30 September 2014

Smithsonian expands its crowdsourcing -- it's amazing what we can ALL accomplish in just a few minutes ...



The Smithsonian always has a place in my heart and I’ve written about it a few times before (see note at end).

It is also an institution that has been working diligently to take advantage of crowdsourcing to make part of its massive holdings available to us.  I’ve previously talked about this, Smithsonian + Crowdsourcing Digitization = Lots of really neat stuff available to us!.

It seems that it’s time for an update since The Wall Street Journal published a post, The Smithsonian Works to Digitize Millions of Documents.

In an epic effort to turn the reams of archival material at Washington's Smithsonian Institution into digitally searchable files, museum officials have turned to the crowd: They've created a new Transcription Center that allows any interested person to sift through scanned, handwritten documents and submit their own transcriptions online. On the center's site, which officially launched last month, people ...  can click on a photocopy of a document, zoom in, decipher its sentences and send in their typed transcription with a click.

The article also mentions some other crowdsourcing projects for The New York Public Library and the University of Iowa Libraries, amongst others, that are quite relevant to family historians.


Back to the Smithsonian -- when you visit The Transcription Center, you can browse on projects by Museums and Archives or Themes, read about “how to transcribe” (which also includes how to review). Don’t want to transcribe, then someone to review what others transcribed is always needed!

I personally find that transcribing documents can be very challenging between issues of handwriting, unfamiliar terminology, unusual names, and the many other challenges to deciphering what has been written by others.  That said, there is nothing more satisfying than putting in the effort to be so challenged and create something that just might make a future researcher’s search that much easier.

It’s really quite simple -- select a project, click on the Start Transcribing (or Start Reviewing), Read the Tutorial for the project (or if you are familiar with the project you can select “I’ve already read through it and I’m sure I know what I’m doing.”) and then you will see a page like this and you are off and running to start transcribing (in the right hand box) what you see in the image to see to the left. 


Even if you can only decipher a word or two or a phrase or two – it doesn’t matter! Every single word that is transcribed is one less word for someone else to have to worry about.

With so much material that won’t be transcribed and searchable in our lifetime, nothing says we cannot at least try to get a whole bunch of it done so we can use it

Have you participated in a crowdsourcing project tied to genealogy or family history? What did you think? 

Are there other genealogical or historically-themed crowdsourcing efforts (besides those listed below) which family historians might want to participate in?



Editor’s Note: Other articles on Upfront with NGS about the Smithsonian ...

Editor’s Note: Other articles on Upfront with NGS about Crowdsourcing ...












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29 September 2014

Cursive Writing is being written out of curriculum ... should we family historians be worried?


A rare letter from my great gran, Mary (Taylor) Nelson to my mother, father & myself as we were leaving England for the US.
I do hope future generations can read this!

Cursive handwriting or the increasing lack of it in our world is something we’ve talked about before -- But Who Will Read The Record? Does Not Learning Cursive Mean Our Descendants Will Be Less Able to Read Handwritten Documents? (Feb 2012) and Have We Lost the Art of Writing Compelling Letters? (Nov 2012).

The heart of the issue is that when children are not being taught to write in cursive, does that also impact (e.g. impair) their ability to read cursive handwriting?

All of us, who look through handwritten documents, from those written long ago to last week’s grocery list, know that handwritten documents can often be indecipherable.  Alternately, just knowing that they were written in the hand-writing of our ancestor makes them so personal.  Their only value may be just that, they are something of our ancestors, or they may tell us incredible details about your ancestor and his/her life.

Michael J Leclerc (Chief Genealogist, Mocavo) on Huff Post recently postulated Killing Cursive is Killing History

We're going back in time, and not in a good way.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the average person had minimal education and could not read or write. As late as the early 20th century, vast numbers of people still could not even sign their name. After huge strides during the last century, well-intentioned legislators are set to return us to those times...

In order to read these personal documents(*), future generations will need to have someone transcribe them into a word-processing document.

Unfortunately, they'll miss the subtleties in the handwriting to indicate feelings and emotions while writing. They won't see the hard pen strokes of anger, and they won't be able to see the beautiful flowing handwriting of happiness. Much is lost in the translation.

