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# Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Are Digitization Projects Skipping Your Ancestor?
Posted by Diane

Genea-Musings blogger Randy Seaver brings up a seldom-raised issue: the quality and completeness of records digitization projects between the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and its partners Footnote, FamilySearch and

His post stems from a discussion on a professional genealogists’ mailing list. A list member experienced with NARA records did a spot check: She noted the first 25 names on a NARA microfilm reel of Civil War pension index cards and searched for those names in’s pension index database. She found just one of the names. (I can hear you thinking "I knew it!")

The researcher said the cards that didn’t scan well from the microfilm were left out of the database (’s source information states 1 percent of the cards are “missing;” she puts the percentage higher).

The researcher also questioned the wisdom of scanning colored documents in black and white, pointing to Footnote's Civil War widows' pensions project.

A NARA staff member explained that partner digitization projects use original records or the highest-quality “master” microfilm and are subject to quality controls. Other, non-partner projects may have digitized records from second- or third-generation film, resulting in poorer images.

He also said NARA does make original records available, even after they’re digitized, to "researchers who need to see them."

A respondent from commented that the microfilmed Civil War pension index cards were particularly difficult to scan because some cards were on dark paper, and the technology available at the time was inferior to today's.

See Seaver’s entire post here. He raises good questions at the end.

It’s easy and comforting to assume genealogy databases have every surviving document in a particular record set. This is a reminder that’s not always the case.  

Genealogy Industry
Tuesday, January 06, 2009 12:52:18 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [8]
Thursday, January 08, 2009 10:46:59 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
The Minnesota Death Index available through the MN Historical Society is incomplete. Many of the death certs were microfilmed so poorly that only the document number is readable, so when the index was made the unreadable ones were of course not included. Several ancestors I know who died in MN are not in the index, and their death records had to be obtained through the county for $13 each, instead of being able to get a photocopy of the microfilm for .35 cents.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 12:11:11 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I am commenting on the digitization of records. My gr gr grandfather, Dennis Doyle, was in the Civil War at age 19. He was mustered out in 1883 but I could not find his records on Ancestry. I use records, like my Dennis Doyle's, to check how good the system is working because I sent for his pension record, and military record...not the complete one... several years ago.
I also could not find my father's record for the Navy.
So, I'm with the writer...some of these websites that we pay lots of $$$$ for are not all they are cracked up to be.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 12:13:40 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I've noticed this quite a bit over time - but none as glaringly as not being able to find my dad in a World War II database of Army soldiers.

These imperfections are, at best, a heads-up to researchers not to rely on a single source. Also, this isn't a new problem in genealogy. I remember going through the index of a Tennessee marriage book and not finding an ancestor I was certain should be listed. It was only when I went page by page through the book that I found him - but he was left out of the index.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 2:18:22 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) actually says about this specific Civil War pension index that only 1% should be missing. But if the researcher did a spot check and was only able to find 1-in-25 records on her roll, that means only 4% of that roll was included!
Thursday, January 08, 2009 2:42:24 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
The 2 oldest girls of Edward Rossin are not in the Wabasha,Olmsted or Winona co.'s birth books,but bapt.1896 in Trinity Elgin,MN centennial church book ,but Emma b.1899 isn't in ,nor in Plainview,MN centennial book-(but brothers are)if at Imm.Potsdamn,MN belive 1899 maybe apart that may be missing of a section a certain time was taken from church. Human error is everywhere,but if scan not good,why not physicaly write down and that is unreadable-state that and then scan in.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 3:51:34 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I also have a problem with the index linked to the wrong pension index card image. When I clicked on my ancestor's name I got the image of a card from a totally unrelated person without even a similar name. How many other errors are there like that?
Susan Saul
Friday, January 09, 2009 9:07:56 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Thanks, Amir, I've made that fix.
Friday, January 16, 2009 1:35:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I have a problem with's digital census indices. I do understand the transcriptionists write what they see, but when they're unfamiliar with surnames common to an area, they frequently misspell them, including the first letter. I searched 'forever' trying to find my Christian Eicher. I finally found his in two different transcriptions (one of Ancestry and the other on the county's transcribed list): one as Ischar and the other as Joeher. I had tried the lookup using and I and a K, but hadn't come up with Ischar.
Gale Judkins
Comments are closed.