Digitizing War of 1812 Pension Files

From the 12 April 2011 press release by the Federation of Genealogical Societies and iArchives:

iArchives today announced a collaboration with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to digitize 180,000 pension applications, or an estimated 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 Pension Applications and Bounty Land Warrants. The collection will be available on iArchives’ military records website, Footnote.com, home of more than 72 million historical records.

The multi-year project will consist of scanning the pension files at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and creating a searchable index to the digital images. FGS has targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the value of the content for genealogists as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records.

“Our goal with any collaboration is to honor our nation’s heritage by preserving the records of our past,” said Patricia Oxley, President of FGS. “In the specific case of the War of 1812 pension records, there is an added priority due to their frail state where not acting may mean sacrificing these for future generations.”

With the burden of proof on the applicant to qualify for a pension, those applying proved participation in the war by including dozens of vividly descriptive pages.  Details recorded include military battle stories, service dates, mentions of fellow soldiers, family relations, marriages, widows’ maiden names and many other clues significant to researchers. The breadth of information allows the pension files to tell the richest story of that time period.

“The most popular database on Footnote.com today is the Revolutionary War Pensions which is very similar content,” said Brian Hansen, General Manager at Footnote.com. “Our users have been asking for the War of 1812 pension records for some time, and I expect this collection to be very popular based on the rich war time detail it contains.  We are pleased to make these records available for free on Footnote.com as a result of FGS fundraising efforts to subsidize the production cost.” [emphasis added -- ajc]

FGS is proud to be leading the national fundraising to support this project and is actively seeking donations from genealogical and historical societies, patriotic and military heritage societies, as well as interested corporations and individuals.  iArchives is providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services. To learn more and contribute to the project, visitwww.fgs.org/1812.


Page from War of 1812 Pension of Henry Lightner, Pennsylvania. Image at ACPL Genealogy Center.

That’s pretty exciting stuff! I’ve used War of 1812 pension files and they can be fabulous resources. There are two things I’d like to point out:

  1. Did you catch that part about the images will be free on Footnote? Free. As in you won’t need to pay to see them.
  2. FGS is raising funds to pay for the production.

According to the “Preserve the Pensions” page on the FGS website, each dollar raised will digitize two images.

That’s already a good deal, but you can make each dollar of your donation digitize four images! How? Donate through the Indiana Genealogical Society. IGS will match donations between now and June 30, 2011 (up to a total of $10,000). So if you donate $10 through IGS, they’ll match it — making the total donation to Preserve the Pensions $20. Donate $100 and IGS will match it, for a total donation of $200.

Working together — it’s a wonderful thing!

Posted in Digital Preservation, Federation of Genealogical Societies, Genealogy, Indiana Genealogical Society, Military, records access, War of 1812 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not All Ohioans Fought for the Union: Gen. Roswell Ripley, CSA

Roswell Ripley

Brig. Gen. Roswell Sabin Ripley, CSA. Photo taken from Ohio Historical Society marker, Nov. 2009.

When you think of Civil War generals from Ohio, the names Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan often come to mind. Roswell S. Ripley also was a general, yet he is rarely (if ever) mentioned in Ohio classrooms. Why? It’s probably because he was a general in the Confederate Army.

Ripley was born in Worthington, just north of Columbus, in 1823. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1843 and served in the Mexican-American War. He resigned his commission in 1853 while stationed in South Carolina.

In April 1861, his forces at Fort Moultrie fired artillery onto Fort Sumter, the first volleys of the Civil War.

He was appointed a brigadier general in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and was wounded in the throat at the battle of Antietam. He directed the improvement of defenses around Charleston as was later dubbed ‘Charleston’s Gallant Defender.’

He died 29 March 1887 in New York and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

References:

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We Don’t Need to Make It Last Forever

Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in the first #libchat, a Twitter chat for people in the library field. There were several intriguing questions, including this one:

How can libraries store and preserve digital works over the long term?

