As family historians, much of our work is to record the history of our families and try to tell the stories of our ancestors. Some of us have specialized in specific parts of our research such as DNA, photographs, or home histories. Through all of our research we have found new cousins who are thankful for the work that we have done recording these stories. But much of the information we use originates as a result of work by others. Those people, the ones who do indexing, record burial places, and provide access to the various records that we use, are the angels that we don't always recognize. There are many ways that we can give back to our community through participating in the preservation of information and making it available to others. I have participated in many of these projects and have created a few of my own over the years.
Some of the easiest projects to find are indexing or transcription of records. There are many indexing projects available online and with the isolation and closure of many repositories due to COVID-19, many more are making their records available to indexers. Here are just a few examples:
FamilySearch Indexing is the standard for indexing records. FamilySearch has a wide variety of records available for indexing in many different languages. They really need your help if you are able to read other languages. There are several interesting projects available which you can participate in. This year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote in the United States. As part of this centennial event, FamilySearch is providing more voting records that need indexing. Additionally, they have released a large number of city directories from around the US. Some of these city directories have up to 300 names per page. FamilySearch Indexing allows you to create groups where you can work with your genealogical society, church group, or any other organization to index records together. All of the records indexed on FamilySearch are freely available to researchers.American World War I Burial Cards Project. This project helps to record the burial locations of over 78,000 American soldiers from WW I. The Every Name Counts Project is an attempt to record the names of the millions of people who were held prisoner or killed in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The ANZACS Project works to record the stories of the men and women from New Zealand who served during WW I. Another project, the Criminal Characters Project, tells the story of the English criminals who were sent to Australia as punishment.
This period of social distancing has also made archives rethink their operating plans. Many archives have allowed their staff to work from home digitizing documents and preparing them for online access. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has a Citizen Archivist Project where the public can help transcribe some of the many records held by the archive.
The Library and Archives of Canada has a similar project where volunteers can help record information so other researchers can use that information to discover their ancestor's stories.
Many states have also provided projects for volunteers to help record information. The Ohio Memory Project has their Ohio Memory Transcriptions Project where volunteers can work on several projects including the Toledoans in WW II, the Warren G. Harding Collection, and the Ohio History Collection. Search for your state to see if they also have projects.
We all need time outside to get exercise and just relax. Many of us have participated in FindAGrave and BillionGraves projects over the years. Both of these have their own mobile apps: FindAGrave app, BillionGraves app. You can see which cemeteries in your area still need burials recorded and spend a few hours in the fresh air, getting some exercise, and helping others find information on their ancestors.
BYU Linking Labs also has a variety of projects. These projects are developed by students at BYU to test many of the most advanced technologies such as handwriting recognition software. Assisting with these projects not only helps index records but is also used to develop more accurate computer algorithms. A list of their projects can be found on their Projects Page. Their African-American Families and Customized Geo Hints Projects allow you to search in a specific area or surname and attach records to their families in FamilySearch. The Automated Indexing Project uses a computer algorithm to select similar information such as surnames or cause of death. This is an easy way to index records by selecting choices that match the record you see on the screen and letting the computer program know if any of the words are not correctly matched.
There are also projects that individuals are working on to make more records available. The Family Bible Preservation Project is one such project. This project has over 5,000 pages, many of them from family bibles, which have been digitized and saved to FamilySearch Memories. Volunteers can select pages and attach them to the people on FamilySearch. Many of these family bibles have been separated from their families and found in various places such as online auctions, flea markets, antique shops, and yard sales. Without this project, many of these families would never know that there was a family bible with their ancestor's information.
All of these activities are available for volunteers to participate in to make more records available to researchers. I don't always have time to contribute to these projects but last month I was able to index over 1,000 records for FamilySearch. Even if you only have a few minutes to participate in these projects, the records you contribute could be the one that someone has been looking for to break down their brick wall.