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From: "Peggy K. Reeves" <>
Subject: Re: [APG] Chicago Marriage Records and other LDS databases
Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2008 18:53:44 -0500
References: <49475BB8.3189.1C336B@hhsh.earthlink.net><45c595dc0812160928v4cd0a0f4nbdb7b29412caebbf@mail.gmail.com>
In-Reply-To: <45c595dc0812160928v4cd0a0f4nbdb7b29412caebbf@mail.gmail.com>

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear in my initial posting. I'll try to clear up
a few things (or maybe just make things worse)!

First, I was not comparing apples to oranges. It's ALL FamilySearch.
If they have put Cook County records online and the images all look
good, there's no way for you to know what's missing unless you have seen
the originals beforehand, or can look at them afterward. It would be
like looking at an online pedigree that has no sources and saying: "I
haven't researched it, but that looks right to me." That is the point I
was making. I can still look at microfilm images at NARA for most of
what the Footnote people (FamilySearch volunteers) have put online so
far, and the comparison is shocking. There are a lot of records that
have disappeared or become unreadable in the changeover from poor
microfilm to a digital image of poor microfilm. If the image did not
transfer over in a readable form, then why weren't the names indexed
anyway with a note saying that the image is too poor to be readable?
The index cards on the microfilm are almost all readable on the
microfilm viewers, and any that aren't readable on one index can be
cross-checked on another index (NARA has 3 different Civil War pension
indexes on microfilm--one by name, one by regiment, and one by number,
so there's really no excuse). Ah, but this would be very tedious and
time-consuming and would have slowed down the process of getting that
index online to be sold. This is the great conflict of interest that I
was trying to point out. But folks don't hear about it. All they hear
is the lovely spin that the subscription sites and FamilySearch put on it.

Yes, census pages were digitized more carefully because those pages are
sequentially numbered. In other words, it would be obvious if a page
were missing. Not so for the Civil War pension index cards--they can
disappear unnoticed for the sake of speed in getting them online to
sell, and that is exactly what has happened. The Footnote contract with
NARA says that Footnote can only make money selling these images for 5
years, and then the images will be available for free from the NARA
website. There, again, is the conflict of interest. Footnote has a
great financial incentive to speed through the filming as quickly as
possible instead of making it as readable as possible. Who is auditing
that process? No one--they are auditing themselves by saying it is
checked by two people.

FamilySearch recruits volunteers and provides them for use by Footnote,
Ancestry, and other Utah-based genealogy vendors. The vendors negotiate
contracts with the various record custodians and then they send the
FamilySearch volunteers in to bring home the bacon.

"FamilySearch helps archives and other record custodians digitize,
preserve, and publish their collections online. A key component of the
program allows FamilySearch and archives to team with genealogy websites
like Footnote to provide significant collections of genealogical and
historical records online."

This quote comes from the press release dated 15 May 2007 that appears
at the FamilySearch website. There have been similar press releases at
the Footnote site and the National Archives site, as new contracts are
awarded for digitization of various records. It is no mystery that
FamilySearch does it all, in fact, they brag about it! At the Footnote
website, Footnote refers to itself as "an official FamilySearch
affiliate". For a while, the Footnote people were wearing large
"FamilySearch" nametags while working in the file room at NARA with the
rest of us, but now these volunteers have their own room and can have as
many files out as they want, with very little supervision by the NARA
staff (at least I never see any staff in there when I walk by the room).

It is the longstanding policy of NARA to reduce handling of the original
documents by taking them out of public view once they are microfilmed or
scanned. Thus, the indexing and images that are getting botched or left
out completely for the sake of getting the product to market faster will
soon be gone forever from our view, because NARA will make us dependent
on those scans. How's that for "preservation"?

