Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Volunteer to Index the 1940 Census

What a week it has been. On April 2, the 1940 U.S. Census was released amid great excitement! I found the entire process amazing ~ I watched the opening ceremony streamed live from the National Archives.  I thought each of the speakers did an excellent job of describing the importance of the census and placing it in the context of our recent history. I especially loved the comment that when the census was taken "we were in the grip of the Great Depression and on the cusp of World War II."

Prior to the release of the census images, the genealogy community was awash in webinars, seminars, blog posts, newspaper articles, and television spots that described the process undertaken to:

  • digitize the census from the original microfilm rolls (all I can say from my prior experience with microfilm is thank you so very much),
  • provide those images to the companies that would upload it on day one,
  • acquire the 3.9 scanned image pages and upload them to host company servers,
  • put together photographs, historical timelines, location summaries, migration patterns, and search functions all in interactive on-site displays for the public, 
  • draft programs to encourage volunteers to sign up to index the census, and 
  • in another truly amazing example of generosity and brilliance by Professors Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub (and their unsung band of volunteers) come up the one-step tools to locate enumeration districts to find people in the census both before and after the indexes have been completed. 

It seems that on April 2 everyone and their brother went online through the National Archives and its partners (the 1940 US Census Community Project sponsored by Archives, FamilySearch and FindMyPast, together with several Society sponsors including the NGS, FGS and APG) or to the unaffiliated sites, Ancestry and MyHeritage, in order to find their families on the 1940 Census. The various sites were understandably overloaded with many of us "chomping at the bit" to explore the census images. From the outset I decided to check out a census image or two just "to be part of history," and then index whatever was in the que until the census images became available. I saw some images from Delaware and that gave me my 1940 Census fix. To tell you the truth, it never occurred to me that census indexing would be up and running that first day. I spent an hour indexing World War I Draft Registration Cards from New Jersey and then, to my surprise, in the evening I indexed my first batch of Delaware images.

I had signed up for DearMyrtle's 1940 U.S. Census Images and Indexing Updates hosted by RootsMagic. I attended four of the five evenings ~ what a great experience that was! DearMyrtle had all of the players on her webinar each night. If you did not attend you can play catch-up by checking out the link to the webinars. We received lots of tips and tricks, best practices, and hints for using the census tools and incorporating the census results with our genealogy database programs. We also got to hear from those who found family members and shared their stories.

In my opinion it was all good and it was a great week for genealogy! However, I was absolutely amazed at some of comments that were posted on the various websites the first few days. Specifically:

  • where is the index for these images?
  • why can't I find my family in the census?
  • why do the pages load so slowly?
  • why wasn't my state uploaded until [fill in the date]?
  • when will my state be indexed? 
  • how I am supposed to find the address for my family in 1940?
  • why does the one-step program require so much information?
  • where are the citations to the census?, and the ever popular 
  • why didn't those companies plan better [together with helpful tips on how they would have done it faster]?
What do all of those comments have in common? Well, I think they all sound ungrateful and entitled! I was embarrassed and disappointed in the genealogical community and the general public for jumping on the blamestorming bandwagon. My response to all those comments is ~ let's all adopt an attitude of gratitude

Do you realize what an amazing accomplishment it was to digitize, release, upload, and make available the 1940 U.S. Census on the day of its official release? Do you realize that you can view these census images for free in the comfort of your own home (if you have Internet access) or from the comfort of you local library or community center? Do you realize that because the National Archives partnered with Archives, FamilySearch and FindMyPast, the U.S. Census Community Project will host the census images and, when it is completed, provide an every name index all for free to you and me?  

So, how are you going to express your attitude of gratitude? I suggest you join with me and index the 1940 U.S. Census. I am a volunteer with the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project and you can be one too! Just follow the link, sign up,watch the tutorial, download the program, and start indexing! You can see the list of participating societies (since most of my family was in Washington in 1940 I signed up and designated the Seattle Genealogical Society). Most societies have blogs and through the Community Project there are contests each week for indexers. It is easy, fun and a nice way to give back or "pay it forward" to all of those who indexed the earlier censuses that so many of us have relied upon. Why not give it a go?

April is National Volunteer Month and I think this is a great opportunity for those of us in the genealogy community to join this volunteer effort. As of this morning there are 21 states available for indexing. I have been indexing through the Community Project for 10 days and index for about an hour early each morning.   I have indexed a total of 1200 names on population schedules from Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, and Virginia. So far I have a 98% agreement rate! Why not join the rest of us and the every name index will be finished in record time!

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