(*) Michael mentions diaries, journals, letters and cards

I will say that some of my most treasured documents are hand-written letters.  For example, the last letter written from my great-grandmother to my mother before she died or the letters written to me by great auntie Edith or distant cousin “Jack” are all very special to me. To this day, I still love to receive cards from my daughter who always writes such neat sentiments in every one she gives. 

Nowadays, I mostly receive emails, FB posts, and text messages – many of which contain heartfelt messages (and I do preserve those) and it’s not quite the same visceral feel as sitting down on a coach, cup of coffee in hand, as I read and re-read the few handwritten letters I have from ancestors and relatives who I never met in person nor ever had a phone conversation with.  I rely on their letters and the warm memories they bring to keep them alive in my heart and as part of my children’s legacy.

Cursive writing besides being a means of communication was/is also a form of personal expression.  I just pulled out a memory box with some documents I wrote back over 30 years ago and was struck by how much my handwriting has changed.  My handwriting has changed as I have changed. 

And, as Michael mentions and I’ve addressed before, does the lack of training in cursive writing impair the ability of future generations to be able to read key historical documents?  Or even just those letters I’ve saved over the years?

What do you think?



Editor’s Note: A few other related articles ...
+ The Future of Cursive (Genealogy’s Star)





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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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26 September 2014

What if Genealogy Books Were Banned?



Banned Books Week is coming to a close.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

I looked at the list for 2013 and I couldn’t believe that the first title listed was Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.  Without that series to read, I’m not sure that my son would be as proficient a reader as he is today!  Here is a list of books banned by various governments around the world.  I also checked out the classic list of banned/challenged books to realize that I have read at least 27 of the listed books and the others I haven’t read because I just haven’t wanted to or I just didn’t know about them. Interestingly, many of those I read were while in High School and College or related to my education – they are so much a part of who I am ...

As the week of celebrating the freedom to read ends, I thought it appropriate for us to think about what if genealogy books were banned?  

In some regards we already deal with this issue when we talk about records access – aren’t we being “banned” from accessing records which might benefit our research?

Tracing the Tribe (The Jewish Genealogy Blog) back in 2009 had a post on this subject and suggested ...

Most voracious readers know that the quickest route to best-seller status is to have a book banned or challenged. It is good business for authors and publishers. Tracing the Tribe figures (tongue in cheek, of course) that for an author to really make it, they need to figure out a way to get their book banned so that it becomes a best-seller.

Hmmmm … any ideas on how we can get some really excellent genealogy books challenged and increase interest in the market for readers looking for the “really good parts”?

I see also that Thomas MacEntee (GeneaBloggers) posted Banned Genealogy Records? Open Thread Thursday? last year.  Obviously he and I extended our thinking the same way ...

What if censorship of this type made its way to records frequently used by genealogists and family historians?

Obviously a topic that we address frequently on this blog – access to records, most often by creating awareness to pending restrictive or denial of access legislation.  The best way to keep informed about these issues besides reading Upfront with NGS (we try to post any records access issues ASAP when brought to our attention) is to follow the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC).




What are your thoughts?  Are there any genealogy books that we can “challenge” so that they become must reads?

Are there genealogy books which are “truly” at risk to being banned?  

What about records that we currently have access to and for which such access is now more restrictive (ala changes in what is included in the SSDI and in access to the DMF)?







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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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25 September 2014

Find A Grave’s Community Day on October 18th



Keeping with yesterday’s theme about cemeteries, Find A Grave is having a community day on the 18th of October.  

Cemeteries are an important part of our family history. Your work to fulfill outstanding photo requests and building memorials helps people around the world who cannot visit these cemeteries in person. We know a lot of this is done on an individual basis and we thought it would be great to try and get you together as a group in your local community to meet one another while you do what you love to do.

While we started with a few locations in the USA, we hope to inspire meetups all around the world and expect this list to grow quite large over the coming weeks. These events are all volunteer run and are easy to set up. We hope you will be inspired to host an event in your local town and add it to the list below.

All the instructions on how to create a meetup event or participate in one are provided here.

The website page dedicate to this effort is here.

Might you or a local society host an event where you live?







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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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24 September 2014

Finding unmarked graves -- Radar & Dogs -- invaluable tools!