Blefurgy summed it up best: “No simple way for this yet; best option is to keep multiple copies and actively mange content to make sure it remains accessible”

Digital preservation is not a simple, one-shot deal. The “benign neglect” strategy that tends to work well for paper-based materials is simply not an option for digital resources. Digital preservation is a continuing process of refreshing media, converting formats, migrating files — all while trying to keep the file and its metadata intact.

Digital resources present a host of preservation challenges. You need to be concerned about the media. Is it stable? Is the media itself still accessible? (Do you still have an 8-track player for those tapes you still have in the back of the closet?) On top of that, you need to be concerned about the accessibility of the data. Is it in a format that can still be read? This includes not only the file format itself, but also the version. (How many versions back can the current software read?)

This continual process of preservation isn’t something we’re accustomed to. We’re used to stabilizing the paper, putting it someplace safe, and calling it a day (or century). So it is very tempting to look at higher-maintenance digital resources with a bit of distain. “We have scrolls that are over 2,000 years old. No digital file is going to do that.” Take that line of thought a step further and you can end up wanting to convert digital materials to paper.

A digital-to-analog conversion is a far-from-perfect solution. First, not all digital materials are suitable or even usable in hard-copy. Obviously, sound files can’t be converted to paper, but even something that is strictly data isn’t always suitable for analog. Relational databases, for example, would be difficult or impossible to make usable in paper form. Second, a conversion to paper results in the loss of embedded metadata. Even if you extract it, the effort to somehow connect it to the data would be incredibly labor intensive. Third is the issue of space. Do you really want to print out and store several thousand photos or a dataset with a few million records?

With paper not being a viable solution, we’re back to the lamentation that no digital file lasts as long as paper. “There’s no file that will last forever.” That’s true (at least to the extent of our development of digital resources.) But that doesn’t matter.

The files we have now don’t need to last forever. We just need to preserve them for the next generation, so they, in turn can preserve them for the generation after that.

It’s akin to the solution of how to eat an elephant. (Answer: One bite at a time). If we keep fretting about a lack of a forever-lasting file format, we can end up dismissing or discounting the things we can do.

We don’t need to have the magic file format that will keep that file complete and accessible from now until the end of time. We need to take responsibility for our files for our lifetime and keep them in good condition so that the next generation can continue their preservation for the generation that follows. By seeing the longevity of digital resources as being a process, we can concentrate our efforts on being responsible stewards.

Posted in Digital Preservation, libraries | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Proposed Funding Slash for Ohio’s Public Libraries

In a situation that is, sadly, not unique to Ohio, the proposed state budget contains a slash to funding for public libraries. On page B-8 of “The Jobs Budget: Transforming Ohio for Growth” Book One: The Budget Book is this proposal for funding to the Public Library Fund:

“The Executive Budget proposes a change in how funds are directed to the Public Library Fund. By statute, the Public Library Fund (PLF) is currently supposed to receive 2.22 percent of GRF tax revenues beginning in fiscal year 2012. Temporary law has restricted the PLF to receiving 1.97 percent in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The Executive Budget proposes a change to the distribution of these funds whereby starting in August 2011, the PLF will receive 95.0 percent of the fiscal year 2011 deposits. This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.”

That a 5% cut on top of the cut public libraries have already taken.

Note how the last sentence is phrased: “This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF (General Revenue Fund) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.” That $163.5 million that is not going to Ohio’s public libraries.

Note: the budget book linked to above is a 15 Mb PDF.

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OGS Conference – Register Now and Save

OGS 2011 conference logoThe Ohio Genealogical Society’s 2011 annual conference is fast approaching: 31 March – 2 April in Columbus. Also fast approaching is the deadline to get the early discount — Monday, 14 March.

Registration costs if you send in your registration now (postmarked on or before 14 March):

Full registration (OGS members): $115

Full registration (non-members): $153

Single day registration (OGS members): $58

Single day registration (non-members: $79

Each of those registration costs go up $20 after 14 March.

On Friday, 1 April I will be speaking on “After Mustering Out: Researching Civil War Veterans.” (No fooling!) It’s one of my favorite topics; I’m really looking forward to it.

(Disclaimer: I am being compensated as a speaker at the OGS conference.)

