“BEWARE: It’s Addicting!” Citizen Scanning in the Innovation Hub

Today’s post comes from Dina Herbert, Innovation Hub Coordinator at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

I recently met Cindy Norton at the Innovation Hub in Washington, DC when she arrived to scan Civil War pension files. Once she started, she never stopped! We now see Cindy a few times a month; she even celebrated her birthday with us by scanning records in the Innovation Hub!

Cindy was kind enough to answer some of my questions about what it’s like to scan records in the Innovation Hub. She is our biggest cheerleader and a great citizen archivist and scanner.

You too can be a citizen archivist! Visit us at the Innovation Hub, or learn more about the opportunities to tag, transcribe, subtitle or upload and share: http://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/

How did you hear about the Innovation Hub at the National Archives?

I came to the National Archives in late February 2016 with the intent of scanning a Civil War pension file. I had previously made paper copies of several files, but wanted the advantages of a digital scan. When I put in my request for Military Records I was asked if I wanted to scan this file for FREE! I said, “Free is good!” I was informed that the only stipulation was that I had to scan the ENTIRE file. That was not a problem – in fact I always get a copy of ALL the documents in a pension file. After my first day in the Hub I was hooked! I have been trying to run down to the Hub as much as I can ever since.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed
Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What motivated you/interested you in citizen scanning?

I was an intern at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1995. I worked primarily with Connie Potter and Claire Kluskens. As an intern I became aware of the importance of preserving the records that have been created by the federal government. I also became aware of how many records had not been microfilmed, i.e. Civil War Union Pension Records. I LOVE old records and the stories they tell. As a family historian I appreciate these documents that help me know my ancestors. Fast forward 20 years to July 2015 and the launching of the Hub and the introduction of citizen scanning. The tools in the Hub are amazing! As an intern I did not have these resources available to me back in 1995. I had reels of Microfilm that were black and white. I also had a copy machine that made black and white copies. Currently Fold3.com is scanning the Civil War Widow’s pension. These are excellent images, but they are also black and white. In the Hub I have the distinct advantage to scan documents in color. It makes analyzing these documents far easier for me as I can distinguish the different colors of ink.

How did you get into genealogy and family research?

I have been interested in genealogy for a long time. I started in 1977 taking a class offered by my church in Columbus, Georgia. My interest REALLY took off while I was attending Brigham Young University (BYU). To graduate I had a few religion classes to take. One of the religion electives was an introduction to Family History. I took this class in 1978, but it wasn’t until 10 years later when my husband was the PMS (Professor of Military Science) of the Army ROTC at BYU that I changed my major once and for all to Family History.

Are others in your family interested in genealogy?

There are some sparks of interest in my family that need to be fanned. My husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 60th birthday and I said I wanted him to come with me to the Hub and scan records. He was a GREAT sport and came with me!

How much have you scanned so far?

I have scanned 25 Civil War pensions, a few Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) and a Bounty Land Record.

What is the most interesting thing you have found while scanning?

The most interesting thing I have found is a Father’s pension. It listed the pertinent dates and places for the soldier, his father, mother and brother. I have not found much about a soldier’s parents so this has been a unique experience.

Do you have a favorite subject area?

Anything associated with soldiers. My favorite subject to scan is Civil War Pensions.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed
Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Why do you think citizen scanning is important?

Scanning is important because it gives researchers the ability to study old fragile records without having to physically handle those records causing additional deterioration. It makes it easier to transcribe, abstract, and tag these documents by enlarging the images on a computer screen. Because the scans are in color it is easier to distinguish between the different authors found on a single document.

Do you have advice for other citizen archivists and scanners?

Come to the archives at your earliest convenience. BEWARE, it is VERY addicting! If you enjoy handling old records than you will LOVE scanning them. There is a lot of work to do, but if a million researchers scanned just two records each we could literally have these records at our fingertips. If you cannot come to the Archives, consider going online and transcribing or tagging the available scanned records.

8 thoughts on ““BEWARE: It’s Addicting!” Citizen Scanning in the Innovation Hub

  1. I didn’t know about citizen scanning! I live in Southern Maryland so I will definitely be checking more into it. Great job Cindy!

  2. The amount of personal, family and local history referenced by some of these pension files is immense but highly variable. I have seen a few pension files for veterans connected to my family and have found personal letters written by cousins, great aunts & uncles – included in files of people unrelated to them. I found a sworn statement by one of my g-grandmothers brothers mentioning an alias he went by – the only written record documenting this alias. Again, this was included in the file of an unrelated veteran. I have scanned xerox packages of pension files and find this maddeningly tedious, it’s not for everyone. But often the results are worth it.

  3. I was there last week and this wasn’t even offered. They put me on a computer. I ciuld do that at home. How can I request files to be pulled. I need 1812 file.

  4. In the article it said to use the equipment in the Innovation Hub, the researcher had to scan the whole file. That leads me to believe you are using that file in some way or making it available to others somewhere?

    1. Hi Dawn,

      Thanks for your question. All the files scanned in the Innovation Hub appear in our online catalog, catalog.archives.gov. If you want to see all the files scanned in the Innovation Hub check out this link: http://go.usa.gov/xkF8N. Researchers can also bring a flash drive with them to take home the images that day; we have CDs available if you forget your drive.

      If you have any other questions please email innovationhub@nara.gov and I’ll be happy to clarify. Hope to see you soon!

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