Ready to start your Australian genealogy research? A Legacy Tree Genealogist walks you through essential Australian history, geography, genealogical record types and online resources to trace your family tree “down under.”
Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post.
Australian genealogy can be straightforward, but you do need to know a time period and a place, as well as the family name you are researching. Australia has only been a single country since 1901; before that there were colonies and territories beginning with the first European settlement in 1788. Even today the individual states and territories have their own governments and record systems with no single combined place to research. Therefore, knowing the time period and place where your ancestors lived is essential.
Australian history and geography
European settlement began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which included both male and female convicts and military and naval personnel. The colony became known as New South Wales, and occupied the eastern half of the continent of Australia including Tasmania (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land). The western half of the continent was never part of New South Wales and was originally known as the Swan River Colony, and later Western Australia.
With the exception of Western Australia, the other states and colonies were originally part of New South Wales. Victoria was known as the Port Phillip settlement before it became self-governing in 1851, and Queensland was the Moreton Bay settlement until 1859. Early records for both of those colonies will be in New South Wales, so it is important to know when the individual colonies and territories were established.
Australia in 1856 – image courtesy Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Australia)
Similarly, a knowledge of geography is essential, as Australia is a huge continent with most of the population along the coastline. Another complicating factor is that there may be places with the same name in one or more colonies/states. For instance, if researching ancestors from Maryborough, it would be necessary to identify whether you should be researching Maryborough in Queensland or Maryborough in Victoria.
To make matters even more confusing, some places changed their name! For instance, until 1911 Innisfail in Queensland was called Geraldton, not to be confused with Geraldton in Western Australia on the other side of the continent. Bendigo was originally known as Sandhurst, and many of the goldfield towns in central Victoria were known under the broader name of the Mount Alexander goldfield. Knowing the history and geography will help you immensely as you embark on your Australian genealogy research.
Getting started with Australian genealogy research
If you have Australian genealogy there are many wonderful free online Australian resources that will give you a head start in researching your ancestors and learning more about their heritage. Wikipedia – Australia is a good starting place for an overview if you are unfamiliar with Australian history and geography. Depending on where your ancestors were, read the appropriate sections of history and geography. For example, convicts were sent to New South Wales and Tasmania until 1842 when the colony was opened up for free settlement, but Western Australia only received convicts from 1850 to 1868. The gold rushes in Victoria in the 1850s attracted thousands of people, as did later rushes in Queensland in the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s.
Many immigrants were looking for their own land and a better life for their families. Each of the colonies had their own immigration schemes in a bid to attract as many people as they could. Most colonial passenger lists are now indexed and can be searched online at the various state archives. Some states have even digitized the passenger lists, which may be viewed freely online. State archives are a wonderful free online resource, and include offices such as the Queensland State Archives, Public Record Office Victoria, or the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.
A free useful portal site is CoraWeb – helping you trace your family history in Australia and elsewhere. It is divided up into categories such as archives, cemeteries, convicts, maps, probate and will records, shipping, migration, and other genealogy-related topics.
Australian birth, marriage, and death records
Like everything else, you need to know an approximate date and place before you begin to research birth, marriage, and death records. Prior to civil registration there are some church records which consist of mostly baptisms and marriages, with a few burials. Civil registration started at various times, and different colonies collected different information at different times, with South Australia having the least information on the certificates.
Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) was the first to introduce civil registration in 1838, with Western Australia following in 1842, South Australia in 1842, Victoria in 1851, and New South Wales (including Queensland at that time) in 1856. Most states have online indexes available for searching, but only Queensland and Victoria provide digital copies of certificates for download after purchase. Western Australia still requires researchers to mail their applications with no online ordering.
Tasmania is perhaps the most helpful – with their early church records and births, marriage, and death certificates indexed, and digital copies online for free through the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. The Tasmanian Name Index includes free indexed and digitized copies of various genealogical resources.
Federation in 1901 and the National Archives
The individual colonies voted to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and since then there has also been a Commonwealth (later Federal) government. This took over some government functions such as the military, immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, although some states continued to have their own immigration schemes. This means that post-1901, researchers need to use the National Archives of Australia, as well as the various state archives.