Posted in Conferences and meetings, Events, Genealogy, Ohio, Ohio Genealogical Society | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

RootsTech Videos Available Online

For three days in early February, I was glued to my computer watching videos of sessions streaming from the RootsTech conference. Everyone in the blogosphere and on Twitter who were following along with me were asking the same question: Would these videos be made available later? The answer is Yes!

Some of the sessions that were streamed live can now be found on the RootsTech website:

  • Jay Verkler, “RootsTech: Turning Roots, Branches, Trees Into Nodes, Links, Graphs”
  • Barry Ewell, “Digitally Preserving Your Family History”
  • Curt Witcher, “The Changing Face of Genealogy”
  • Brian Pugh, “Cloud Computing: What It Is and How Its Being Used”
  • Thomas MacEntee, moderator, “Virtual Presentations Roundtable”
  • Brewster Kahle, “Personal Archiving and Primary Documents”

I thoroughly enjoyed watching these sessions “live.” Can’t wait to watch them again!

Posted in Conferences and meetings, Events, FamilySearch, technology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Part of the Solution?

The Internet is both a boon and a bane to genealogical research. While it is easier to communicate and discover than ever before, it is also easier for lousy research to spread. It seems like bad genealogy goes around further and faster than Charlie Sheen’s tweets.

Keyboard Macro

Keyboard Macro by Chris Kempson, on Flickr.

Do genealogy long enough and you will find some, shall we say, “less than stellar” family trees online. Some are blatantly and obviously wrong. It’s easy to ignore a tree that has a woman born in 1700 giving birth in 1810. What is harder to ignore is something that looks plausible — especially if it’s something we’ve been looking for some length of time. Get desperate enough and one can completely overlook the lack of sources on the tree that was just found. Or, what sometimes happens, someone will add a “theory” to a tree, then someone else reads it and — voilà — it morphs into “fact.”

 

There are those, such as one of Dick Eastman’s readers, who believe that information on the Internet should “never be trusted.” I have had associates tell me that they won’t post any of their research online “because there is so much junk out there.”

Yes, there is a lot of junk out there. But as the axiom goes, if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.

More and more people are coming to genealogy via the Internet and do virtually (no pun intended) all of their research online. Of course they’re going to find a lot of junk if nobody bothers to post the “good stuff.”

In the days of the Internet before blogs and social media, there were two choices for correcting bad information: contacting the person who posted it (with the hope that they would change it) or have your own online tree or website and post your research. That second option used to be kind of difficult, especially if you were technologically challenged.

Now with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and the like, there is no technological reason why you can’t post your own data. If you can type, you post something online in some form or another. Consider these possibilities:

  • Have a blog
  • Contribute to a wiki family tree, such as WeRelate
  • Contribute to a research wiki, such as the FamilySearch wiki
  • Post old family photos on Flickr
  • Donate your family tree (either in hard copy or GEDCOM — or both!) to a library and/or genealogical society
  • Contribute an article for a genealogical society’s blog or newsletter

Lorine McGinnis Schulze has a great blog post about some erroneous POST family information that’s been floating around cyberspace. She goes point by point what is wrong with what has been taken as “fact.” She then posted her own research — with sources — so that people can see what really is known about the family. What a great example of getting the “good stuff” out there.

It’s easy to discount everything online as junk. But before you throw in the towel, ask yourself this: “Am I part of the solution?”

Posted in Genealogy, Musings | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Celebrate Ohio Statehood Day with These Resources

Today is Ohio Statehood Day. Happy 208th Birthday, Ohio! (You don’t look a day over 207!) What better way to celebrate than by checking out some great resources for Ohio research. Here are some of my favorites, including some that are rather off the beaten path:

  • Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953 at FamilySearch.org. Digital images of death certificates — gotta love ‘em. You do need to be logged into FamilySearch to see the images. (Registration is free.)
  • Ohio History Central. An online encyclopedia of Ohio history. Remember — you need to learn the history of an area to begin to understand the people.
  • Ohio Memory. Digital images from collections all across the state.
  • Ohio Cemetery Locations by The Ohio Genealogical Society. The free version gives the township and county. OGS members can log in and get much more detailed information, including GPS coordinates, alternate names, condition, etc.
  • Roster of Ohio Soldiers at OGS’ Ohio Civil War Genealogy Center. This is data from the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. However, this search is much more flexible. Unlike the CWSS site, here you can search by Soundex. You can also get an entire regiment or a specific company in a regiment.
  • Remarkable Ohio. Searchable database of more than 1,300 historic markers around the state. They even have an app for iPhone! (I’m still waiting for them to come out with a version for Android.)

