Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Digital Wish List

A correspondent asked me what I would like to see in new online digital databases - more than what the LDS plans in their project, and Ancestry, WorldVitalRecords, Footnote, GenealogyBank and others have available online - either free or for a fee.

The question assumes that the respondent knows "everything" that is available anywhere, and that is available already online. I'm not that person, but I do have some experience and knowledge, so I'm going to start the discussion and ask for my readers' help in adding to it.

I come at this question from the perspective of an active genealogy researcher who understands that American vital, probate, land, tax, town, military, naturalization and other records that prove relationships are what we most need online and yet are, in general, not available online.

My online digital wish list includes:

1) County, state and federal court records (probate, land, civil, criminal, other records). The LDS has films of many pre-1920 records like this, and they will probably digitize and index them as part of their project. Ancestry has some probate indexes online, but I don't think anyone has digitized and indexed a lot of them. Very few wills or probate records are digitized - some are transcribed and abstracted in books or on web sites. I don't think that there are a lot of tax or deed indexes online. Having images of the indexes would be a tremendous help. Indexes of civil, criminal and other records would also be very helpful - I'm not sure if anyone has done that yet. There are lots of courts, though, so this is a big project.

2) A subset of the court records would be Naturalization records. Again, an online index would be valuable (see for available indexes), digitizing the actual records would be excellent.

3) Indexes for Periodicals not already indexed. Some societies have indexes already (NEHGS, NYGBR, NGS, etc) but many societies don't have an index. These records are often the key to finding elusive ancestors. This is a project for the societies themselves, although it might benefit them to hook up with a commercial outfit to do it. Whoever does this would have to have an agreement with the individual societies, and images of the actual pages are probably impossible to provide due to copyright issues of authors, but indexes would really help.

4) Indexes for births, marriages and deaths - there are many states that do not have their older records online - see for Births and Marriages, and for Deaths. Many of the available records are on already, and some are free at Rootsweb or other sites. The issues of privacy and identity theft will prevent more recent records from being indexed or digitized.

5) Military records - Available service records, draft registrations, enlistments, etc. for America's wars are summarized at Digitization and indexing of the Civil War Pension Files, more of the Revolutionary War Pension files (HQO has only selected pages for some of them) would be very useful.

6) Newspaper records - the commercial genealogy firms have several large and small town historical newspapers digitized and indexed, and many newspapers have their recent editions digitized and indexed (although often behind a firewall). There are many historical newspapers that have not been digitized and indexed, and I'm sure that the commercial firms are working on adding more content.

7) Family files donated to genealogical or historical societies. These often have unique records or compilations of records. This may be a project for the societies themselves - to go through the holdings and either digitize them and put them online, or put an index to them online. Frankly, they don't do many people much good sitting in a file drawer in the corner of a library.

I know that I haven't addressed census, church, passenger list, cemetery, or records for other useful subject areas. All of the census (see and many passenger list records (see are available from Some church and cemetery records are found on Rootsweb or USGenWeb sites.

What have I missed? What have I listed wrong? What would you add to my list? What other web sites collect links to online information like Joe Beine's links above? Tell me about your wish list!

1 comment:

Jasia said...

I'd say my wish list is pretty similar to yours except I'd like it be for documents/sources in Poland. And I'd like them all to be indexed and translated into English too please. And while I'm wishing... how about the records from Austria, Germany, and Russia that concerned Poland during their hold on the country. (Also translated into English too please.)
That's all. Thank you!