In 1911 the final changes to the map of Australia took place, with the separation of the Northern Territory from South Australia, and the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory within southern New South Wales.
With the centenary of World War One, the National Archives of Australia has digitized all army dossiers and made them freely available online. RecordSearch is the main database, and it can be searched in a number of ways including a “Name Search” and “Passenger Arrivals.” While not every record series is indexed by name, it can be useful to search for an individual’s name, especially if they arrived post-1901 or served in the military during either World War.
Australian Newspapers and Photographs
In Australia, digitized newspapers are freely available online through Trove, which is maintained by the National Library of Australia. Along with newspapers, Trove also includes government gazettes, books, articles, maps, manuscripts, photographs, archived websites, and other resources. If you are interested in what a place looked like at the time your ancestors lived there, then try an image search in Trove. Remember that it is continually being added to, so it is essential that you revisit your searches from time to time. (Click here to read another Genealogy Gems article about Trove.)
Christoe Street, Copperfield Queensland in 1876 when my ancestors lived there. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland via Trove.
Individual state libraries also have genealogy sections with online guides to various family history topics. These can be a good place to start, and most participate in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ where you can get advice and information. However, they cannot do individual research – just answer questions.
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Show Notes: Do you have a revolutionary war ancestor? Have you thought about joining the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)? I’ve invited Barbara Jurs of the DAR to explain the process. In this video, you’ll learn the answers to the questions:
Barbara: Many people have the misconception that it is just a lineage society. But the DAR was founded On October 11, 1890, and it is a service organization. Many people do not know that it is a service organization.
Some of the things that we really emphasize are historic preservation, education, patriotism, good citizenship, and we honor our ancestors. We are devoted to educating youth, preserving our past, promoting genealogy, American history, and all kinds of service projects. Anything that you have an interest in, you can find a chapter to use your talents and gifts to help the chapter in the state and the nation. It’s a very vibrant and exciting type of organization to be a part of.
2. What do I need to do first to apply to the DAR?
Lisa: There will be many people watching who are in the same boat that I’m in, knowing that they have a revolutionary war ancestor. They think they know how they connect to that person. Give us kind of the high-level overview of what are the steps of the application process.
Barbara: There are many ways to start the process. DAR recommends that you start with what you know, which is what we are told to do in genealogy. Start with making your pedigree chart or writing down as much as you know about your family. Then, begin finding documents.
I work with each individual a little bit differently. If the individual knows she has a DAR relative, that really is a good way to start. If you have a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a great grandmother, and you know that name, that is very helpful, because she will have a verified application that will provide you a lineage that has been verified by DAR.
It’s also helpful to approach a local-area chapter. You can also go on the DAR website and express your interest. Someone will get in touch with you to tell you what chapters are in the area and help you start that process so you can go visit them.
Each chapter has a registrar. Some chapters have linage research committee chairs. The registrar will meet you and take your information. She can help you determine whether you have a verified patriot.
There’s some work you can do at home at the DAR website. At the top, you’ll see, Join GRS,Give, Members, Genealogy, Blog and Shop. The Join button will take you directly to the area that I was mentioning, that can help you. There you can fill out an interest survey or get in touch if you don’t know someone in your area.
The section that says Genealogy tells you all kinds of things as to where you can begin. In addition to starting with what you know, it also encourages you to speak to your relatives and begin collecting documents. There are some databases available such as the Ancestor Search, the Membership Search, and the Descendants Database. All have information of all verified applications that go back to the very beginning.
In your case, you told me you had a patriot ancestor. That was the first thing that I did before I even looked at your pedigree chart. I checked to see if he’s in the system. We check to make sure there are not any red notes, meaning that there were problems that have been discovered since a person became a member using that Patriot, such as an error in linage. The registrar can go in, look to see how many applications there are, and when the last one was verified.
