The following is a post from contributing writer Tabitha.
Thanks to genealogy, I found just what my teenagers needed–a reason to do something else on the computer besides Facebook and music. We can learn, even during the summer! Gasp!
Genealogy and Family History
If you’re not familiar with genealogy, you might not know that there are huge efforts out there to get documents like old church records, censuses, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates online in searchable databases.
There are literally hundreds of millions of these records that can be searched through, but until they are indexed they can only be accessed by going to the source, spending hours scrolling through microfilm, or looking page by page.
You’ve probably seen the commercials for different websites that help you find your roots. These websites need help getting all of this information online. That’s where we were able to participate.
So, we welcomed our children to the world of indexing. You download an image, enter the pertinent information into a form, and upload it back again. Tada! You’ve done something to help someone else.
The kids are truly enjoying this project and I think they don’t even notice that it is work. There was a big push on July 1st and 2nd to break a record for how many names indexed in a single 24 hour period, and that REALLY got them going. We had all 3 computers in the home going with family history work. (And by the way, the record was broken!)
What Are We Learning?
Now for the really sneaky part. What are we, as a family, learning from this? What are my teens learning? What are the smaller children in my family learning from this?
- History. The 1940 Census is just getting online right now, and that’s starting to be a part of living memory for some families. My dad was 2 years old.
- Immigration was an important part of history, and it still is part of our lives today. This made it real as they record nationalities and locations.
- This was right before World War II. How many of these teenagers and young men died in just a few short years?
- Penmanship. They have to work to read some of the older cursive and do some real thinking.
- Geography. The 1940 Census is the largest census so far indexed, and the goal is to finish it state by state. For example, they just finished Pennsylvania and I had the kids looking up the different cities and towns to make sure they were spelling them correctly.
- Family relationships. The kids were seeing 3 generation homes, often with many cousins together, as well as families living together in neighborhoods.
- More than just the basic family information was included. While indexing involves only recording names, ages, and nationalities, the census recorded their jobs and schooling too. There were definite relationships shown between the types of jobs and the level of education.
- Mobility- the census also recorded where each person was 5 years before. You see a lot of movement with the recent Depression and the Dust Bowl years.
- Service. This is providing a much needed benefit to so many people looking for their ancestors.
- Family history can be fun!
I think our whole family was surprised how we all have been so interested in the past just by being involved in an online project to help other people. History has always been an interest, but never this intently and never made so real.
1940 Census – Where you can search the already indexed parts of the 1940 census.
The 1940 Census – How to help index with your own family.
Family Search – Many other resources to search for your roots.
Ancestry.com – Another great family history site.
There are both records to search and records to help index. Some, like Ancestry.com and others, charge for membership, others are free. Everything on familysearch.org is free, which is the one we are working with. The government site lists others.
Anyone can help, anyone can use these resources (the 1940 census will be free, always), and it is a great way to get interested in the past.