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Transcribe, Edit, Share, Win: The NARA Citizen Archivist Project

Check out NARA's new Citizen Archivist project and test your skills with the agency's transcription, editing and sharing challenges. It will increase your knowledge of NARA's billions of records and provide more information for all genealogists and family historians - including you!


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While you wait for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to release the 1940 census on April 2, why not check out their new Citizen Archivist project? It will increase your knowledge of NARA's billions of records and provide more information for all genealogists and family historians - including you!

Found at, NARA's Citizen Archivist dashboard shows you several ways that you can help bring NARA's many records and images online. Currently, the options available are: tagging, transcribing, editing and uploading and sharing.

We already covered tagging with NARA in last October's column: "Playing Tag: The Easy, High-Tech Way For You To Search (and improve!) Archival Records". This time, let's examine NARA's transcription, editing and sharing opportunities.

The Pilot Transcription Project

Similar to FamilySearch Indexing, NARA's pilot transcription project asks you to transcribe documents to make them easier to find, read and understand. There is no login requirement for this project. Simply click on a document and begin. Documents are grouped according to difficulty: beginner (Queen Elizabeth's scone recipe from 1960), intermediate (President Johnson diary entry) and difficult (a letter from a slave to her soldier husband). You can also search by keyword.

Citizen archivists are asked to transcribe, note images on the document (stamps or seals) and generally comment on the page. Some entries, even if completed, will still have spots labeled "illegible." If you're an expert at sleuthing out handwriting, you can try and solve those mysteries.

NARA also has a presence on Wikisource where documents need to be transcribed. These are mostly at the "beginner" level.

Writing and Editing

NARA has an archives wiki where genealogists, researchers and educators are encouraged to join NARA staff in assembling information about NARA records and research. Contributors must login to work on the wiki, but once there they can contribute their own pages, edit other pages, store information gained from research and share research tips.

If you're also a Wikipedia editor, you will want to check out WikiProject NARA to see NARA's two projects there. One project encourages editors to work with the photographs of National Park Service photographer Ansel Adams. The other is NARA's "Today's Document Challenge" If you're not a Wikipedia editor but are still interested, you can sign up to be an editor on the free site.

Uploading and Sharing

If you've spent time in the NARA research rooms armed with a camera or scanner, you could have images that NARA itself has never gotten around to scanning or posting online. (And if you haven't spent time in those rooms, there are plenty of other Americans who have.)

That's why NARA is asking researchers to upload their photos and scans of NARA documents to the free photo-sharing site Flickr. NARA's Flickr group is called the National Archives Citizen Archivist Research Group and as of this writing, had just over 100 images including letters, documents and maps.

Contests, Surveys, Events

On the Citizen Archivist dashboard you can also find contests involving the archives such as previous contests "I Found It in the National Archives" and "The History Happens Here!" Augmented Reality Photo Contest. The events tab keeps researchers updated on the latest seminars, projects and meetings around NARA's crowdsourcing efforts.

But you'll likely want to devote a few minutes to the "Have Your Say" tab. NARA currently has two open forums for you to comment on. One is the Open Government Idea Forum which closes March 21. This forum asks questions like: should NARA give audio-visual material for citizen archivists to transcribe? Should NARA begin a translation project for the Citizen Archivist dashboard?

The other available forum is Managing Government Records, which closes March 27. This forum is working through some big questions on how all government records should be managed, including whether every agency should have a Chief Records Officer and how federal electronic records should be protected.

While these questions might seem too complicated, they are issues every genealogist has a stake in. Family researchers have hands-on experience working with records; sometimes these records are organized, sometimes they are disorganized and sometimes they are unavailable when they should be easy to get. As NARA and other agencies work towards a goal of "open government", your comment on these issues might be one of the biggest contributions you make as a citizen archivist.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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