We’ve all perused historical records online, but have you ever considered what is involved in digitizing historical documents? We’ll show you the process!
Historical records are the lifeblood of genealogy research. Created for a myriad of purposes, records come in a variety of forms such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries, christening records, censuses, newspaper articles, wills, deeds, draft registrations, passenger lists, and muster rolls – to name only a few! The list goes on and on. When an ancestor has not left behind a complete and thorough autobiography of their life (as is most often the case), these historical documents function as useful secondary resources for discovering who they were. When records are gathered, analyzed and studied together within historical context, we come to understand our ancestors’ lives, where they fit into history, and how they reacted to their strife and struggles. This knowledge can be a treasured part of our family’s heritage.
Have you ever wondered how all those records come to appear on the powerful online search engines such as MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and numerous others? One couple learned first-hand.
Digitizing Historical Records in the Czech Republic
Follow retirees George and Joy. They volunteered to leave their home for 18 months to live in the Czech Republic and work in the Moravian Provincial Archive in Brno-Stary-Liskovec on behalf of FamilySearch. Before leaving, they received extensive training from FamilySearch professionals on how to work in archived records using lights and cameras to create digital images that would be processed and eventually placed online by FamilySearch for all to use.
George and Joy worked closely with the professional archivist in Brno. They spent hour after hour each day digitizing important and vital records from little villages and hamlets.
Even after 18 months of work, there are still more records to preserve:
The Impact of Digitizing Historical Records
One particular record that George and Joy spent hours scanning was the 1890 census of areas which are now the Czech Republic, and already the fruits of their labor are being felt. One individual was trying to discover his heritage, researching his ancestors who originated in the mountainous village of Zdar. When he studied that newly available census he noticed a pattern — families would refer to another small village just a few miles down the road as their birthplace, rather than the town of their residence. It was discovered that the Catholic Church was located in the other small village, while the ancestor’s village contained the Protestant Church. So everyone who was Catholic would go to the other village to the little church to be baptized and have the birth recorded there. Of this discovery, the individual wrote to George and Joy:
“Going to the church records was like opening a treasure trove of knowledge, and within a couple of days, we’d traced that line back to the mid-17th century…all of which started with you two pressing buttons and scanning dusty old documents. If that can happen with just one family, from just one town of 300 individuals, what can happen when we scan the rest and put them in the hands of your colleagues?”
Truly it is a miracle age that we are living in. How easy it is becoming to access genealogical records from the comfort of our own homes, thanks to the efforts of countless many who work to preserve, archive, digitize, index and upload the precious records created about our ancestors. Because of these efforts, we are allowed a glimpse into the fascinating lives of our ancestors, simultaneously helping us understand our own a little better.
How You Can Volunteer and Make a Difference
Are you interested in volunteering your time and talents to making historical records available? You may not be able to go spend a year or more in a foreign country, but there are several initiatives in need of help transcribing documents which have already been digitized. Consider volunteering to extract records through FamilySearch’s Indexing program or Ancestry.com’s World Archives Project for the genealogical world. They have records of all types in many languages and at all skill-levels in need of transcription. (If you have foreign language skills, FamilySearch is in particular need of help indexing non-English records such as these Czech censuses.) The famous Smithsonian Institution also has a fascinating transcription project open for public contribution. While it contains genealogically significant records like diaries and letters, many of its collections are more scientific in nature. You could transcribe the field notes of an 18th-century botanist, or the logbook of an astrophysicist. And the best part is that all three of these projects can be done from the comfort of your own home!
Whether the records of your ancestors have been digitized or not, consider hiring Legacy Tree Genealogists to track them down. We have onsite researchers worldwide who can make that necessary trip and obtain what you need. We also provide translations and interpretations of all our findings. Let us do the work! Contact us today for a free quote.