Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dear TGF: How Should Our Library Digitize and Organize Collected Family Records?

There was an interesting post on the Transitional Genealogists Forum message board on Rootsweb last month.  Barbara LeClair asked:

"A librarian from a nearby community library has contacted me, asking for software suggestions for a project that they intend to undertake.   Here is her description of the project:

"Our small library through the decades has been given and has collected a hodgepodge of local genealogy articles (newspaper clippings/funeral in memoriams/etc.) in the form of marriage/birth/engagement/anniversary/etc announcements and obituaries. We are wanting to digitally organize our collections to make it accessible to our patrons. Do you have a recommendation for a software program that we could input the vital statistics of each person, link them to other relatives, and attach the PDF/JPG/etc of our information source for our patrons to view? Ultimately, we'd like to upload our many branches of community family trees online. 

"Does anyone have suggestions for a software program that would be well-suited for the kind of project that they have outlined?"

This is a remarkable request, and efforts like this would greatly benefit all genealogy researchers with ancestry in this community.

This type of resource organization would also be very useful for genealogical societies, historical societies, family associations, and other types of societies interested genealogy and family history.

There are some issues, such as privacy of living people, that would have to be addressed.

I have some suggestions on how to make this work effectively, and readers may have other suggestions.

Some thoughts:

*  Genealogy software programs, such as RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, and others are ideally suited for the task of inputting vital statistics, connecting relatives, record images.  The cost is nominal ($30 to $40 for the software), and several programs are free to download and use (with some functions crippled).  However, software has a learning curve and limited presentation capabilities.

*  Presentation of the results is the challenge.  Digital presentation makes them ost sense to me - that's the way of the world these days, and it doesn't preclude publication of a hard or soft-covered book(s).

*  The major issue, in my mind, is this:  Do you want it to be freely accessible to patrons and other searchers?  If so, then it can not be done behind a genealogy provider firewall - like,, or another family tree system that has separate family trees because that's not free and usually are not searchable by search engines.

*  Likewise, it really doesn't work for a connected family tree system like FamilySearch Family Tree,, WikiTree, WeRelate, etc. because the information can be modified by other researchers.

I see two good options here for digital access and (if desired) book publication:

1)  I think that a dedicated public blog for the community genealogy collection is the best use of freely available publication resources.

*  An individual or family sketch can be written in a blog post, images can be attached, links to other persons in the sketch can be made, charts can be added, sources listed, etc. The sketches can be edited, etc.  Multiple persons can add to the blog content.  The home page of the blog could list all of the family surnames available and link to the sketches for each person.

The blog posts could be collected into a book format and published as a covered book or an ebook if the library desires.  Best of all, a public blog would be searchable and those wonderful local community resources would be available to all researchers and not just patrons of the library.

*  This option requires no software learning curve besides the FREE blog platform (most are just word processing fields with some editing features, plus linking and image uploading), which is easily learned by competent people.

*  The library would have to do the web page with the links to the different sketches on the blog.  Introductory information on the web page would describe the project, giving credit to the providers, etc.

2)  Another option would be, if using genealogy software, to write narrative descendants reports.  

*  They could include the vital records, family relationships, story transcriptions, source citations, record images, index lists, etc. Introductory information could be added to each report describing the project, giving credit to the providers, etc.

*  Each report could be made into a PDF (which would include the images) and put on a free document site like  The library genealogy web page could list the available reports by surname or family name and link to the reports.  The software data could be modified or edited, new reports created, and the new reports uploaded to replace the earlier version.

*  This option requires the software purchase and learning curve struggles, and editing of the reports.  The library genealogy web page would have to be developed, but the result is reports, that cannot be edited by a viewer, on a free server that are searchable by search engines.

So what do my readers think?  What other possibilities are there?  What are the problems for this library to do this task?

Has any library or genealogical society done this in the recent past?  Are there any real good examples available?

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Sharon said...

Something like Omeka would probably do the trick. Free, open source and designed specifically to create and curate collections online

Diane B said...

I like your suggestion about a blog, and attaching relevant documents to an entry about a person/family.

Somehow, I have to believe the library has documents on hundreds of families, so I'm not really following the family tree idea. Throwing together family trees to link up sets of documents is far from trivial, and can introduce errors and assumptions - which would be the last thing the library would want to do. I think, far better to treat the documents like documents, present them online well indexed or even attached to family sketches, where possible. What an incredibly valuable service that would be. Kudos to them for wanting to do that, I wish every library would.

Unknown said... was designed for this purpose. It is a hidden gem.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

The Epsom, NH historical society has a wonderful blog and accompanying website They have undertaken to digitize photos, documents, diaries, etc. into a huge database, and used these on their blog. They have published Blurb books on each town cemetery, and of some of the blog posts. They are a successful example of using a blog along with digital images on a massive project.

Jennifer B said...

Omeka (open source), DSpace (open source), or CONTENTdm (OCLC) are built to handle digital objects, such as with a digital library or exhibit.

Another option would be to create a wiki, with pages for people, events, places, etc., link them together, and including digital images and files.