What We Need to Give to Our Descendants

Genealogical materials are being lost. That means future generations will lose the benefit of having them. I am talking about tombstone lettering becoming unreadable, old newspapers crumbling to dust, people pitching the family history materials of a deceased family member, public records destroyed by fire or flood or tornado. family photographs fading, and the list goes on. Once these things are gone, they are gone.

What should we do about this? There is only one answer: everything of genealogical value must be digitized into a computer.

But this is a monsterously huge, expensive (billions?) and time-consuming (decades?) endeavor. But, like so many other big issues our society faces today, it needs to be done. And who can argue with preserving families for future generations?

A Proposal

  1. A non-profit organization needs to be established just for this purpose
  2. All information digitized by this organization should be available for free to the public (like the LDS church has done)
  3. A structured manner of the data must be established at the beginning. Here is one way:
  4. Two states should be the pilot for this endeavor, this allows the process to be learned and smoothed over before the other states are done
  5. Large central computers with sufficient capacity (it grows over time) will be linked to the Internet. Appropriate software for accessing the data is on these central computers.
  6. Because of the possibility of identity theft, only information before 1940 should be included except for such things as death records, obituaries, tombstones and the like
  7. It will take from 15 to 30 years to initially complete all states
  8. Over the years, information after 1940 should be digitized. By this point, the available information would be well documented as to its availability. And, the volume would be smaller than the initial round of digitizing. This is similar to how every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau releases another census.

How Would The Digitizing Process Work?

There would certainly be much behind-the-scenes tasks going on such as administrative, equipment maintenance, recruitment, trainers, oversight, etc. But here are the highights of the main tasks:

What Happens to the Digitized Information Once it is Available?

Let's say that a town book of births, deaths and marriages has been digitized, page by page. Each page contains multiple names and dates and other information. It may be hard to read. This is where the highly trained certified people step in.

These certified people review everything and create (on the central computer) what are called Extractions. An extraction is one specific piece of information about one person in one event. For example, for the town book, here is what the extractions would be for a marriage, a birth and a death (actually, more detailed than this, but it gives the concept):
Source Volume:Page Event Type Date/Time Location Person Role Additional Information
Smallville KS Town Records 6:24 Marriage 1881-09-18 Smallville, Johnson county, KS, Baptist Church John Smith, Jr. Groom minister Joe Jones
Smallville KS Town Records 6:24 Marriage 1881-09-18 Smallville, Johnson county, KS, Baptist Church Jane Johnson Groom minister Joe Jones
Smallville KS Town Records 14:87 Birth 1883-05-15 Smallville, Johnson county, KS John Smith, Jr. Newborn  
Smallville KS Town Records 14:87 Birth 1883-05-15 Smallville, Johnson county, KS John Smith, Sr. Father  
Smallville KS Town Records 14:87 Birth 1883-05-15 Smallville, Johnson county, KS Jane Smith Mother  
Smallville KS Town Records 8:37 Death 1889-02-25 Smallville, Johnson county, KS Jane Smith Deceased  
Smallville KS Town Records 8:37 Burial 1889-02-25 Smallville, Johnson county, KS, Oaklawn Cemetery Jane Smith Interred  

These Extractions are the information at its most basic lowest level. And, given this detail, anyone could easily go back to the original digitized record to verify it, if necessary (which might call for a correction to the extraction data).

After enough Extractions are available, anyone can begin to tie them together (on the central computer) using Assertions. Assertions are someone's declaration that two or more Extractions are for the same person. When an Assertion is made, the person must identify themself and give a reason WHY s/he believes that the Extractions are for the same person. That way, others can come along at a later time and agree or disagree and specify their reason WHY. In the example Extractions above, someone could say that the deceased Jane Smith is the same person as the Jane Johnson that was married to John Smith, Sr. But to do so, they need to specify some reasonable reason for making that Assertion. The reason could be that they are just guessing because of the timeframe and in the same town. Or, maybe there is another Extraction that says that John Smith Sr. was married in 1891.

After enough Assertions are available, a person can be indicated as having a Relationship to another person (e.g. spouse, cousin, sibling, parent/child, etc.). And, over time, enough Relationships indicate a Family.

What Information Should Be Digitized?

These types of information sources should be digitized. Note that the number after each type denotes primary (1) or secondary (2) information.

  1. Adoption/Guardianship [1]
  2. Association, certification [2]
  3. Association, membership [2]
  4. Association, position held [2]
  5. Birth [1]
  6. Census, federal [2]
  7. Census, mortality schedule [2]
  8. Census, state [2]
  9. Church, membership and/or positions held [2]
  10. Church, minutes [2]
  11. Church: baptism/christening [2]
  12. Church: marriage [2]
  13. Court Appearance [1]
  14. Death [1]
  15. Directory, city [2]
  16. Education (attended any grade level) [1]
  17. Education, graduation/degree/major/honors [1]
  18. Election Results [1]
  19. Estate, administration [1]
  20. Estate, inventory [1]
  21. Estate, settlement [1]
  22. Family bible [2]
  23. Freeman [2]
  24. Honor/Award [2]
  25. Immigration [1]
  26. Interment, funeral service [2]
  27. Interment, obituary [2]
  28. Interment, tombstone/records [2]
  29. Land, deed [1]
  30. Land, purchase/sale [1]
  31. Land, transaction [1]
  32. License, driver's [1]
  33. License, occupational [1]
  34. License, professional [1]
  35. Marriage [1]
  36. Marriage, announcement [2]
  37. Marriage, banns/bond [2]
  38. Marriage, divorce/annulment [1]
  39. Marriage, intentions [2]
  40. Meeting (of an organization) Minutes [2]
  41. Military (discharged/mustered out) [2]
  42. Military (enlistment/mustered in) [2]
  43. Military (promotion) [2]
  44. Military (war/battles) [2]
  45. Military pension [1]
  46. Naturalization of citizenship [1]
  47. Oath Taken [2]
  48. Occupation/Job,employee/pension [2]
  49. Photograph [2]
  50. Residence, lived at [2]
  51. Residence, ship passenger [2]
  52. Residence, warning out [2]
  53. Taxes, assessment/payment [1]
  54. Town Meeting Minutes [1]
  55. Will, inclusion/heir [1]
  56. Will, proven [1]
  57. Will, written [1]
  58. Witness [1]

Proposed Schedule of States by Year

The states should be grouped so as to divide resources (i.e. people and equipment). Thus, a state with a large collection of materials to digitize should be grouped with a state with a medium size collection of materials and a state with a small size collection of materials. In the case of some states with a very large collection of materials, only two states should be in that group.

Given that criteria, here is a proposed grouping of states, one group per year. Note that at this juncture it is quite difficult to say how long any of this will actually take, it is only a guess.


Copyright © 2004- by Larry Wilson, all rights reserved