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Kimberly Powell

Insights from Ancestry.com's Blogger Day 2010

By January 11, 2010

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It's now an annual event, as Ancestry.com invited a number of genealogy bloggers out to company headquarters in Provo, Utah, for the second annual Blogger Day this past Friday. I was unable to attend last year due to a death in the family, so was delighted to join the group this year. Other genealogy bloggers in attendance included:

Coming in 2010...

There are a number of exciting new databases and image collections planned to come to Ancestry.com sometime in 2010...

  • Improved and enhanced images (2.2 million) for the 1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • A new index, including ALL fields (each of the tick marks indicating ALL members of the household, for the 1790 through 1840 U.S. censuses. Previously only the heads-of-household were included in the index.
  • The Deaf, Dumb, and Defective (DDDs) U.S. Census Schedules for CA, SC, NY, IL, NJ, WA, NE, KS, MA, IA, ME, VA, and TX
  • Vermont Vital Records, 1908-2008 (index and images)
  • Connecticut Divorce Records
  • A 1950 Census Substitute, which includes names taken from 2500+ City Directories, 1946-1960.
  • U.S. land ownership maps, 1860-1920 (plat maps) will be posted complete with indexes for each of the 7+ million names found on the maps.

It's not just microfilm anymore...
When Ancestry.com first started posting data online, they focused on the relatively inexpensive and easy to get records available on microfilm, such as census records and passenger lists. Now they have turned their focus to a greater number of original records, tucked away in archives, courthouses and even private collections around the world. These original records present quite a number of challenges during the scanning process, however, including the need to stabilize and preserve the documents both before and after scanning. We heard about a case where Ancestry.com scanned a set of soaking wet books, which later had to be thrown out due to mold damage. In other situations, a conservator may have to spend as much as four hours to unfold and flatten a mangled document prior to scanning. One example that truly highlighted the value of what Ancestry.com is doing was the loss of records for the Abruzzen region of Italy when the State Archives in L'Aquila, Italy was destroyed by an earthquake on April 6, 2009, just two days before Ancestry.com was set to start scanning their records.

Character recognition vs. Context in Indexing
Ancestry.com outsources a lot of their keying/indexing of genealogy records to firms in unexpected countries. Companies in China are used heavily, for example, because the Chinese are generally excellent at character recognition - they must know 2200 characters to read their newspaper, after all. Ancestry.com even outsources to a company in Uganda, where the native English speakers excel at indexing of documents that require context, such as obituary notices. Very little indexing is done in the United States, where the cost is more prohibitive. Some indexing (such as the recognition of names and dates in obituaries) is also automated, as in the case of many of the printed text collections.

The quest for a readable image...
It's not unusual to come across a hard-to-read record on Ancestry.com, for reasons ranging from dark microfilm to faded text. In order to provide more usuable images, Ancestry has started using a number of enhancement techniques during the scanning process, including infrared and ultraviolet light. The results are amazing in the examples we were shown!

Look for more about the Ancestry.com Blogger Weekend to come, on both this blog and that of the other bloggers in attendance (see links at the top of this post).

In the interest of full disclosure, this was an Ancestry.com sponsored event. I was not paid for my time, nor was I encouraged to paint the company in a good light. All of my out-of-pocket expenses were covered by Ancestry.com, however, including air fare, hotel and meals.

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