Monday, November 22, 2010

The Belgian Archives Online

In February 2009, FamilySearch began uploading digital images of Belgian civil records onto its Record Search Pilot site, enabling genealogists researching their Belgian ancestry to access original records right from their homes.

It was however short lived as the Belgian Archives quickly requested access to the public be restricted. I won't lie when I say that it was a terrible blow to researchers, especially since the creation of the index for these Belgian records had just begun.

What a treat it was to have been one of the first countries online!!!
Even if it was short lived.

On November 18, FamilySearch made an announcement about having added another 15 million names to its site. Many of them are linked to digital images of original records.
Dick Eastman composed an article on the subject, to which I would like to refer you: A Lot to Be Thankful For

I have had the opportunity of using this wonderful new tool and can't wait till more is uploaded.

While researching on microfilms at our local Family History Center, I have learned to appreciate paging through the reels and finding information in documents that apparently did not fit in my direct lines. Actually that has helped me more than once in stumbling onto great-grandparents I had not found on my direct-line ancestors' records. So when I saw the "Browse the images" option, I jumped on it with both feet.

It didn't take me long to realize that - and that is by no means a criticism, but rather motivation for me to help more - however incredibly wonderful it is, using the browse feature is slow and tedious.

Belgian registers usually have one index at the end of each year.
Some group all the records into one annual book with three indexes at the end of the year, in other words, the records are divided into three parts (sometimes 4):
1. Births,
2. (Marriage Publications - which have no index),
3. Marriages,
4. Deaths.

On a microfilm reader, you just crank up the wheel, find the index, locate the name you are looking for, then if you find something that is relevant to your search, you backtrack (or go forward if the index is at the beginning of the year) to the right page.
It is tedious but I have found this method very efficient.

On the computer, the process is more or less the same, except it is more or less slow depending on your computer's ability to handle the image but also on your internet connection.
And the big question comes up: "Where is the right image?"

You soon learn that you do not need to thumb through each page if you don't want to. You can skip a few forwards and backwards, pretty much in the same way that you would crank up the microfilm reader's wheel forwards and back.

So what has this taught me?
It has taught me the reason why it is so vital to work on the indexing of all these images.
We are incredibly blessed to be able to use this 'browsing' system in the first place but how much easier it would be if all we needed to do is type in a name and narrow down the search.

HOW can this be done?
Through FamilySearch Indexing

Some people have been unhappy with me for getting on my soapbox and encouraging others to get involved with the Indexing program.
This site is for my voice, so I will shout it from the roof tops and as loud as I can.


There are so many records to index out there!
The goal of FamilySearch is to digitize all the microfilms that are in the granite vault and to create an index that will enable people to better use these images to research their roots.

There are many English records to work on, but there are records from everywhere to work on too. I have worked on census records and vital records of several countries and what i find is that it is easier for me to read those whose languages I am most familiar with.

My first experience with this came when we were working on the 1880 US Census.
I had come across a name that, no matter how I looked at it, I was unable to make sense of.
The handwriting was not even the problem. It was actually beautiful.
So, I turned to another indexer who was working on something else and asked her what she thought it was. Without hesitation she said "Felicity" and sure enough once she had said it I could see it too.

There is a need for multilingual people to help.
Not only because you understand the text you are looking at but because you will be more familiar with the names and more likely to recognize them, especially when the handwriting is difficult to decipher. What is hard for you becomes impossible for another and this can affect the accuracy of the end product.

Now, this sounds like the proverbial carrot, I know, but FamilySearch has made good on their promises and will on this too, I have no doubt. "Qualified Indexers" will be given access to databases that are otherwise closed to the public per request of the Archive owner.
A point system has been set up for this purpose.
Some things still have to be worked out at this point (for the Belgian project anyway) but I truly believe it will happen.

Come and help with the Belgian project. You will find greater satisfaction working on this project
- if you are Belgian
- if you read/speak Dutch, French or German fluently

Contact Jean Huysmans and tell him you want to help.

If you want to help with other projects, visit FamilySearch Indexing and click on
"Get started"

There are tutorials to help you learn how to index.
The program is a free download (it is a big program, best downloaded with a high speed connection)

You don't have to go it alone.
There is a feature in the program that enables you to share your work with someone to have them take a look at what you're doing - if you want them to.

Otherwise, the system is simple, with line-by-line instructions right into the form lay-out.

You work as much or as little as you want.
There is no expected quota you must meet.
The batches are small enough that you can index them within 30 minutes but you don't have to do a whole batch in one sitting if you don't have time.
Just close the program and pick up where you left off later
You have a whole week to submit your work.
If you run into a time problem and can not finish, the batch is automatically returned and someone else can pick up where you left off. No questions asked. No bad feelings.

If you are looking to make a difference... consider taking a bite out this elephant...
The task is HUGE and requires many hands.
Many people are already involved but more means faster access but it also means "lighter load" for those who are indexing already.