Content: Turning records into gold
For genealogy and family history, the basis is information drawn from public archive
material.To provide this data online is a demanding and cost-intensive business.
Basic and special archival sources for genealogists are for example: census records, social
security death indexes, parish records, county birth and marriages directories, genealogical
and biographical indexes, international passenger records, immigration notations, war
These resources, records and surrogates such as microfilms, reside originally in analogue
form in various public records and other archival memory institutions that provide
information (almost) for free. For free, but usually not digitised or searchable online.
Searching for ancestors still requires travelling to their places of origin, and searching
institutions and responsible record keepers, who might find and provide valuable bits of
Today, digitised archival data goes a long way in changing this.They save a lot of time
and money for family history pursuers and professional genealogist by enabling them to get
the same information on their home PC. However, not for free.
Online searchable databases with digitised public archive information can be a real "gold
mine". But how does a company like Ancestry.com get the "claim"? It really means to make
the gold oneself, by scanning the information, i.e. primarily microfilms, index the names
and other information, put it in fully searchable databases, and make it accessible online for
subscribers (or on a pay-per-usage basis).
Just to give one example: From the U.S. National Archives Record Administration
(NARA) anyone can buy all the microfilms from the Federal Population Censuses (1790 to
1920). (<http://www.nara.gov/publications/microfilm/census/>) But not everybody has
the capacity to make an online "claim" out of it - as Ancestry.com does. Ancestry.com states:
"While not all Images Online projects require an extra subscription amount from our
customers (i.e. Civil War Pension Index), the extensive scope and nature of the U.S. Federal
Census collection required that an extra subscription fee be attached to this content to
compensate for Ancestry.com expenses in content acquisition, image scanning, quality
control, indexing, web hosting, etc."
Ancestry.com launched this project in the fall of 2000. Consisting of more than 10
million unique images, once completed, the database will contain over 450 million names.
But, of course, the data is processed and posted portion after portion, forming an expanding
"gold mine", and a continuous attraction.The census data are the most important, but only
one corner stone in what Ancestry.com calls an "aggressive data acquisition program".
Details of how census returns are "digitised" are given in the description of the 1901
Census Project of the Public Records Office (UK) in co-operation with QinetiQ (formerly
DERA - the Defence Evaluation & Research Agency). (see: http://www.census.pro.gov.uk)
The process has three main steps:
scanning the microfilms of the census returns and creating a database with a digital
image of each page of the returns,
transcribing the information from the returns and creating a database with an index
which can be searched by name, place, address, and other information (and link to
the images of the returns),
making the index of the transcribed information and the images accessible online.