How Are Genealogical Records Digitized?
The process of getting genealogical records digitized is one of the most important technological innovations that has impacted the practice of genealogy today. Research no longer requires traveling around the world and visiting distant libraries or waiting weeks for reply by mail in order to get insights and original records. Increasingly, all kinds of collections from global sources – from ship’s passenger manifests to European Parish records – are being digitized and becoming searchable through subscription databases, free resources like FamilySearch.org or paid services like Ancestry.com. The development in genealogical technology is making it easier for amateur genealogists to conduct research and more efficient for professional genealogists to conduct client projects quickly and affordably.
The scale of the effort
The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the resource FamilySearch.org and its related entities. The LDS Church has taken a leading role in the preservation of genealogical records, up to and including capturing an estimated 5 billion records over the last eighty years. Some of the records in question are captured on microfilm. Others, more recently, have been digitized. Today, FamilySearch and other organizations are partnering – including some major recognizable brands such as Ancestry and MyHeritage – are teaming up to accelerate the pace at which records are digitized and collected.
How records are digitized
Often, records are digitized by volunteers or professional genealogists that use an indexing system to transcribe the genealogical records. Indexing projects are organized in the following way. A collection of documents is outlined for digitization. For example, the list could be Maine state birth records from 1910 to 1920 or military records of the Civil War registrations from California. Those documents are then digitally scanned. If they’re from an era with variable handwriting, it’s much more difficult and often impossible to use scanning technology and original character recognition software to automatically transcribe those records.
Instead, a human volunteer needs to read and interpret the record. Each collection will be broken down into batches which can be easily completed in a short amount of time. The indexer is shown an image of the file, and then asked to key in each field to an indexing system. The indexing system then uploads the documents to a central database. Over time, those records become integrated with searchable databases.
Right now, the effort is being led by FamilySearch and is focusing on the existing 5 billion records (and growing) collection. In a recent interview, a manager affiliated with the program estimated that there are an additional 10 billion records from North America, South America, and Europe to be collected and digitized. More than 60 billion exist worldwide.
If you’re regularly using online or subscription databases as part of your genealogical work, the background on how diverse historical collections are digitized can help add context to your experience. Often, knowing which database or collection to target can vastly expedite your research.
Are you interested in hiring a professional genealogist? Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation, including learn more about digitized genealogical records and how they can help in your search.