Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega shows how to add material to your family history that enters the public domain on 1 January 2022. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
January 1st of each year marks Pubic Domain Day. This is the day when certain creative works are no longer copyright protected.
What is the public domain? According to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, the term public domain is defined as:
“The realm of material – ideas, images, sounds, discoveries, facts, texts – that is unprotected by intellectual property rights and free for all to use or build upon. It includes our collective cultural and scientific heritage, and the raw materials for future expression, research, democratic dialogue and education.” (1)
This year, works from 1926 that were published with the authorization of the author are entering the public domain, meaning you can freely use them without restrictions or a fee. (2) So, what does this mean for your genealogy?
Use for Genealogy
Public domain works such as books, musical compositions, and sound and video recordings can be used to add some social history to your family history. Use these items in your genealogy to provide context to your ancestor’s 1926 life for your living family so that they can better understand their ancestors. You can take these materials and:
- Quote lengthy passages
- Use as an illustration online or in print
- Include written materials or an image in a family history book
- Embed a sound or video recording on your blog or website
- Digitize and make the material available online
- Print the item and make it available to family or others
What are some of the items that are available in the public domain? Below are just some of the titles (excerpted from the Center for the Study of the Public Domain).
Some well-known books that are now part of the public domain include:
- A. Milne: Winnie-the-Pooh, illustrations by E. H. Shepard
- Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises
- Langston Hughes: The Weary Blues
- E. Lawrence: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (later adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia)
- Felix Salten: Bambi, A Life in the Woods
- Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (3)
This means that all books promoted in 1926 newspaper ads are now in the public domain, such as this example from the Boston Herald.
According to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, an estimated 400,000 recordings will be made available in the public domain this year. Many early jazz recordings are now available to use, including:
- Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds: “Crazy Blues,” “Don’t Care Blues,” “That Thing Called Love,” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”
- Ethel Waters: “Down Home Blues” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”
- Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet: “Jelly Roll Blues” (Fred “Jelly Roll” Morton)
- Vess L. Ossman: “Maple Leaf Rag” (Scott Joplin)
And one of my favorite suffrage songs:
- Anna Chandler: “She’s Good Enough to Be Your Baby’s Mother (and She’s Good Enough to Vote with You)” (4, 5)
Check out these recordings now available, from a 1926 ad published by the Beaumont Enterprise.
What movies were your ancestors watching in 1926? Possibly these works, now part of the public domain:
- For Heaven’s Sake (starring Harold Lloyd)
- Battling Butler (starring Buster Keaton)
- The Son of the Sheik (starring Rudolph Valentino)
- The Temptress (starring Greta Garbo)
- Don Juan
- The Winning of Barbara Worth (6)
Genealogy Tip: What movies played in your ancestor’s hometown? Look in an online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, for their hometown to find entertainment listings.
Here’s what was playing in Augusta, Georgia, on 10 October 1926.
Add Something New to Your Family History
Why not add something besides names and dates to your research? Take a look at materials from 1926 that are now in the public domain to add some social history to your family history.
(1) “Public Domain Day- Frequently Asked Questions,” Center for the Study of the Public Domain (https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2022/faqs/: accessed 27 December 2021).
(2) “Public Domain Day 1922, “Center for the Study of the Public Domain (https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2022/: accessed 27 December 2021).
(3) “Public Domain Day 1922, “Center for the Study of the Public Domain (https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2022/: accessed 27 December 2021).
(4) You can listen to this song and others on the album Shoulder to Shoulder found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNWJrDtcdNY&list=OLAK5uy_m8izGZLt_4f2utrlSRchWdzn7F3ESLado. The Sheet music is available from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100008305/.
(5) “Public Domain Day 1922, “Center for the Study of the Public Domain (https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2022/: accessed 27 December 2021).
(6) “Public Domain Day 1922, “Center for the Study of the Public Domain (https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2022/: accessed 27 December 2021).