You can do a lot of that on your own. When you have identified a chapter that you’re very interested in, the registrar has the ability to go a little bit further and to see what we call images that can help the applicant in the process. But there is a lot you can do on your own. Let’s just say for example, that you did not know who your Patriot was. You could use the Descendants Database, if you had your pedigree chart, and you could plug in the names of all of your descendants. A lot of people don’t use this database, but it’s wonderful for genealogists because you can find lineages. So, you put your chart up there, and I actually did this in preparation to see if there are applicants in your line. I was hoping that maybe I’d find a great-grandparent or someone much closer. We all hope that as registrars. I was able to identify two children of your patriot who is Jehu Burkhardt, and there were some children that were identified, and one of yours is a verified son, Henry.
In addition to searching on names, you can add a state if you know where he was born and pull up different suggestions. And that helps, especially if you don’t know if you have an ancestor. But if you have an ancestor, like you did, then I sort of start at the top, because at the time we started talking, I did not know your full pedigree. The other way is, like the DAR suggested, that if you know your pedigree, you would go work your way up. If you have a DAR member, you can put the member number in, such as an aunt or your grandmother, if she will share the DAR number. The general public won’t be given any names of anyone that is living, because DAR is very, very protective about identity.
Lisa: If somebody hasn’t gotten that far back, then really, it’s starting with the genealogical research and citing your sources. We are going to need those sources to provide the proof along the way of the connections. When it comes to those searchable databases, just to clarify, do we need to have an account? Is there any kind of restriction, or can the general public go in and start searching?
Barbara: Absolutely! You can put in ancestors’ names to find out if they are a verified patriot. You can use the descendants and see if any of the descendants are in lineages. You can use the Membership to see if you find that there is a member in your family. For example, if you have an aunt that is a member you can put that in and find out whether there is a verified lineage. Hopefully, there is one and it doesn’t have any issues. As more and more applications are done, and more and more research is done, sometimes those very early applications were not done with as many sources as we have now, and they didn’t follow the genealogical proof standards. They were many with hearsay or letters or books, and the DAR has, and rightly so, been putting a lot of emphasis on the proof because it is proof of bloodline, biological.
I also forgot to say to that they have a wonderful section for Bible records. Again, when you work with the registrar, the registrar can actually help you with your research to identify whether there’s a Bible with your actual family. The DAR has been collecting Bible records and is still collecting Bible records and transcribing them. It’s a fabulous project!
We also have what is called the GRC, and that has many, many books. DAR daughters have been transcribing and going to graveyards and going to repositories for many years and transcribing and making books available that can be utilized. In some cases, when it’s an actual transcription, it is accepted for part of the lineage proof. The Library link to the DAR is incredible!
And then there’s a Patriots Index also. You can go to the Patriots Index and find out about all kinds of patriots. The DAR has an incredible amount of genealogical information that even a non-DAR member can utilize. I know many of the sons of the American Revolution applicants, because the SAR usually accepts a DAR application, not vice versa. They will often go on the public site to see if there are lineages to help with the individual in their SAR application, and also other societies too.
3. How much genealogical proof do I need to apply to the DAR?
Lisa: So, as you were looking at my pedigree chart and you were looking people up in the system, we verified that Jehu served in the Revolutionary War. Does the system, when we go in search, tell us that I indeed have somebody at some point who was a member? Did you find other members? There must have been somebody I guess who tied into that same ancestor. But how do I know when I look at it what work I might need to do to make sure that I can prove that I connect to that patriot?
Barbara: That’s a good question, Lisa. Yes, I did look up Jehu Burkhardt and there are 37 DAR members who have joined under him. The most recent was probably about three years ago. That particular person went in on a different sibling than yours. And you are under the son, Henry. And that is an important point: when you’re looking for your Patriot if you do know a patriot, knowing who the child is, whether it’s male or female is extremely important. When you pull up on the database, it helps you figure out which applications will go under that particular child.
As with doing genealogy, you always have to remember that sometimes you’ve got to go out into the sibling lines. You were lucky in that Henry was proven. But let’s just say that there was another sibling of Henry that you descended from, and he had not been a proven line. You would want to find out what documentation the descendant, the DAR member, submitted for that sibling. Maybe there’s a Bible record that lists all of the children. That’s when you really begin the process seriously with a chapter and with a registrar, or lineage research chair. The registrar will actually be able to go in and look at the documents that were submitted. That can help you in your genealogical proofs.