Peggy Reeves

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re:[APG] Chicago Marriage Records and other LDS databases
From: Tom Kemp <>
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 12:28:06 PM
> OK.
> There are many sites that are digitizing and indexing records - we
> need to be careful not to mix apples and oranges in describing the
> problems with some sites.
> The FHL site is clearly holding to a high standard of images and indexes.
> 1. Are some libraries filming or digitizing collections and then
> restricting access to the original material?
> Yes. That has been going on for over 50 years. Libraries often
> restrict access to collections all with an eye to protecting the
> originals. This first started with microfilm and this practice is
> continuing with digital collections. It has been my experience that if
> you make a good case for needing to see the originals that it can be
> arranged - though it might take multiple reuests. Does it happen to
> all records? No. This practice varies from library to library.
> 2. Vendors simply omit "difficult images" -
> I have not seen examples where the commercial vendors simply omitted
> problem images in the census etc. I have seen many times images can be
> very hard to read - That happened recently with the 1900 Census and I
> was really stunned to see that the FHL had a cyrstal clear image of
> the same page while the other sources had the blotched image. It was
> only then that I found out that the FHL had created all NEW images for
> the census. Wow - that was big news to me.
> Every day is bringing improvements.
> It's all good.
> Tom
> On Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 8:41 AM, <> wrote:
>> Tom --
>> I appreciate your points, and that you were discussing Cook County and not
>> NARA. But can you respond to Peggy's larger concerns, namely
>> * that difficult images are left out altogether rather than being noted?
>> * that original records once indexed and filmed will no longer be available to
>> researchers?
>> The good quality of online images pulled, and the existence of free indexes,
>> are indeed great news, but they don't speak to these two disturbing questions
>> she raised.
>> Harold Henderson
>> Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2008 00:28:06 -0500
>> From: "Tom Kemp" <>
>> Subject: Re: [APG] Chicago Marriage Records and other LDS databases
>> To: APGMailingList <>
>> Message-ID:
>> <>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
>> In my experience:
>> 1. The images on FamilySearch.org are terrific. The Chicago marriage
>> certificate images I have pulled are all perfectly clear. The census
>> images that they put up were remarkably clear - so much so that some
>> of the vendors have worked out arrangements to use the new FHL images
>> because they are so much better quality. The FHL created images are
>> free on their site.
>> 2. The FHL indexes are done by volunteers - but note that they are
>> being done by two different indexers - independent of each other -
>> compared and when there is not a match a third person makes the call.
>> The "barter" arrangements you wrote about is a vendor that is offering
>> indexers access to their content for their indexing projects. The
>> indexes on the FHL are free.
>> 3. Seems to me like a massive effort - created and managed by hundreds
>> of employees, over decades; worked on by thousands of volunteers and
>> the result is totally free to the public - 24/7 on the website.
>> I wrote about the Cook County marriage certificates going online -
>> free indexes, free images.
>> I can't see a downside to this effort but see this as a great day for
>> genealogy.
>> The indexing & images created for the FHL site - did not follow the
>> process used at the commercial sites mentioned in the e-mail below.
>> Ron Jackson created the AIS Census Indexes and changed the way
>> genealogists operated. He opened up the census like never before.
>> Were they perfect indexes?
>> Nope - but they sure helped.
>> Ancestry, HeritageQuest etc. hired indexers in other countries - and
>> created indexes that did an even better job.
>> Were they perfect?
>> No - they weren't perfect either - but the impact was huge.
>> People, regular people could look for their ancestors and actually find them.
>> The process was compelling - they were hooked.
>> A new and huge generation of genealogists was born.
>> It's all good and getting better.
>> Today is a day like I've never seen in the 43 years I have been
>> actively working on my family's history and every week brings more
>> content. Having this content free online is the icing on the cake.
>> Tom
>> On Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 10:23 PM, Peggy K. Reeves <> wrote:
>>> Regarding Chicago Marriage records, and other images being put online...
>>> How do you know they are all "sharp, clear digital images"? I have not
>>> personally worked with Cook County records, but I can tell you what the
>>> familysearch people are doing at NARA D.C. First, they recruit
>>> "volunteers" (through this site and others) to do indexing projects in
>>> exchange for free subscriptions to services such as footnote (owned by
>>> members of the LDS church). These "volunteers" are not necessarily
>>> professionals--they are anyone and everyone, experienced or not, who
>>> will do the job for free to keep their overhead down. This is why the
>>> indexing and transcriptions at ancestry and footnote are so poor.
>>> The larger issue is the alleged "sharp, clear digital images". Some of
>>> the images are sharp and clear, but what they don't tell you is that the
