05 March 2011

Sure It's Online - But Is It Awesome?

     As many genealogists like to point out, not all resources are online, though a lot of them are. And once you find that online resource you might think that was it. But is it? If you had the chance to look at that record in person, would you? I'd recommend that you do.

     If you seek out the original record, or even the "original" microfilm the record was copied from, you might find additional documentation and records. Or you might simply be able to obtain a copy superior to the one available online. When records are put online they are usually done in very large quantities at a very fast rate, which almost always seems to lead to errors. Who hasn't tried to read a washed out census page and wondered how it got past quality control?

     Take for example the Georgia Archive's Virtual Vault. They have a ton of great information online, including land records, death certificates, and marriage records. I've found so many original documents through their site, such as this marriage record for my GGG-Grandfather, Thomas T Albea:

     But last time I went down to the archive, I went ahead and pulled up the marriage records on microfilm. Here's the same record:

     A huge difference huh? The image online is faded and light, whereas the second is nice and dark. Also, the original image is low resolution that doesn't get much bigger than what you see here, whereas the second image is of much higher resolution and can be viewed at a much larger scale. When I pulled up the record in person, I was able to adjust the brightness and contrast how I wanted and then save a very high resolution copy to my flash drive. I'll be able to do a lot more with the second copy than the original.


*GeorgiaTim said...

Good post, and I agree that viewing the "original microfilm" could give you a better-quality image, but the same could be said for gaining access to the original document from which the microfilm was taken -- a modern digital camera or scanner would far exceed the resolution and clarity of 99% of microfilm images. ;) I think the greatest value of on-line digitized images is that it increases their availability to researchers and the public at large. Many of us live a considerable distance from the Archives (of whatever state we need), not to mention the expense of a European research trip, and having access to these digital images may be the only way to obtain some of the documentation we want or need. That's why I'm a staunch advocate of efforts such as the Virtual Vault, even when the images aren't fully indexed.

DearMYRTLE said...

This is what makes me frightened when I hear that the National Archives is planning to move the US Civil War Pension files (union) once they are microfilmed. The plan is to send them to St. Louis.

At least they won't destroy them like they did some more recent US federal census records.

We always need to opportunity to look at the original document for exactly the reasons you describe in this blog post.

Also, what if something is "skipped" when digitizing? A tiny scrap of paper might hold THE CLUE to the family mystery.

THANKS for writing! Keep up the GREAT work.


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