Now, you asked about the genealogical proofs. For DAR, oh, gosh, I calculated at one time, but with eight generations, the number of tiny data entries that we make from the name of the person, which sometimes has a first name, a middle name, and a last name, the date of birth, which has a day, a month and a year, and then the location which can have a town, a county and a state. If you look at each generation and see the number of tiny data entry that you need, and then multiply that by eight, you come up with anywhere from over 300 to 400 tiny facts. So, as you collect your documents, you always have to be thinking about these things.
You need to be able to prove a date of birth, and a place of birth and date of death, and a place of death. That varies according to the generation. So, in generations, one, two, and three, DAR expects completeness. And so, you would need to, for example for yourself, provide a complete amount of information for your birth. And it used to be a requirement than if you were married, you had to provide your spouse’s information. That is now optional. If you have children or nieces and nephews, you may want to go ahead and do that, or if you anticipate grandchildren wanting to join down the road, include them because it makes it a whole lot easier. If you go ahead and do that and have it in the system, then it gets verified.
The fourth generation is a tricky generation in the sense that the DAR says that beginning with the fourth you only have to provide a minimal amount of information and that is either a place of birth and date or a place of death and the date of death. One or the other, not half of each. The fourth generation is in a time when vital records are usually available. So, DAR expects that if the vital records are available, you should try your hardest to get those. My mentor registrar was a registrar for 33 years and she always taught me to treat the fourth generation like the third. In other words, try to go past the minimum and try to get your death certificates, your birth certificates, and marriage certificates which I really encourage because it proves the name changes. The easiest way is to get a marriage record. And there is a difference between a marriage record and a marriage certificate. Try to get that because that’s the easiest way to prove a name change.
Then, for the fifth generation all the way up to the Patriot, follow that same procedure. When you get to the patriot there are a lot of little caveats to it, because the patriot has a set of data that is required. And if he is already verified, you don’t have to redo it. The spouse has another. The registrar has a guidelines book, and she can tell you specifically what your scenario is because she can go in and look to see how many pieces of data are missing. But basically, the Patriot needs a date of death and a place of death and a birth.
4. How do I apply for the DAR?
Lisa: Are we going to be submitting this information on a printed form? Or, are we providing the information to the registrar, and they are entering it? Or are we entering the information directly into a website form? And what method are we going to be delivering all this in our final application?
Barbara: Good questions. DAR has paper forms that are still being utilized. And we now have gone to an electronic version as well. You can do that in collaboration with your registrar.
For example, if you had approached me and said, hey, I’m interested in joining the Battle of Cal pens chapter in South Carolina, I would download the most recent application for your patriot. In your case, it was about three years ago. I would then do what we call build an app. There would be an application populated automatically with your ancestor. I would take out all of the generations that have nothing to do with you. That’s when I would look to see if you have at least a great-grandmother who was in DAR, and if you had, then I would go to that application and download it and merge it or cut a copy and paste it in. And that’s where each chapter is a little bit different depending upon how large they are, and how trained their genealogists are.
Some chapters have big teams, where the registrar can download that application, send it with the permission of the applicant, and have people work with that individual and help them build it. Others, like in my case, have many ladies who need a lot of help with the lineage research. I’m training people in my chapter. I can send your information to a trusted DAR member and say I would like you to be working with this particular person, she can send it to you electronically and let you fill it in is to the best of your ability with the documents that you have. The electronic version is totally different. It has a totally different set of processes. And that’s where you do it in a chapter where that is being practiced.
5. How do I find a local DAR chapter near me to apply through?
Lisa: It sounds like it’s a teamwork approach with a local chapter. So how does a new applicant decide which chapter to join? Do they each have their own website? Or would do we do that through the main website?
Barbara: We’ve had several Texans move to South Carolina and they found out about the chapters in my region by going to the DAR national website and filling out the electronic Member Interest Form on the DAR website. It gets filtered back to our South Carolina membership chair or maybe directly to a district director or maybe to several chapters of the regions. In your particular case I did a little bit of research to find out what chapters are in the area where you live, and I can share that information with you. Then you can contact each of those chapters from the website.
