Posted by on July 31, 2008 in Content, Digitization

This is my first post on the Ancestry.com Blog. I work in the Content group and I’m responsible for many of the relationships with State Archives and Vital Records groups.

NAGARAThis past week, I along with Quinton Atkinson and Brian Peterson, some of the Content group colleagues, attended a conference of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), of which the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) is a subset. Most all of the states were represented there by their State Archivist and some of their staff. It was a great opportunity to get together with them and understand their needs and how Ancestry.com can work with them. We were specifically focused on how we can collaborate on digitization efforts.

Currently Ancestry.com has either signed or has pending agreements with close to 20 U.S. State Archives. The agreements cover various types of records including vital, military, naturalization, court and land records and address mutually beneficial priorities.

At the conference, Ancestry.com personnel participated in several sessions. We joined FamilySearch for a grant writing reality type presentation. Both parties offered grants to NAGARA members for digitization services. The applicant finalists made presentations and then a peer review committee (like American Idol judges) gave critiques of the grant proposals. Finally, two winners were announced and we explained why we selected their proposals. Ancestry.com will assist FamilySearch in the digitization of Summit County, OH Vital Records.

Ancestry.com also announced that we would be awarding $1.5 million in digitization services grants through State Archives in the first quarter of 2009. We handed out Grant Packets to nearly 70 interested parties and there was palpable excitement over the announcement.

Many of the sessions emphasized how Ancestry.com and FamilySearch are working on a cooperative basis on joint digitization projects. The conference was the platform for announcing the Enhanced U.S. Census Project: http://tgn.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=123

Preserving the American Historical RecordAnother prominent topic at the conference was the “Preserving the American Historical Record” (PAHR) bill, which was sponsored by CoSA and introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 14, 2008, as H.R. 6056. You can follow the progress of this bill at http://www.archivists.org/pahr/. The State Archivists have tried for many years to get funding from the federal level to preserve and create access to historic records. This is the farthest they’ve ever gotten. Ancestry.com has been very supportive of this effort and participated in the PAHR presentation. The above link has a place where you can go to contact your representative to help get this important genealogical legislation past.

Our attendance at the NAGARA/CoSA conference emphasizes Ancestry.com’s strategy to work closely with state and local governments to digitize significant amounts of their content and to do so collaboratively. I would be glad to hear from any of the Blog’s readers about how you would like us to work with the archivist community.

8 Comments

Jade 

Al, Quinton and Brian,

I am glad to know of your continuing contact with State and local archivists.

I hope that you are listening to their concerns.

The concerns of experienced researchers merge with those of the archivists in the mutual desire for survival of the records in situ or at least in context. Too many County officials have been disposing of original records; the most justifiable reasons involve lack of funds for expansion of storage space, but there are other reasons as well.

The State of New York monitors and regulates activities regarding County Court, Town and other records, but few others do. In a sense it is a race against time to ensure that what is still intact remains so. In many locations integrity of records has already been lost, whether by activity under auspices of the Historical Records Survey, or by much more recent activity (however well-intentioned).

The concerns of experienced genealogists do not always, however, mesh with some archivists’ view of how best to conduct digitization projects. In one instance I know of a County Historian in NY who took apart Court Case Files and put the documents in what s/he believed to be alphabetical order. The method of choice of defendant or plaintiff, or of how to handle such items as summons returns regarding witnesses, receipts for payments or affidavits was not at all thought out in advance. Then the documents were put through an automated microfilming device that inevitably destroyed some of the papers. Thus now for this County the earliest Court records’ case files are all but impossible to reconstruct, the automatic microfilmer did not capture full document images in many instances, and it is now impossible to know what was destroyed in the process.

The Historian then made up a card file from the documents, but even assuming that one could locate one of the involved persons in the card file, it is impossible to recapture the role of that person in the case aside from plaintiff and defendant.

Just from viewing certain databases on Ancestry, such as so-called DE vital records and so-called vital records from Fayette Co, PA, it is obvious that the contracts involved in generating these databases did not specify that records integrity be maintained and nature of the record specified for every entry.

These problems remind me of a story told me by a former military intelligence officer. He was tasked with destroying a body of records, most of which were classified, but was also required to keep a record of what was destroyed. The recording method he devised was to make a list of the *initials of the title of each record* since the very title of many documents disclosed some information that he deemed not fit for public consumption.

Thus I urge you to take Records Integrity very seriously, as against some digitization methods that would at first glance seem feasibly to facilitate indexing.

There is much more to be said regarding Endangered Records, but in my humble opinion the matter of preservation of context is Number One.

July 31, 2008 at 2:10 pm
Nancy Rogers 

I really appreciate the fact that ancestry.com and familysearch.org are collaborating instead of arguing with each other. I am hopeful that this will mean that many records that have not been available will become available. I am also hopeful that in the long run this might mean that the state of New York will devise some way to work with this group so that birth, marriage and death records for the state (not NY city) will eventually move into the public domain with certain restrictions such as no access or application only access to family members for documents less than 50 years old.

August 1, 2008 at 8:53 am
RickK 

Where can I find a list of archival projects that ancestry.com is working on or has funded?

August 4, 2008 at 9:00 pm
Skip Strovel 

Type your comment here.

August 5, 2008 at 10:02 am
Skip Strovel 

Your World Archives project may be an undertaking that we can complement you. We are located approximately 5 miles from the National Archives (9 offices) and our area of expertise is preservation and electronic imaging. I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with someone. 301-837-0197 x1546
Thanks, Skip Strovel

August 5, 2008 at 10:06 am
deborah rae harley caparoon 

My ancestory is all wrong on your web site. How can I correct it and update it?

August 26, 2008 at 8:21 pm
keven G 

AL I’m curious???

Did u attend UCSB starting in 1973 (Santa Rosa Dorm) ?????

Keven
(across the hall from Jody)
and on EL NIDO St too !!!!

December 8, 2008 at 1:00 pm
Mitch 

Hi Al –

What about preserving overseas records? My family has records over in the Ukraine that I can’t afford to go get copies of.

Take a look at these painful photos: http://www.rtrfoundation.org/fire2.html It kills me that this just happened a few years ago, after these documents have sat there for over 120 years. It’s likely my family records are in several of the fonds destroyed in the fire, as the small village they came from showed up in the index the RTR foundation made.

Is there anyway to request getting these records digitized? I know they’re not domestic US….

Thanks in advance for the feebback Al!

- Mitch

January 5, 2009 at 9:14 pm