Finding graves where there are no tombstones, monuments, or any type of marker presents a challenge.

With many loved ones and ancestors not always buried where we can easily find them, technology and other techniques are being increasingly deployed to help us located where ancestors maybe buried.

We previously wrote about Using Radar To Do Cemetery Mapping and Find Unmarked Graves -- Fascinating! which explored using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

A video was posted two days ago on the website of my local newspaper, Cadaver dogs find unmarked graves in historic Wilmington church cemetery which talks about using such dogs to “... search a historic Wilmington, NC, graveyard for unmarked graves. Although ground penetrating radar had been used, the dogs can search areas the technology could not reach. The dogs were helping the NC DOT find graves as a road widening project near the church/ graveyard frontage commenced.”

Of course, I then had to look and see what the precedent was for this and I came across Cherokee Tribune - Sixes UMC uses dogs to identify unmarked graves which talks about “A local church has enlisted some expert help in locating dozens of unmarked graves in its historic cemetery dating back to the 1830s.” An article from the summer about the same church, Unmarked graves found in old church grounds.

Here’s an article from Wyoming, Dogs help find unmarked graves at Douglas Cemetery.

Has a local-to-you graveyard or church or public cemetery used GPR or cadaver dogs to help identify the location of unmarked or undocumented graves?







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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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23 September 2014

Digital Version of Entire Warren Commission Report Released



Many alive on 22 November 1963 remember where they were or what they were doing.  To be honest, I was a little kid and I have no recollection of the event and I know that my dad talks about it.

What am I talking about?  The assassination of President John F Kennedy.

Last year, in conjunction with the Boston Public Library, the Government Printing Office (GPO) released the Warren Commission report.

Today, the GPO released “a digital version of the entire Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy to commemorate the 50 years since the printed version of the report first rolled off the agency’s presses.”

Read Printing Office Releases Digital Version of Report on JFK Assassination to learn more.  There is also a link at the bottom to a video about the original release of the Warren Commission report and this effort to digitize the entire Warren Commission report.

You can access the entire report here.


Editor’s Note: Thanks to Lori Thornton (Librarian at Carson-Newman College) for posting about this on FB.


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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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Internet Archive Creates a Virtual Visual Feast on Flickr -- Millions of Historical Images -- All FREELY Accessible!


What’s not to love about the Internet Archive?  It has so many resources that benefit our research from digitized books (including directories, court cases and so much more) to digitized web pages (Wayback Machine), and more.  

The newest venture is The Commons – The Internet Archive has now uploaded millions of images to Flickr.  


Read more about this via Internet Archive Uploads Millions of Historical Images to Flickr (David Murphy, PC Magazine).

If you have a hankering for some old-timey cat pictures, the Internet Archive has you covered. Specifically, the Internet Archive's Flickr account will likely contain that which you seek, as the organization recently posted several million images to the popular photo-sharing site.

These images are the first batch of what the Internet Archive is calling “The Commons,” a new collection made up photographs from the more than 600 million book pages that the organization has digitally scanned. The pages themselves amount to more than 19 petabytes of data—with more than 14 million images eventually expected to make their way online.

The Commons currently has over 2.5 million photos posted and it is a virtual visual feast!

When you click on any image you are told its source – the publication, date, and page.  It also tells whether there are any known copyright restrictions in place.

I just was trawling through the images and came across “Image from page 468 of “Allen county, Indiana, circuit court record general index” (1824)” and “Image from page 253 of “Olcott’s land values blue book of Chicago” (1921).”  How cool is that?!?!

Whether you want to feast your eyes upon some historic pictures or spot some clues regarding your ancestors and/or their lives, do check out this ever-growing collection of images.











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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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Think your friends, colleagues, or fellow genealogy researchers would find this blog post interesting? If so, please let them know that anyone can read past UpFront with NGS posts or subscribe!
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Suggestions for topics for future UpFront with NGS posts are always welcome. Please send any suggested topics to UpfrontNGS@mosaicrpm.com
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Unless indicated otherwise or clearly an NGS Public Relations piece, Upfront with NGS posts are written by Diane L Richard, editor, Upfront with NGS.
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