Google to find state chapters. Example: Texas DAR chapters
Visit the local chapter website to learn more about their chapter and their projects. And sometimes they have Facebook pages which are very active. I encourage you to visit because most chapters now love to have guests. And once you make that contact with either the Regent, which is the President, or a registrar or a membership chair (if they have one), they will invite you to a meeting.
If you’re still in a working career, you might want to find a chapter that meets on the weekends or in the evenings. But if that doesn’t matter, it may be that choosing a day of the week is more important, because you might have other obligations.
Because you have communicated to me that you didn’t already have some chapters in mind, I would recommend going to the DAR website and looking and reading all about DAR and then googling Texas chapters and choosing your area of where you live and what would be the closest to you and contacting them.
If you are joining during this time, you’ll be joining during a very exciting time. Most chapters and the National are gearing up for the 250th anniversary of the revolution. So, many chapters are doing all kinds of things to get ready for that.
The value of being a member of the DAR
Lisa: I’d love to know what has been involved in the DAR meant for you. What do you like most about it?
Barbara: Oh my gosh, Lisa. Well, I was lucky that I was in the Children of the American Revolution from about age 11 or 12 until going off to college. My grandmother had been in the DAR. I did not know it was her dream for me to be in both organizations. She died when I was a young child, but she instilled in me as did all of my grandparents, a love for genealogy and patriotism, and history.
As careers come and families and so forth, there was no one that told me to join right after the Children of the American Revolution and go right into DAR. I wish I had known that. But that’s okay. I had the opportunity to go and visit a chapter and join. And it has been one of the most rewarding experiences.
I just love the idea of learning about our Constitution, learning about the history of the nation, but also the history of the region where I live. I am native South Carolinian, although I’ve lived in other southeastern states and my ancestry are all Northern. I learned so much about how the backwoods men and the militia in the upstate of South Carolina were so involved in the Battle of Cowpens and Kings Mountain. Having grown up in historic Camden, South Carolina, where the battle of Camden was, I was very aware of that.
I also loved that the projects that many of the chapters do support veterans, support patriotism, support education. We give scholarships and do all kinds of things for schools. It’s just unbelievable the amount of service that we can do. And so, I love that aspect of what we as women are doing for our nation.
I can just talk on and on! I love the camaraderie of other women who enjoy learning. And so many of the chapters have incredible programs that can touch on all topics. I know that my education has grown so much.
And then of course, loving genealogy as I do, I’m working on applications and memorializing these ancestors. I enjoy helping the ladies that join and telling them the stories that I discover that they may not have known. I know I had a revolutionary war ancestor, but in the process, you’re starting from the time you are born, and having to research or look at all of the generations, and you learn things about your family, or learn things about the family that you are helping the applicant with, that they don’t know. I could just go on and on! You can tell I’m so excited about it. I think all the lineage societies have this enthusiasm and excitement also.
Lisa: Well, I appreciate you sharing your enthusiasm and excitement with all of us. I’m excited to explore it further and do my homework and make some of those final connections. I’m going to take you up on the idea of visiting a couple of local chapters and seeing where I’d like to get involved. There’s just nothing better than learning more about family history, our country, and how fortunate we are to be in this wonderful, wonderful country. I have a new grandbaby on the way, so there are lots of generations to come to share it with.
Barbara: When I was doing yours, I got so excited because not your direct line, but the sibling, ended up settling in a county where I have property. And I was looking at documents and seeing names of clerks and seeing rivers and talking about the deeds and how they got there. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is just so wonderful. I wish she could see pictures of where part of her family went to but even before that, the North Carolina connection, and the Yadkin River Valley is such a beautiful area.” The sibling that ended up in Ashe County came from parents that would have gone into that Yadkin Valley. It’s wonderful to be able to share with someone that lives far away from their ancestral area when you’ve had personal experience with it.
Lisa: It’s amazing how many connections we all have. I’m sure that happens a lot as you visit with different people. We certainly find that in genealogy, that serendipity that happens when we sit next to someone at the archives or the library and realize we’re related. It’s amazing.
It’s been wonderful to talk with you. I’m going to check back in with you after I do more homework. Barbara, thank you so much for helping all of us learn more about the DAR and how to get involved.