>>> images that weren't very readable, or that they couldn't get a good
>>> enough scan of at all, are not even included in the database, nor are
>>> they indexed. They (the footnote folks) are scanning in poor quality
>>> black-and-white images, and not from the original documents in most
>>> cases, but from antiquated NARA microfilm that is difficult to read in
>>> the first place. When it is scanned, the quality degrades further and
>>> often is not readable at all. Dark microfilm turns out completely
>>> black, and light microfilm scans as a blank image. If they were to
>>> index all of these images from the microfilm, and include the dark and
>>> light images in the database, then you would know just how much is
>>> actually missing and not readable (and that would be bad PR, so it's
>>> best to just toss them). You would also know what is available, and
>>> could ask to see copies of the originals at NARA if it was not readable
>>> online. But if you don't know that a file even exists, then you can't
>>> even ask to see it. What you don't know won't hurt you, and as long as
>>> you think you're getting it all, then you'll be willing to pay for the
>>> subscriptions and believe the propaganda that they are "99.(whatever)
>>> percent accurate".
>>> The ancestry Civil War pension index is a good example. Many of those
>>> cards are difficult to read on the NARA microfilm. Ancestry has a
>>> disclaimer that says 10% of the images are "missing". They are NOT
>>> "missing". The truth is that the subscription service chose not to
>>> include the ones that scanned as all black or all blank, and it's more
>>> like 20-30%, not 10%. If you scan the ancestry database for a soldier
>>> to see if he was a pensioner, 2 or 3 out of every 10 pensioners will not
>>> be found there, even though they are on the microfilm index at NARA.
>>> Southern Claims and Confederate service records are other examples of
>>> very poor microfilm that footnote has made so-called "sharp, clear
>>> digital images" of. People mistakenly rely on these databases thinking
>>> that they are complete, when they are FAR from complete. A great deal
>>> of the valuable genealogical information in the Revolutionary War
>>> pension files (online at footnote) is not readable, even though it might
>>> be perfectly readable on the microfilm. The biggest example of this are
>>> the files that include Bible pages of b/d/m. These torn-out pages,
>>> usually mailed in by destitute widows to prove their marriage and
>>> children, were often in poor condition, and many that I have seen are
>>> readable on the NARA microfilm but not readable at all online.
>>> Footnote is now scanning Civil War widow's pension files from the
>>> original paper. The originals are on papers of many different colors,
>>> and sometimes faded and difficult to read. The technology exists to
>>> scan these valuable files with high-quality color scanning, but it is
>>> not being done. The federal government, responsible for preserving the
>>> records, is not doing so. The subscription services offered the federal
>>> government a cheap alternative, and they sold out to the subscription
>>> services. The problem is that once these files are filmed (no matter
>>> how cheap and poor the images are), NARA will then take these files out
>>> of circulation so that no one can request to see the originals any
>>> more. In other words, we will all be stuck with whatever the
>>> subscription services do, and a great deal of valuable information will
>>> be forever lost to us ALL, because we won't be allowed to see the
>>> originals any more. These services have a great deal of interest in
>>> making a profit, skimming the easily readable stuff and selling it as
>>> "sharp, clear digital images", but they show little regard for the
>>> historic preservation of original documents, and there is absolutely no
>>> quality control or accountability.
>>> I don't have a blog. I am at NARA on a regular basis and know all this
>>> from my own firsthand experience. The big question is: what can be done
>>> about it to ensure access to ALL of the records for all of us? It is
>>> troubling to see so much disappearing, and to see so many people
>>> believing whatever the subscription services tell them to believe.
>>> Peggy Reeves
>>> -------- Original Message --------
>>> Subject: [APG] Chicago Marriage Records 1871-1920 going online
>>> From: Tom Kemp <>
>>> To: APGMailingList <>
>>> Date: Monday, December 15, 2008 3:37:09 PM
>>>> There are only a small handful of Internet sites that are putting up
>>>> sharp, clear digital images of genealogical records, the kind of
>>>> resources that genealogists want to use and will rely on for their
>>>> research.
>>>> www.FamilySearchLabs.org has been doing just that. They have just
>>>> added Cook County (IL) Marriage Records from 1900 to 1920 and
>>>> announced that they will expand these back further to 1871. Cook
>>>> County - is more than just Chicago - it includes the townships of
>>>> Barrington, Berwyn, Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Cicero, Elk Grove,
>>>> Evanston, Hanover, Lemont, Leyden, Lyons, Maine, New Trier, Niles,
>>>> Northfield, Norwood Park, Oak Park, Orland, Palatine, Palos, Proviso,
>>>> Rich, River Forest, Riverside, Schaumburg, Stickney, Thornton,
>>>> Wheeling, Worth.
>>>> I wrote about it with an example at:
>>>> http://blog.genealogybank.com/2008/12/chicago-marriage-certificates-1871-
>> 1920.html
>> Harold Henderson
>> Research and Writing from Northwest Indiana
>> home office 219/324-2620
>> http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com
> ..
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