01 September 2016

Where Do Online Genealogy Records Come From?

This post is mainly to alert you to several aspects of genealogy you may not know exist. These are particularly related to where online records come from (hence the post title). Believe it or not (once you read what they are), knowing about these aspects can make a difference in your research. If you're involved in the genealogy community, you likely already know about them. If you don't, I wanted to at least clue you in to their existence.

Big Conferences

There's a big genealogy conference starting today. It's commonly called the FGS Conference (FGS is the Federation of Genealogical Societies). This conference is for individual genealogists so don't let the sponsor name throw you. I wrote a mini-series on my J.P. Dondero Genealogy Blog about offline education. Here is the link to the post about genealogy conferences if you don't know about them.

What's important to an Occasional Genealogist? 

The benefit of national (or large) genealogy conferences is the same for Occasional Genealogists (OGs) as any genealogist. They give you a chance to take a lot of lectures (presented by very skilled speakers) in a short amount of time (usually a Thursday to Saturday). This can be more important to an OG because you need to get your education in a compressed amount of time. The other advantage is the variety of lectures and that you can pick and choose to fit your interests. The only downside is they can't be extremely in-depth because they are individual lectures. If you need in-depth or more advanced education, you need to take a course through an institute (online or in-person, note: I find in-person is more effective for me as an OG because once I leave home to stay at the institute, I have time for learning. When I take something with multiple sessions at home, I always have interruptions. In-person is obviously more expensive, but it's something to consider).

Crowd Funding

At the opening session of the FGS Conference this morning, they announced the "Preserve the Pensions" project (for War of 1812 Pensions) was complete. You can read the press announcement on Dick Eastman's blog.

What's important to an Occasional Genealogist? 

If you read the announcement, you'll see the project cost $3 million. Holy cow! OK, I don't really think $3 million is that much for a project of this scope. But if you do, that relates to the title of this post "Where Do Online Genealogy Records Come From?" Because there's a good chance you don't fully understand where online records come from (or specifically, the road they take to get online). Online records have to come from something offline (you'd mainly be researching living people if most of the records started online, although Facebook is a source). Getting them online isn't cheap. It takes a considerable amount of manpower (i.e. staff you have to pay in addition to equipment) to digitize old records. They then have to be processed and hosted, AND they have to be accessible via a website that is easy to use. I bet you'd also like them indexed. That actually brings me to the next item.

Crowd "Sourcing"

I've put sourcing in quotes because I'll roll several items together. The way not to pay staff to digitize and index records (you will have to pay for the technology side) is to get volunteers. Volunteers might actually be a source for a record. Microfilm projects have been done this way. People bring their records in to be photographed (or scanned) for inclusion in a project. Volunteers might do the photographing/scanning, too The things volunteers are great for is indexing. Why? Genealogists have the skills to read old handwriting yet are willing to volunteer. There aren't a lot of people that can read old handwriting and they have to read it in whatever language it is in. A large genealogy company had some very popular U.S. records indexed in a foreign country a number of years ago (because it was cheaper). Oh, the complaints! Things that were obvious to a genealogist even with the most basic skills were indexed incorrectly. Things no American would have misunderstood appeared VERY incorrectly in thousands of index entries. It was a mess. You can't sufficiently (I'm not even saying "correctly") index records without using people with some skills and genealogists are the best source.

What's important to an Occasional Genealogist? 

You too can help index. You do it online, and you download what you index, so you don't need an ongoing Internet connection. You can even get the kids or grandkids involved. Here are the links to the programs from Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. This is really important for all genealogists, but if you don't have time, you now have an idea where online genealogy records come from. You've also found out it's really expensive to get them online. Understanding some of the different ways the online indexes are created directly affects understanding how to effectively use online records. In addition to outsourced indexing and volunteer indexing, you can have OCR (the computer "reads" the document, this in its infancy for handwritten documents but has been used for years on typed documents, especially newspaper). You also have unindexed records. That's like using microfilm. If you didn't know there were unindexed records, you need to learn more.

The completion of the "Preserve the Pensions" project really caught my attention this morning. I hope this post has alerted you that such projects exist and some of the other "crowd" projects you could be involved in or that might affect your research.

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