Barbara: It has been an honor Lisa, to talk with you and to share your excitement and also an honor to represent South Carolina, DAR and the national DAR, and my chapter. So, thank you so much!
The 1950 census must be indexed so that we can search for relatives by name, location and much, much more. You can help with this exciting project, and no special skills or background are required. Jim Ericson of FamilySearch 1950 Census Community Project explains what’s happening and how you can get involved.
Lisa: The 1950 US federal census was released by the National Archives just a short time ago on April 1 2022. But it was just a release of the digitized images of the census pages. The indexing of those records happens afterwards. It’s really the indexing that makes it possible for all of us to be able to search the records and find our families. Here to tell us about that really important indexing project. To get all this done is Jim Ericson from FamilySearch. They are heading up this project. Welcome, Jim.
Jim: Thank you, Lisa. It’s wonderful to be here with you today.
Lisa: I know you guys are so busy. You’re right on the heels of Rootstech which just wrapped up. And now we’re here with the release of the US Federal Census for 1950! Do you have somebody you’re looking forward to seeing in that census record?
Jim: Yeah, both of my parents will be there. My dad will be 20 years old. He turned 21 that year after the census. And my mom is 15, she will just have had her 15th birthday.
I know where my mom was. She was in Salt Lake City. But I have no idea where my dad was in 1950 as a 20 year old. He’d left college and I know that he had enlisted in the in the army. But I don’t know. He also worked in San Francisco for a couple of years. I don’t know if he’ll be in San Francisco, or where exactly where he would have been in 1950 when the census was taken so there’s a little mystery right there.
Lisa: Absolutely, and that’s a perfect example of why the indexing is so important, because you’ll be able to name search for him when this is done.
The History of FamilySearch
Before we jump into that indexing project, for those who maybe aren’t familiar or haven’t used FamilySearch, tell us what familysearch.org does and what it offers the genealogist.
Jim: FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization. We were founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah.
FamilySearch is more of a recent incarnation of the organization that kind of reflects when we went online, and when we started publishing CD ROMs in the 1990s.
We’ve been microfilming and digitizing records since 1938. We started a worldwide project to go and collect records from around the world. Microfilm was really the innovation that allowed us to store all those records in a library. Getting a whole bunch of books or physical records in one location was difficult.
Since then, all of our record operations are now digital. All of our records are captured digitally now. We have worldwide operations in hundreds of countries. We publish over about a billion records a year.
As a nonprofit, we partner with commercial entities who have an interest in profit, because we know that they know how to innovate. And that also helps our resources go further through partnerships with these commercial entities. The 1950 census is actually an example of that sort of a partnership. We’re working on this with Ancestry and using the resources that they have.
FamilySearch has a collaborative family tree where you can see what others know about your family. We have, like I mentioned, 10 billion records that are online. We have free resources to learn how to do family history. And we really try to just bring people wherever they are, to the experiences that can help them learn about their family.
(04:32) Lisa: It’s amazing how much it’s grown! I remember the days of the CD ROMs with the record sets that we used to order. And now so much is available for free from home. Users just need to sign up for a free account to use the website and take advantage of the records. And I love the Wiki. It’s such a wonderful treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to genealogy research
Let’s talk about the most exciting and the newest record collection, which is the 1950 census. When it was released by the National Archives did you get all the images? Does that mean instantaneous publication on familysearch.org? How did that work initially?
Jim: Well, 10 years ago, in 2012, when they released the 1940 census, we were actually waiting at the National Archives with a van and hard drives. We had to transfer all the data onto hard drives and take them to our data facility in Virginia.
This time, everything was available online. Everything was downloaded and uploaded to our servers immediately. There was high demand. So that was one of the challenges that we faced was making sure that we’re going to be able to download those images, over 6 million images is a lot of images to be able to download. And those images include records for 151 million people. So that’s a lot of information at high quality, resolution. So that was actually the first hurdle.
And since we are doing this project with Ancestry, we also have to wait for Ancestry to do the same thing and download the images, to be able to process them to create their computerized index with their own handwriting recognition technology that then comes to us. It makes it so much easier to review an index as opposed to starting with transcription from scratch. So, there are so many innovations that have taken place. But from the National Archives, the online delivery of images was one of those innovations.
