Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

NOTE: This is a slightly updated version of an article I published about a year ago. A couple of newsletter readers have sent messages to me in the past few days expressing dissatisfaction with records that were available online but recently have disappeared. I am offering this republished article as an explanation about why we should not be surprised when that happens. I will also offer a suggestion as to making sure you keep your own copies of online records that are valuable to you.

Two newsletter readers sent email messages to me recently expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from a popular genealogy site. Indeed, removal of any online records of genealogical value is sad, but not unusual. Changes such as these are quite common on FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry.com, Fold3, FindMyPast, and many other genealogy sites that provide old records online. Removal of datasets has occurred dozens of times in the past, and I suspect such things will continue to happen in the future. I thought I would write a brief explanation.

In most cases, information of genealogical value obtained from government agencies, religious groups, museums, genealogy societies, and other organizations is provided under contractual agreements. The contracts specify what information is to provided, how it is to be made available, and what price the web site has to pay to the provider for the records. All contracts also have a defined expiration date, typically 2 years or 3 years or perhaps 5 years after the contract is signed.

When a contract nears expiration, the two parties usually attempt to renegotiate the contract. Sometimes renewal is automatic, but more often it is not. Maybe the information provider (typically an archive) decides they want more money, or maybe they decide they no longer want to supply the data to the online genealogy service. For instance, in the time the information has been available online, the information provider may have learned just how valuable the information really is. The information provider may decide to ask for more money or may even refuse to provide the information any more since the provider may have a NEW plan to create their own web site and offer the same information online on their new site for a fee.

Sure, that stinks for those of us who would like to have the information everywhere; but, it makes sense to most everyone else. I am sure the budget officer at most any state or local government archive thinks it makes sense.

Every contract renegotiation is different, but it is not unusual to agree to disagree. The contract ends, and the web site provider legally MUST remove the information from their web site. The same thing frequently happens to all the other online sites that provide old records online.

Moral of this story: If you find a record online that is valuable to you, SAVE IT NOW! Save it to your hard drive and make a backup copy someplace else as well. If there is no option to save, make a screen shot and save it on your hard drive or some other place where it will last for many years. Just because you can see the record online today does not mean that it will be available tomorrow.

14 Comments

But these services, as a courtesy to their customers, should let the public know when the information will be taken down.

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Really good information. I paid attention when you published this before and sorted out the ones I hadn’t downloaded and did just that. Never thought that my info would be removed, but two different one were. Don’t think I thanked you then public ally, but I certainly did in my mind! Thanks a lot for all the information you provide for us.

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The ephemeral nature of the world wide web is why citing these sources properly requires a “date accessed” as well as a “date recorded”.

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Sometimes it is the changing nature of “privacy” that causes records to be removed. I have a cousin in Florida who I have never made contact with (despite trying ) who was divorced. I was able to find the divorce records with full transcripts of the court case, depositions etc. etc. (my cousin would most probably be horrified if they knew!) and this information is no longer available on the web for download (I do have my own local copy though).

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    I can see why your cousin isn’t responding to you

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    The Florida Sunshine Law provides access to all Public Records if you
    Contact and pay the courthouse. Each County can digitize their records if they chose to do so. Brevard County, FL started to do so. I collected some of the records. This where I live. Then it came to light that the Clerk of Court for Brevard County, FL, Ritchie Needleman, had allegedly taken bribes from Blue Ware in order for them to get the contract. He and the officers of the company were arrested. The new Clerk of Court, after a review of the lack of progress on the contract, cancelled all effort.
    This unfortunate incident is the only case in FL of which I am aware. You may still obtain data after submitting a request and paying the fees. Just not online. So it is not a Privacy issue. I hope this helps you understand the issue.

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Out of curiosity, what was recently removed?

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Found out years ago that records are not always kept online. So now, if in doubt, save item to a “Double Check Folder” til I have time to see if already saved. When you get special deals on different sites for research for a limited time, save and save some more and go thru the items later.
Dick, do appreciate your articles 🙂

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This would be a good time to mention the Wayback Machine (Google it…) and putting a date of access and URL on every note we make about something we found online — if we know those things we can find the site as it existed on a given date in the past . . . (the Wayback Machine made a sort of ‘snapshot’ of the Internet for each day) . . . — happy huntin’ – b

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how about media that synchs from ancesry to Family Tree Maker? Is it safe at that point?

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Barbara made a comment about what was removed. Family Search had a record for my great grandparents marriage with their parents names recorded also. I printed it and saved it. When I went back several years later the parents names were gone. That printed copy helped to get the Nebraska marriage records from the 1880s. Even NE had failed to properly index it but they searched and found it. Here today, gone tomorrow.

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An example. Family search has a page that lists Illinois county marriages. The marriages for Boone County, IL used to be listed up to about 1974. Now there are none after 1936. I did discover that I could find some of the information by browsing the images of a document on family search from the Boone county clerk. (I did copy the entries I was interested in at the time but it was a useful and frequently used resource until recently.

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Mary re enforced the old genealogy axiom, “love computers, trust paper” and word “paper” can be expanded to include some other place for the information storage, flash drive, photograph, etc. , other than the site where it was originally found. Thank you for the warning, Dick.

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