May 18th Citizen Archivist Program

If you are anything like me, you would love to volunteer more, but you don’t feel you have enough time to make a commitment. Luckily, these days, anyone with a computer and internet access can easily participate in online volunteer projects.

An upcoming public program at the National Archives will look at three projects where citizen volunteers transcribe and geotag historical records online.

This kind of volunteering is sometimes referred to as “microvolunteering” or “crowdsourcing.” With a few minutes to spare anyone can help make historical records more accessible.

Are You In? Citizen Archivists, Crowdsourcing, and Open Government
May 18th, Noon
National Archives Building, McGowan Theater

This free public program will feature Darla Adams from’s World Archives Project, Matt Knutzen from the New York Public Library’s “Map Warper” project, and Jessica Zelt from the US Geological Survey’s North American Bird Phenology Program.

You’ll get the nuts and bolts of each project — and possibly be inspired to get involved! You’ll see just how easy it is to transcribe and geotag historical records using innovative tools online.

12 thoughts on “May 18th Citizen Archivist Program

    1. As an independent on-site researcher at NARA, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions in the statement that Angela has just quoted…

      FamilySearch has a contract with NARA to make scans of various NARA records. While the indexes may be available “for free”, you cannot currently see the scans of the documents for free from the comfort of your home. The scanned images of the actual NARA records are only free on the computers at NARA and various LDS facilities, and only to look at– you must still pay copying fees if you want hard copies. Your other choice is to pay a subscription fee to and, if you want online access from home to the images that the FamilySearch volunteers are scanning. Also, you will have to subscribe to BOTH because these two major subscription services do not compete with each other. They support each other by not duplicating any of the same databases. They have been working together for a long time, apparently, but at this point it is “official” that ancestry owns footnote, and both of them have been and continue to be supported with free labor provided by “FamilySearch”.

      So yes, it is correct that FamilySearch recruits volunteers through their website to index NARA records from home, but it is for the benefit of the fee-for-service businesses that they have contracts with, not to give you something for free.

      One of the most in-demand record groups at NARA is the Civil War pensions. I use these records often, and that index is the busiest microfilm cabinet in the research room. When that microfilm (T288) was scanned and put on, it was so poorly done that only about 70% of the cards made it to the online version. The rest of the cards were either too light or too dark on the microfilm to be able to make readable digital scans without adjusting the machine for each one. In the rush to get it online, those light and dark images were just omitted altogether. About 30% of the images were left out. In the database explanation, ancestry says “a small number” of cards are missing.

      NARA’s solution was to call for researchers to “submit corrections” so ancestry could fix them. This was discussed on the NARA blog over a year ago, and instead of better oversight, NARA has seemingly turned a blind eye and given carte blanche to whatever their big business “partners” want to say or do.

      Without a standard for painstaking auditing of the FamilySearch “volunteers” who are working for the benefit of the big businesses, there is no incentive whatsoever for them to do their own proofreading, and records will continue to be lost in the transfer from paper/microfilm to digital media.

      It is NARA’s policy not to allow the general public to handle any original documents from any data set that has been scanned. In other words, the documents that were too light or too dark for the volunteers to want to bother fiddling with will be locked in the vault with the others, effectively lost forever, never to be seen by on-site researchers again, as soon as FamilySearch says that data set is “complete”. Similarly, documents that actually are scanned will not ever be found at the subscription sites if an untrained volunteer working from home makes a typo while doing the indexing of those documents.

      GEE, let’s all volunteer so that the federal records which used to belong to all of us can be lost and locked down more quickly and the price of the subscriptions to see them online can go up even higher, HOORAY!!!

      1. Dear Peggy,

        I would like to address some of the points you raised in your comment. The National Archives has entered into partnership agreements with Family Search, Ancestry, and Footnote to digitize records of the National Archives. However, Family Search is not performing any indexing of records that are being scanned by Ancestry or Footnote as part of projects undertaken under our partnerships. Family Search is scanning some NARA records that are being indexed by Footnote and placed on the Footnote site. The digitization work happening as part of our partnerships is subject to quality control reviews by NARA and our partners.

        As you mention, as part of our agreements, any one can use Ancestry or Footnote free of charge at any National Archives location to view the digitized copies of the records created under our partnerships. I also wanted to share that people who use Ancestry and Footnote at the National Archives can also print from those sites on our computers at no cost.

        Lastly, I am happy to pass along the news that Ancestry is currently rescanning the General Index to Pension Files (Microfilm Publication T288) and plans to place the rescanned version on its web site later this year. When scanned many years ago some of the scans were illegible due to the original records being on dark blue paper and those scans were omitted from Ancestry’s online data set. Ancestry tells us that the newly scanned version will include all of the images, even those that may not be very legible due to the dark blue paper.

        Thank you for sharing you concerns with us.

        Sincerely yours,

  1. I love the idea of helping out in fits and spurts- it fits in perfectly with my currently available volunteering time: from about 11:45 PM to midnight!

    Also, your promo image is fantastic.

  2. This looks like an interesting program. Will it be recorded and made available to who can’t attend?

  3. Thanks, Angela for bringing that resource to everyone’s attention.

    Kate, unfortunately, we will not be recording the program, but I will do a follow up post here on NARAtions after the event.

    If anyone has questions, but can’t attend the event, please post them here and we will try to get them answered.

    1. Meredith,

      That is indeed unfortunate. Programs like this are of interest to a national, and even international audience. While I’m sure your follow-up post will be thoughtful, it cannot possibly capture the level of detail I hope the speakers will provide about their projects. If NARA wants to be a true national leader in this area, as I’m sure it does, it will have to begin to make products like these available online so that people outside the DC area can benefit from them.

      For those of us who could conceivably get to the event, it would also be nice to have more than a week’s notice. Is there a mechanism for learning about the full upcoming schedule of such events?


        1. Thank you for pointing that out, Maarja. I’m not in the habit of checking the DC-Metro events calendar, so I hadn’t seen it there.

          And thanks also to the NARA staff member who contacted me to say that this event will be recorded and posted to YouTube. I look forward to watching it and learning more about these great projects.

  4. Yeah, makes sense, being local DC area I check in on it frequently. Very good to hear it will go up on YouTube, great suggestion on your part, Kate. I won’t be able to attend (I’m getting ready to do an oral history interview on Monday so very busy) so that will help people like me, too.

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