Lisa: How fantastic to be able to do that online. I can imagine that speeding it up. And then you’ve got artificial intelligence, which is already impacting how we use genealogy websites, how we access digitized books, and here you are using it to help index the records.
I’d love to know kind of a comparison between the speed at which you indexed the 1940 census which I thought was pretty darn quick to how that looks for 1950.
Jim: There is a great question, and we’re still learning how this is going to play out with the 1950 census.
The history of census indexing by FamilySearch
One of the first projects that we did as FamilySearch when we were publishing, CD ROMs was the 1880 census. The 1880 census took us more than a decade to press on to CD ROM. It was a huge project! It was crowd sourced, but before the advent of the internet. It was sending packets and physical papers around and then gathering them and then creating a CD ROM.
We went from a project like that, to doing the 1940 census just over a decade later in a matter of about six months. So already the technology was just astounding because of what you’re able to do because of the internet. Now you have the artificial intelligence, the handwriting, character recognition, and then you have innovations that we’re doing with the crowdsourcing. And all of a sudden, you’re able to take those tasks that we’re all human, I guess bounded by human capabilities, and you’re now allowing the computer to do what the computer can do.
With the 1950 census, we are actually indexing or reviewing this automated index for every single field that was captured in the 1950 census. It’s way more data than we were dealing with for the 1940 census. Because of the cost and the time, we just wanted to make sure that we just had the most logically relevant fields captured, so occupation, and some of those fields were seen as extra fields. But for 1950, we recognize that we can do a lot more in terms of the experiences that we can provide and that these other entities can provide if we have a full index, so that’s one of the big innovations. It’s going really well.
When will the 1950 census index be complete?
We have a goal to get it all done by Flag Day, so that’s June 14. That will be about two months from when we really got the project going and up to speed. That just depends on how many people come and participate.
There’s more than one way to participate. We feel like we have a lot of options, and it’s more accessible than it’s ever been because of how recent (the 1950 census) is. Recognizing handwriting from 1950s is not that different from recognizing handwriting from a week ago. Things haven’t changed that dramatically. And so, it’s a really accessible experience. And these are people that everybody knows. It’s kind of fun to come in and see what you can find in those areas where your family is from.
Innovations in the 1950 Census Index
(11:07) Lisa: Exactly. You said something which I hope everybody really appreciates, which is that you indexing every field. I mean, you must have gotten excited when you heard that was really going to be possible. It’s a game changer because now you can slice and dice data in so many ways. You can look up everybody who worked on the railroad or whatever the fields are that were filled out. What do you think the impact will be of that? Will that change anything about genealogy research?
Jim: Yes, it will. And not just genealogical research but also understanding the makeup of our country in 1950. And really understanding the history of our nation because that is part of your family history is enabled by capturing those additional fields. Being able to see differences in income, differences in occupation from region to region, being able to easily see, neighborhoods.
The address for the 1950 census is similar to the 1940 census in that it’s a vertical capture down the side of the forms. So that is something that just allows people to see what’s there today, if their house is still there. These are experiences that that we’ve dreamed of but without the index it is impossible to provide that sort of an experience. And so now with the commercial entities and what we’re trying to do, you’re going to have a lot of different experiences now that are unlocked and available because of these innovations. And especially with Ancestry’s (technology) it has enabled us to do this.
Is the 1950 census available for free?
(13:06) Lisa: Since you’re partnering together, is it available at Ancestry for free as well as for FamilySearch?
Jim: Ancestry will make their own businesses decisions. But yes, initially, it’ll be available for free. They’ve opened up the 1940 census recently, and that’s been available for free. I don’t know what all their future plans are. It allows them a lot of flexibility on how to do that. Of course, we make everything we can available for free at FamilySearch.
Again, there’s going to be a lot of different experiences that are available around this record set. So, it’s exciting going all the way back to how the National Archives made it available. It’s really democratizing the records. I think their goal is to just make it accessible to as many people as possible. And then it’s these other organizations that have a vision for what they can do with those records.
