The US Holocaust Memory Museum (USHMM) has teamed up with Ancestry.com to digitize and index the millions of documents from the USHHM’s archives. This partnership is leveraging the indexing software that Ancestry.com build for its existing community project, the World Archives Project. Basically, this software allows people to register on Ancestry.com (this is free) and select a document in the queue, view a document, and then transcribe it so it will become searchable. The software knows the structure of the document you are transcribing and helps you through the process. Usually the way this kind of system works is that more than one person ends up transcribing each document, and then if there are any differences between the multiple transcriptions, an expert reviewer will check the transcription and correct any mistakes. This redundant system allows non-expert transcribers to help in a massive indexing projects like this one.
I wrote awhile back about the concept of giving back to genealogy through indexing projects like this one. In that article I explained how the process works at FamilySearch.org, whose indexing program is very similar. If you have been researching family members that were killed in the Holocaust then this is a great way to give back to the community. The millions of records being indexed from the USHMM archive will increase our knowledge about millions of people whose lives are recorded in these documents. Many of these documents will hold the key to families discovering what happened to their relatives during the war.
At the beginning, the project has started out indexing the following ten document collections:
- USHMM Ain, France, Selected Holocaust Records
- USHMM Czech Republic, Jews Deported to Terezin and Poland
- USHMM Czech Republic, Selected Jewish Holocaust Records, 1939-1941
- USHMM Eure-et-Loir, France, Selected Holocaust Records
- USHMM Munich, Germany, Displaced Jewish Orphans at the Ulm Children’s Home, 1945-1948
- USHMM Palestine, Illegal Immigration from Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1938-1946
- USHMM Poland, Jewish Holocaust Survivors Registered in Warsaw, 1945-1946
- USHMM Poland, Jewish Prisoners of War in Lublin, 1939-1941
- USHMM Poland, Jews Displaced from Biała Podlaska to Mie̜dzyrzecz Podlaski, 1942
- USHMM Romania, Family Questionnaires for Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Victims, 1945
The languages vary per collection, but the system is designed to allow even those without knowledge of the specific language to help transcribe the documents. Of course, if you do know one of the languages from these collections, that can only help. As the Palestine collection was generated by the British Mandate government, that collection is largely in English.
The project expects the first documents to be made available by this summer or early fall. As more document collections are completed they will be added to the web site. Like other collections that are indexed by the public (through the World Archives Project), these collections will be free to search, even though it is being hosted by Ancestry.com.
To get an idea of how indexing a document works, you can view a video guide the project has posted for one of the Polish collections:
The video should give you a good idea of how the process works.
[Update: Ancestry seems to have removed the video from their site and made it private on Youtube. I don’t know why this is case, but you can go to their written explanation of the same data collection to see pictures of the records and what information is extracted from them.]
One important note, especially since I am a Mac user myself, is that the Ancestry.com software being used for this project does not support the Mac. You can only currently join this project if you are running Windows. Hopefully Ancestry.com will remedy this problem in the near future.
It seems this week has had two intertwined themes running through it, the Holocaust and the digitization of archives. This project certainly borrows from both themes and it is great that there is a way for everyone to help in bringing these very important archival materials online.