Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

NOTE: This is a slightly updated version of an article I published about a year ago. A newsletter reader sent a message to me recently expressing dissatisfaction with records that once 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 believe that every genealogist should understand why this happens so this article bears repeating every year or two. Please feel free to republish this article in newsletters, message boards, or forward it in email messages as you see fit.

I will also offer a suggestion as to making sure you keep your own copies of online records that are valuable to you.

A newsletter reader sent an email message to me recently expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from one of the very popular genealogy sites. 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 digital images of 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 almost all 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 (the government agency, religious group, museum, genealogy society, and other organization) 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 own, new web 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.


“See something, save something” !


Cook County, Illinois is one big example. Other one came to my attention recently – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they allow you to see but won’t allow you to print or download.


    Anything that can be seen on the internet (on your device) can be printed and/or can be saved as an image.

    When you see something you want to save, if there is no download word or download symbol, right click on the image. If there is no option to “save” or “save as” in the menu that shows up, then you take a screen shot. Doing that saves an image in your device’s temporary memory, the same as text would be temporarily saved if you highlighted text and copied that.

    I only know the method to take and save an image that is on the monitor of a desktop PC computer, because that’s the only device I have. You press the “PrtScn” (print screen) button on your keyboard. So then an image of everything you see on the screen is temporarily saved.

    Your computer should have come with at least one graphics program, such as Microsoft Paint, or maybe you have another graphics program. You would open that, then click on paste, or edit then paste, or press the Ctrl and the V keys at the same time. Your screen shot image should then be visible. You would then crop the full image to the part you want to save, then give it a name and save it.


    Larry’s instructions are correct for Windows, although you can also download screenshot apps that will save a window or area as an image to a location on your hard drive of your choosing.
    On the Mac you can screenshot the entire screen (Shift-Command-3) or just a selection (Shift-Command-4). Other more advanced key combos do other tricks. With all of them, unlike Windows, the screenshot is saved to your Desktop as a standalone image file – no need to paste anywhere.


    I find that taking a picture of my screen with my digital camera works well. I take two or three, then save and print the best.


    Any image you see on your screen while browsing is stored temporary in a temporary file on your computer (Windows). You can retrieve that image and rename it before you leave that page. The procedure is too long to explain here. It take computer skills and expertise, but it can be easily learned. I have saved many Ellis Island images this way.


    That’s why the snip tool is very handy in these situations. I use mine all the time. OneNote also has the ability to take a screen shot.


if you can’t download Dick, you gotta love screenshots or saving the page to a pdf ! 😉


Recently, the link I used in my research of the Ryder family, freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rclarke/page1/ryder.htm, no longer pointed to the same Ryder branch. I entered the url in the archive.org “Wayback Machine” and was pleased to find several dates where archive.org had saved the information. I was back in business. Basically, if you have a url that no longer works, try out the “Wayback Machine”.
It has over 300 billion web pages saved there.


What about Pocket?


Yes, I’ve saved all my documents. A lot of them were screen shots because print or copy was blocked. One huge thing that’s happened is putting archived newspapers, that were all free online, are now behind Ancestry’s Newspapers.com, pay wall. For NY we can still get to the Historic Newspapers the government started years ago.


An excellent explanation Dick, thank you!
FamilySearch support are getting a lot of these questions. With the end of Online Film Ordering, contracts have to be re-negotiated before we can legally display the contents online. And sometimes the contents remain available but with new restrictions. “Why do I need to go to a family History Center to view this film now? Last month I could view it from home!” … basically because that is the only level of access we were able to negotiate with the agency that owns the legal rights to that film.
Digitized books may have even more restrictions. Sometimes only one person in the world is allowed to view a particular book at a time on a particular website because of copyright restrictions. (i.e. the book is protected by copyright and the website owns only one physical copy of the book.)
All of the major family history sites will try to negotiate the best access possible for their clients. And the advice that “if you can see it, save it”, is good.


I do a column for “Preserves”, Root Cellar’s 3 times a year emagazine called “Hints and Links”. Not infrequently I use info from your blogs – a brief description with a link to the article. However, this is so important (and I have seen your previous article) that I would like to reprint this article in its entirety in the January issue of “Preserves” (members only for the first few years). Also, make a few copies to hand out at meetings. Always with attribution!! Appreciate your timely information.


Attention! For those who think it can be done. Philadelphia co PA is now LOCKED UP. Access only at Family History Centers for those who are not LDS and still subjected to additional restrictions – no download and no print. And who want to do the extra work of splicing together the pages if you really want quality?


Hello. If I have attached an image to my tree on Ancestry or My Heritage, and if the service were then to lose rights to the collection it came from, would the image still be attached to my tree? I tried googling to get an answer, but I wasn’t successful. Thanks.


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