There’s an interesting footnote to Ohio Statehood Day. Ohio considers 1 March 1803 to be its “official” statehood date, as that is the date that the state’s General Assembly first met. It’s the date you’ll see listed in virtually every resource. However, there is a pretty convincing argument that statehood day should actually be February 19, 1803, which is when Thomas Jefferson endorsed the legislation approving Ohio’s admission to the Union. What would Ohio be without a little political controversy? :)

Posted in Genealogy, history, Ohio, Ohio Genealogical Society, Ohio Historical Society, websites | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Youth and Digital Preservation

The Library of Congress recently posted this video of a workshop with teenagers discussing digital preservation. Today’s teenagers really have been “born digital.” Everything they deal with is digital or has some digital aspect to it. So what do teenagers think of all this “stuff”?

In some ways, they’re like their parents: they don’t agree on what should be saved, who is responsible for saving it, or even what the challenges are.

I was struck by the wide-ranging views. One young woman wanted to save all of Facebook. (“It’s our generations yearbook, our scrapbook.”) One young man said you can’t save everything, but maybe the “stuff” that people will learn from later for history — parts of presidential speeches, for example. She wanted to save the everyday; he wanted to save the exceptional.

It also occurred to me while watching this video that we have done a pretty poor job of explaining exactly how the Internet works and how digital files work. How often have we tried to admonish young people, “Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever,” usually as a warning not to post pictures from last night’s kegger or last weekend’s jello-shot competition. But what has gotten lost in that message is that it isn’t truly forever by itself.

Unlike paper, which usually does quite well in a “benign neglect” environment, digital files must actively be maintained. Think of how many websites would be lost forever if they had not been captured by Brewster Kahle’s Wayback Machine. Consider, too, what it takes for those files to remain viable and available.

I can’t sit here and blame the teenagers for their state of confusion. They’re actually more aware than some adults I know. However, we’re all going to be in a big world o’ hurt if we — collectively and individually — don’t step up and actually do what we need to do to preserve our digital heritage.

Posted in Digital Preservation, Musings, technology | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Societies and Technology at FGS 2011

Federation of Genealogical Societies logoSince the recent RootsTech conference, a lot has been said about genealogical societies and their use (or non-use) of technology. Joan Miller has recapped Curt Witcher’s presentation at the Federation of Genealogical Societies luncheon on her blog. (Basically, societies must embrace technology or they’ve sealed their fate.)

The upcoming FGS conference in Springfield, Illinois (7-10 September) features a entire day devoted to society management topics. Several of this year’s society offerings address technology:

  • “21st Century Marketing Techniques for Genealogists/Genealogical Societies” ~ Thomas MacEntee
  • “Building an Effective Society Web Site” ~ Amy Johnson Crow
  • “Internet Collaborative Tools for Genealogical Societies” ~ Jane G. Halderman
  • “How to Manage a Large Genealogy Database Project” ~ Laura G. Prescott
  • “Engaging a New Generation of Genealogists” ~ D. Joshua Taylor
  • “Finally, a Society Website Anyone Can Manage” ~ Robert Raymond
  • “Printed vs. Online Publishing for Societies” ~ Donna M. Moughty
  • “Energize Your Society with an Indexing Project” ~ Jake Gehring

Join us in Springfield, Illinois for a great conference!

(Disclaimer: I am the FGS Webmaster and am a speaker at the 2011 FGS conference.)

Posted in Conferences and meetings, Federation of Genealogical Societies, Genealogy, societies, technology | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments