Here are the Genealogical Resources You are Not Seeing

In the digital era, it’s more important than ever to digitize your family history: tree data, photos, stories, interviews, home movies and compiled research. Digitizing preserves the information against loss and allows others to enjoy it now. And for future generations, it’s even valid to ask, “If it hasn’t been digitized, does it even exist?”

The Library Experience in the New World

Recently I read a thought-provoking article at Forbes.com called “In the Digital Era, If It Hasn’t Been Digitized Does It Even Exist?” Of course I had to read it. This passage caught my attention:

“Libraries as physical spaces are evolving in the digital era. In the front of the house, vast warehouse-like rooms filled with stacks of physical books, microform readers, film viewers, listening booths and other specialized equipment are being replaced by collaborative working spaces. In the stacks, materials are increasingly being moved to offsite high density storage facilities that prohibit direct researcher access. Gone are the days of serendipitous discovery, where a researcher could just walk down endless rows of stacks uncovering works they never knew existed. Today, if a scholar doesn’t know to look for a particular work, for all intents and purposes it simply doesn’t exist.”

This brought to mind my last visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the largest genealogical library in the world. The first floor, which used to be filled to the brim with cabinets of microfilm and other resources, is now the Discovery Center. (To learn more about the Discovery Center watch my YouTube video tour, shown here.)  On other floors, there have been dramatic changes as well, and the collaborative workspaces mentioned in the article are front and center. While these changes are exciting and innovative, they have changed the library experience.

This evolution also relates to our genealogy research: all those existing but still hidden-to-us history books, directories, old letters or reminiscences, photograph collections and other items in which our family’s stories may lay hidden. The chances of stumbling upon them through genealogical serendipity have been reduced.

Bottom line: knowing how to navigate online searching and card catalogs is more important than ever.

“Gone are the days of serendipitous discovery,
where a researcher could just
walk down endless rows of stacks
uncovering works they never knew existed.”

An Existential Question about Digitized Records

In the case of online archives, it’s not so much a case of what is being moved out, but rather, what has never been moved in. One of the really intriguing arguments in the Forbes.com article is what’s missing from our online digital archives: much of the 20th century.

Unlike a physical library where the latest books appear alongside books of years gone by, online repositories are often void of these newer works. This occurs because so many post-1922 published and creative works are still copyright-protected. Therefore, their contents are not as well-represented in open, free digital archives such as HathiTrust, the Internet Archive and Google Books. (I dig into these more in depth in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 105.)

The article points out, “Nowhere is the impact of copyright more apparent than the map [below], which places a dot at every distinct geographic location mentioned in English language books in the Internet Archive book archive by year of publication 1800 to 2013.”

Watch the dots as they map out mentions of place names in books over the years (the years progress along that bar on the lower left). As you’ll see, starting in about 1922 when copyright kicks in, a lot of place-mentions disappear because fewer resources are on The Internet Archive. The article concludes: “To the world of open data mining and full-text search, the most recent century largely doesn’t exist: our automated algorithms know more about 1850 than they do of 1950.”

This data visualization map makes it clear that when it comes to genealogical research and online databases, we must keep in mind the impact that copyright may be having on what we are seeing. This is not to say that it isn’t possible to find post-1922 works online. Instead, it’s a reminder that no archive, whether online or offline is complete. We need to keep fine-tuning our search skills to tease out the gems from the wide range of available resources. In specific terms, this means bringing online card catalogs usage to the forefront of our approach and familiarizing ourselves with the search “Help” pages offered on most websites that feature large online or offline collections.

Is Your Family History Missing?

Though this concept of “what is missing” clearly applies to the way we research, it also applies to decisions we make about digitizing our own family history. We want our painstakingly-reconstructed family tree data, precious family photos, stories, oral history interviews, home movies and compiled research to exist well into the future. And they won’t “exist” nearly as effectively if they aren’t digitized and shared.

This begs the question of how best to organize and share all your family history data. That’s a big topic, and it can quickly become overwhelming. But like just about everything else in genealogy, answers start at home.

I’m a big advocate of maintaining your own master family tree. This entails using a genealogy database software program (I use RootsMagic) on your own home computer which is properly backed-up with a Cloud backup service. (I use the 24/7 cloud backup service Backblaze). When your master data is on your own computer, it isn’t vulnerable to the changes experienced by websites and companies that can come and go.

If you started with building your family tree on a website, start by exporting / downloading it as a universally recognized GEDCOM file. (Here’s how to download your family tree from Ancestry.com.) Once you’ve got your master family tree, import it into your software. This master family tree on your own backed-up computer is your first step toward digitizing and sharing your family history with future generations in an organized, coherent way. You now have one place for everything, and it’s completely under your own control.

Next, start going through the stuff you haven’t organized yet: all your digitized documents, images, and research notes. Then move on to those paper files and photos that haven’t been digitized yet. A flat bed scanner will come in very handy at this stage.

The final piece of the puzzle is to share what you have learned about your family history:

These are just a few ideas.

More Help

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member, there are several videos available to you to help you start organizing, digitizing, and sharing your family history:

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

How to Archive Family History Documents

Jennifer recently wrote in with a question about how to archive family history documents, and I knew just who to turn to: The Archive Lady! Melissa Barker is joining the Genealogy Gems Podcast and blog to help answer your questions about your precious possessions.

The archive lady Melissa Barker

Let’s get right to Jennifer’s question:

Lisa,

I recently received my grandfather’s birth certificate from my cousin. My family knows that I am researching our family tree and are not surprised when I ask them for information or to take a picture of family gatherings and send it to me. Most of my mother’s side of the family live in Wisconsin and I am in New Hampshire, so I don’t get to visit with them often.

The birth certificate is very old and fragile and I’m wondering how do I store it so it will be around for future generations.

Thank you for any ideas.
Jennifer

It’s fabulous to find genealogical documents online, but there’s nothing like touching and possessing the original. I reached out to our Archive Lady here at Genealogy Gems, Melissa Barker, and here’s what she has to say about archiving family history documents:

(Full disclosure: the links below are affiliate links that will take you to the products Melissa’s recommends in Amazon. While there’s no additional cost to you, we will be compensated for the referral. Thank you for helping us keep this blog and the Genealogy Gems Podcast free!)

“Jennifer, what a wonderful treasure to receive, your grandfather’s birth certificate. Preserving original records such as birth certificates is so very important for future generations.

First, I would suggest that you scan the certificate or take a photograph of it so that it is preserved digitally. Then the certificate needs to be encapsulated in an archival sleeve. Usually these sleeves are made from Mylar, Polypropylene or Polyester and can be bought at any online archival store. These sleeves can be top loading or they can be open on two sides, which are called L-sleeves. Place the certificate in the sleeve for the first layer of protection.archival sleeveThen I suggest that you place the encapsulated certificate in an archival file folder and place in an archival Hollinger box. This will give you 3-layers of archival protection for your certificate.

Store all documents and photographs in a cool, dark and dry place.

Following these easy steps will ensure that your grandfather’s birth certificate will be enjoyed for generations to come!”

Thank you to Melissa for helping Jennifer and all our readers understand how to archive family history documents in proper way.

More Resources for How to Archive Your Family History 

LOC scrapbook videoThe Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.

It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:

  • Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
  • Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
  • How to address condition problems
  • Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
  • How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.

And here on the Genealogy Gems blog we have an article for you about understanding the impact that humidity can have you on your family history collection. Click here to read Humidity and Your Family Archive: Why It Matters.

Voice-O-Graph Brings this Listener’s Grandfather’s Voice Back from the Past

Can you imagine the excitement of stumbling into family history memorabilia that included a voice from long ago on a Voice-O-Graph record? Sometimes the challenge is not finding a family history treasure, but instead it is “unlocking” its precious contents. Here’s one Gem’s story and her request for help. Being a podcaster came in very handy in answering this email!

voice from the past

Voice-O-Graph Brings Her Father’s Voice Back

From our Genealogy Gems reader and podcast listener:

One of the things I love about Genealogy Gems is your appreciation of ephemera. I’m giddy when I find newspaper articles and documents for my family. I recently took everything out of my parents’ “picture closet” and found a treasure trove of documents and photos, such as the will my father wrote and sent to his parents when he entered the army air corps in WWII, the telegram my aunt sent when she eloped, and my grandfather’s WWI registration papers. I even found the scrap of paper on which my father wrote my mother’s phone number when he asked her on their first date, “Laura Lee HE5882”.

Voice-O-Graph Record One of the items I found is a January 1944 “Voice-O-Graph” my father recorded and sent to my grandmother. It’s in the original envelope, too. I’m interested in having the recording digitized. The reason I seek guidance is that all of the websites for audio transfer services have pretty lurid landing pages. Even if it’s not possible to get a decent dub of the old record, I’d at least like to feel confident that I’d get the 78 back in one piece.

Any ideas?  Thank you!
Lisa

Digitizing a Voice-O-Graph Record

Entrusting your precious Voice-O-Graph record with an unknown website service could be pretty unnerving. Anytime you ship something, there’s always a rish of damage or loss. Before sending away your precious heirloom, try these do-it-yourself methods to create a digital recording.

If you have several records to digitize, I usually suggest looking at purchasing your own turntable that can record to digital. I have one that looks like an old time radio. Here’s one that is on the lower cost end.

In Lisa’s case, it sounds like she has just one record to digitize. If she has a turntable that can play 78s, she can first try playing the records and recording the sound through her computer’s microphone, a handheld recorder, or a smartphone using a free app like Evernote that can record audio.

The next option would be to purchase a converter like this one. You plug your turntable into it, and then plug an external hard drive into the converter, and play and record.

By the way, if your voice-o-graph is a bit warped, this article offers help.

When I discovered an old reel-to-reel recording in my own family, I took it to our church sound system technician. They had new digital equipment, as well as also older equipment. They were able to easily record a digital version for me.

Lisa did eventually get the record digitized. Take a listen for yourself:

As you can hear, Lisa’s father’s recording has a lot of background noise. His voice is far off in the distance and could use some enhancement. But the first challenge was to get the record digitized.

Enhancing the Quality of the Voice-O-Graph Recording

Once you have created an mp3 recording, you can then try to improve the quality of the sound with a free software program called Audacity. Sound improvement is a series of fixes and edits that you apply to the audio file. It’s a gentle process of balancing the bringing forward of the voice while keeping noise tolerable. It’s definitely an art, and not a science. Initial improvements you can easily make include:

Removing “Clicks” – These appear as tall spikes on the audio track in Audacity. Carefully highlight them and delete.

Applying Noise Reduction – Apply noise reduction sparingly, and focus on the elements of the recording that are the most important to you. Noise reduction can add a sort of warped quality to the sound if applied too heavily. Apply just enough to remove unwanted noise that is getting in the way of the voice, while keeping distortion tolerable. You’ll hear a bit of this in my edited version of Lisa’s audio file below. The recording had deteriorated so much that a lot of what is said is lost. I opted to tolerate heavier nose reduction in order to make much more of the voice understandable.

Amplifying the Audio – Apply amplification to the entire track, and then go back and reduce amplification in the areas that do not include the voice. This can be a tedious process, but as you will hear in my version of the audio below, it can pay off.

The Man Behind the Voice

“My father (Capt. C. William Beringhaus) was in the 15th Air Force, 99th Bomb Group flying B-17s. This recording was made in Salt Lake City in January, 1944 just after he completed aviation cadet training in Lubbock, Texas. He was sent to Salt Lake as part of a pilot’s pool before being sent to Sioux City, Iowa for training in the B17.

Beringhaus Capt Clarence William_Rome Voice O Graph

Capt. C. William Beringhaus

In the recording it sounds like he says that he is in town and is making the recording because “Woody” made one. I believe Woody might have been Capt. Morris S. Wood, the bombardier. “

Voice-O-Graph Envelope

Do You have a Voice-O-Graph Recording?

While I have picked up a few Voice-o-Graph records complete with mailing envelopes at antique stores over the years, I’m not fortunate enough to have found one in my own family (at least not yet!).

Do you have a Voice-O-Graph recording in your family? Leave a Comment below and tell us about it. Where did you find it? Who’s voice is on the recording? And have you digitized it yet?

Read More About Preserving Your Family’s Memories

Get Photos Scanned without Getting Scammed

The Recommended File Formats for Long Term Preservation

Humidity and Your Family Archive: Why It Matters

The Power and Preservation of Oral History

tribal quest oral historyHow can you preserve a family’s history when it exists only in the memories of tribal storytellers? Visit the tribe and capture its oral history, as MyHeritage is doing with its Tribal Quest initiative.

MyHeritage recently announced a new global initiative to record and preserve the family histories of tribal people living in remote locations around the world.

Their first project is in Namibia. Next they plan to move on to Papua New Guinea. Check it out in this brief video:

MyHeritage is even recruiting volunteers who want to travel to these places and help out. You can learn more at TribalQuest.org.

FamilySearch published an article a few years ago about similar work they’ve done in several African nations. “Most African tribes have a designated ‘storyteller’ who is responsible to memorize the tribe’s oral traditions, including names of ancestors going back six to thirty generations,” it says. “FamilySearch works with chiefs and local volunteers to visit these storytellers and record the information they have been charged to remember in their heads. Sometimes the interview is audio or video recorded.” FamilySearch enters what they learn into a GEDCOM (the universal family tree file format) and put it on FamilySearch.org for others to use.