Lisa: Yes, and you guys certainly had the vision around the indexing project. That’s something that is such a skill that you’ve all developed and really fine-tuned. You’ve been able to crowdsource so much of what then becomes available to everybody.
Tell folks how they can get involved in it. And I’m really interested in some of the changes. I was very excited to hear that people will be able to have, in a way a more personal indexing experience. Tell folks about that.
Jim: Something that everybody wants to do when they come in and volunteer and get involved in a project is to find their own family. That will be expedited. When the index is published and available, after it’s been reviewed, everybody’s going to have that wonderful experience. But even on the review side, we’ve made it so people can search for a specific location down to the county level, or, in some cases down to the city level. Then you can actually search for a surname, or last name within that location. Now, if your family hasn’t already been reviewed, you’ll be able to review it if it hasn’t been reviewed. That just means that it’s going to be published sooner, because progress has already been made. And then you can come back and review it.
How to make corrections to the 1950 census index
(15:42) If for some reason, the person who reviewed it did it wrong, you can still make corrections. We do corrections on FamilySearch. Ancestry does corrections on Ancestry. And we are sharing whatever corrections are made on FamilySearch with Ancestry so they can get the benefit of any corrections that are made on our website as well. So that’s terrific.
For the 1940 census we had 163,000 people come and help and get involved. And with how easy it is for 1950, we think that we’ll have well over 200,000 people who will come and want to review these names.
How to volunteer to index the 1950 census
(16:30) If you want to get involved, there are a couple different places you can go. But the easiest place to remember is familysearch.org/1950census. And on that page, there’s a lot of information. Near the top of the page there’s a big link to join the project and to come over and participate.
The project is ongoing. All the states are there, some have already been published. Come and get involved and see what you can do. It’s going very quickly, and people are really enjoying it. We’re glad that it’s along as quickly as it is.
Lisa: Volunteers can do this from home from their computer. Is there a certain minimum commitment that they have to make or a certain minimum amount of technological ability?
Jim: No. This is again one of the things that’s kind of fun. I mentioned that briefly before there’s actually more than one experience or a way to participate.
(17:42) The standard way that most people who’ve done it before want to participate is what we call the Household Review. With the household review we try to identify from the head of the house, all the members of the household or the family to the next head of the house. That can sometimes cross pages on the census forms. That is an every field review. You can review as many of those fields as you want. And then the next person can come and pick up where you left off. So that’s really fun. It does require you to be on a computer.
(18:27) There are two other types of tasks. One doesn’t require you to be on a computer. You can be on your handheld device, your smartphone. It is what we call Name Review. So, instead of reviewing all of the fields, you can download our app called Get involved. FamilySearch Get Involved is available on the iTunes Store or the Apple Store, as well as from Google, the Android store. You can download the app and you can just start looking at the images where we have the names of the people in the census. Then you can compare that with what the computer thinks it is. You can either say yes, that’s right or no, and you can actually enhance or fix what the name is. You can do hundreds of these in an hour. I’ve done it, and it’s a fun activity. It’s really engaging if you like seeing that you’re making a difference in terms of volume. It’s a really fun way to participate.
Again, the computer doesn’t always get it right. So, you have to be really careful in the review process. But it’s super easy to just look at the image and look at the index value for the name and just make sure it’s right. You don’t have to have the app though.
(20:00) So, there’s the Household Review or the Name Review. And then the other task is the Header Review.
every census image, every census ledger, has a header that includes all of the location information and the information about the enumeration itself. And reviewing that is a separate task. We broke that one out because again, the data is formatted differently. If you want to go in and help us, those have to be done as well to be able to publish the dataset. We invite you to come in and see what states still have the header review available, and you can help us finish out that as well. It’s not as exciting because it doesn’t include the names of the people. But it still has to be done to be able to publish the reviewed index.
Lisa: I hadn’t thought about the header, but that’s pretty important. If that’s not right, then we get way off track pretty quickly. It includes our enumeration district number, the county, etc. That makes a lot of sense.
Well, Jim, it sounds like you guys have really been innovating over at FamilySearch. We’re grateful. We’re grateful that you’re giving everybody watching an opportunity to also give back a little bit and we can all pull together and get this done by Flag Day.