ago I found hunks of material my late father had written in a self-published book, reproduced on someone’s website. Since my father didn’t copyright his work, I suppose technically it wasn’t plagiarism. But he’d not only taken my father’s writing, he’d pulled it so far out of context that the story he quoted didn’t make much sense, nor was it clear who it was about. Contacting him via email, I politely requested that he either make clear the context AND cite the source, OR pull the whole unsourced material. He didn’t, on repeated requests. Then he had the gall to marry a distant cousin, who occasionally appeared at family reunions. To keep her out of it, I stopped my requests. I haven’t checked in recent years, but for all I know, his plagiarism from my father’s hard work is still there. The idea of what he did still upsets me on my father’s behalf.

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With ideas, there’s much more of a problem in view of the speed of online communication; Who’s to say who had an idea first, whether one thing sparked off another, etc. It’s why academics are so cagey about their research these days. Even If words are repeated exactly, you can’t prove plagiarism without a panoply of expensive lawyers.


David Paul Davenport April 6, 2016 at 2:13 pm

I copyrighted my eBook, Dear Beloved Wife, and was told (by the US copyright office) that only my original words, not my original ideas, analysis, and conclusions could be copyrighted. Re: plagarism, it is too bad that a Court Order can be ignored with impunity. Jail time would be far more effective and appropriate (but I can’t help but believe that even Judges copy the work of other Judges in writing Opinions).


It is rife in ancestry as well. One person who will go unnamed makes a habit of copying information & photos from my tree ( she is a distant relative) & reposting them as originally from her.I have contacted her and asked her to please attribute them properly. But no luck.


    I see that on MyHeritage as well. One person asked to use some of my work, but no attribution, and then it was picked up and reposted by others of this person’s family.


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