How far have YOU gone to capture your family’s oral history? Probably not to a remote tribal home! Why not use the resources below to help you with your next oral history project?

More Oral History Gems

ancestors have so much to say oral historyRecord and Share Oral History with Free MyHeritage App

Easy Family History Writing Project: Publish a Q&A (Oral History)

Premium Podcast 134: Lisa’s Tips for Recording Oral History Interviews on Your Mobile Device (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required)

Go Digital! in the New Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 183

GGP 183Digitization tips for old home movies and photos. Online storage and computer backup tips. The Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Pamela Smith Hill, the editor of the new Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, Pioneer Girl.

These are all highlights of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 183, newly-published and available for your listening pleasure on our website, through iTunes and the Genealogy Gems app.

A special feature is an exclusive interview with digitization expert Kristin Harding from Larsen Digital. She is passionate about getting old photos and movies safely digitized and into storage we can access in the years to come!

As always, you’ll hear from fellow genealogy lovers who have written in with comments and questions. Diahan Southard returns from her summer break with a great new DNA story that settled an old scandal involving U.S. President William G. Harding.

So tune in and enjoy the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 183! Then why not share it with a friend who may like it, too? Thank you!Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy

The Library of Congress (LOC) is a dream destination for many U.S. genealogy researchers, but most of us can’t get there in person. Here are 4 ways–all online–to access the mega-resources of the Library of Congress for genealogy.

library of congress genealogy

digital archive, world digital library

1. World Digital Library: for the bigger picture

The Library of Congress is home to the World Digital Library, “a collaborative international project led by the Library of Congress. It now includes more than 10,000 manuscripts, maps and atlases, books, prints and photographs, films, sound recordings, and other cultural treasures.

What can be useful to genealogists? The World Digital Library’s Timelines of U.S. History and World History work together with interactive maps on the same topics. The worldwide and historically deep scope of digital content can help you explore your deep cultural roots in another place. The History and Geography Section offers great visuals and includes (small but growing) sections on biography and genealogy.

2. Chronicling America: for finding ancestors in the news

The Chronicling America newspaper site, hosted by the Library of Congress, catalogs U.S. newspapers and provides free access to more than six million digital newspaper pages (1836-1922) in multiple languages. Run searches on the people, places and events that shaped your ancestors’ lives. Results may include:

  • Advertising: classifieds, companies your ancestor worked for or owned, store ads, runaway slaves searches and rewards and ship arrivals or departures.
  • Births & deaths: birth announcements, cards of thanks printed by the family, obituaries and death notices, funeral notices, reporting of events that led to the death, etc.
  • Legal notices and public announcements: auctions, bankruptcies, city council meetings, divorce filings, estate sales, executions and punishments, lawsuits, marriage licenses, probate notices, tax seizures, sheriff’s sale lists.
  • Lists: disaster victims, hotel registrations, juror’s and judicial reporting, letters left in the post office, military lists, newly naturalized citizens, passenger lists (immigrants and travelers), unclaimed mail notices.
  • News articles: accidents, fires, etc. featuring your ancestor; front page (for the big picture); industry news (related to occupations); natural disasters in the area; shipping news; social history articles.
  • Community and social events like school graduations, honor rolls, sporting and theater events; social news like anniversaries, church events, clubs, engagements, family reunions, visiting relatives, parties, travel, gossip columns, illnesses, weddings and marriage announcements.

With Chronicling America, you can also buy medicine online china subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics. Sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.) To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.

3. Flickr Creative Commons  – Library of Congress Photostream for old pictures

LOC ElectionFlickr Creative Commons describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.” Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others. The (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream has thousands of photos and a growing collection of front pages of newspapers.

Tip: The Library of Congress isn’t the only library posting cool images on Flickr Creative Commons. Look for photostreams from your other favorite libraries and historical societies. (Use the main search box with words like “Ohio library” and limit results to groups. You’ll see who’s posting images you care about and you can even follow them!)

4. Preserving Your History video for archiving your family history

LOC scrapbook videoThe Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.

It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:

  • Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
  • Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
  • How to address condition problems
  • Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
  • How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.

Also check this out: the Preserving Your Family Treasures webpage on working with originals at the Library of Congress website.

More Resources

The Library of Congress is Your Library, a four-minute video introduces the Library of Congress and gives a brief history.

VIDEO: Exploring LOC.gov, a three-minute video highlighting the Library’s online collections and providing searching techniques.

How to Find Stuff at the Largest Library in the World, a 5-minute introductory video showing how to use subject headings, research databases and other helpful tools to find books, photos, sheet music, manuscripts and more at the Library of Congress or other locations.

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