Thursday, January 16, 2014

Has a Record You Need Been Digitized?

Collections Access | Balboa
The digitization of print materials from archives, libraries, and many genealogical societies is an on-going phenomenon and a wonderful gift to genealogists. More and more records are becoming available online everyday. This being said, we must remember that even today with so many digitization projects springing up all over, the majority of records are not online. We still need to be thorough and diligent in our hunt for documents that exist only on paper or microfilm/fiche
File:2004 microfilm reader 1117365851.jpg -
Wikimedia Commons,
 in some small courthouse, church or local library. Still, it is always beneficial to keep up with what organizations have put some of their records online.

Before we talk about new ventures in digitizing records and books, we need to begin with the two mega providers of online genealogy information, (free) and (subscription.)
These two organizations have been offering census records, vital records, passenger lists and many other types of documents online to eager genealogists since the 1990s.

In her book, The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy, Kimberly Powell discusses many governmental agencies and companies who offer online records, including the following: of land

1.  US Bureau of Land Management has over 2 million federal land records for public-land states from 1820-1908 at (p. 120)
Ellis Island in 1905.jpg - Wikipedia, 
the free

2. Ellis Island has passenger records for immigrants who came to Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924 at (p. 160)

(note: Since The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy 2nd edition was published in 2011, newer digital projects aren’t covered, but the book gives an excellent overview to records one can find online.)

For more information on digitized records in America, the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Virtual Library web page is a great place to visit. You will find links to online collections including American Presidential Inaugural addresses from Columbia University, Foreign Relations of the US from the University of Wisconsin and Trails of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 from Brigham Young University.
National Archives And Records
 Administration Royalty Free Stock

The public’s amazing embrace of the internet has shown archives and libraries the need to provide online access to their records. But the budgets of many of these institutions are not able to cover the costs associated with moving into the digital arena on their own.

Digitizing records isn’t cheap. In an online article, APPENDIX VI: Comparative Costs for BookTreatments, from the Council on Library and Information Resources, we read:

“The average cost for digitizing a book page, including scanning, metadata creation, automated generation of OCR and minimally-encoded text, and associated activities, including identifying and preparing materials, quality control, and project management, is $5.32. For a brief, 300-page book, this works out to $1,600.00.”

Because of the high costs of digitization, some institutions are joining together in this effort to make records available for all online. As Kimberly Powell states in her online genealogy book:

“Collaborative databases, in which several libraries or societies pool their records and resources, are also becoming common online.” p. 127

An example of this type of partnership is Hathitrust Digital Library. In her article, “HathiTrustDigital Library - A Researcher's Guide,”
Kimberly Powell describes this Digital Library as:

“…a growing partnership of over seventy major research institutions and libraries, offers online access to over 10.7 million digitized books, about 30% of which are in the public domain.”

Be sure to check out Ms. Powell’s Guide to HathiTrust to familiarize yourself with what the site has available and to learn how to navigate the site.
Digital Public Library of America

Another partnership for record digitization is the DigitalPublic Library of America (DPLA.)  In the institution’s website, it says that DPLA

“brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world.” 

I tried a search on DPLA’s site. In the search box, I put “Irish in Chicago,” and a screen opened which listed several responses to my query. The first item in the list was: Biographical history of the American Irish in Chicago  by Charles Ffrench. I clicked on “View Object.” The screen that came up was a surprise – it was the HathiTrust site with bibliographic information on the book and a “Viewability” section with a button, “Full View,” that brings up the complete contents.  

We mentioned FamilySearch earlier in this post as a pioneer in the digitization of documents. The organization has launched a new project, a commitment to the genealogy community to digitize all of its own holdings, and it has teamed up with several public libraries to include their family history materials in the project as well. With this new project the organization is digitizing books that could previously only be accessed at its
LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City,,
 Library in Salt Lake City. This is a monumental effort and will take some time, but FamilySearch periodically announces its progress in its blog

Thanks to the digitization of many records, books, periodicals and journals, researchers now have access to so much more information right in their own homes. Be sure to check institutions in your target localities to see if they have made any of their material available online or if they have become partners in a consortium of institutions dedicated to digitizing their holdings.

Finally, we end with the question that we started with: Has a record you need been digitized?

To find the answer, start with the name of the target ancestor and check and/or Use the name search function in either program to see what records, if any, are available for that name. Next, go to the state where the particular record you are looking for may have been created. Check to see where different records (vital, military, land, court) are kept in the area in question. Then go to the record holder and see if it is a court, church, university, archive, or library. Finally, check the website of that entity to see if it is part of a collaboration to digitize records. You just might get lucky.


  1. HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide, Kimberly Powell, online  <>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  2.  APPENDIX VI: Comparative Costs for Book Treatments, Council on Library Information Resoures, online, <>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  3. What is the DPLA? Digital Public Library of America, online, <>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  4.  Kimberly Powell, The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011).
Categories: document types, genealogy education

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