In regard to genealogical searching, there should always be multiple ways of accessing data, and multiple places that it can be found. Viewshare is another of those projects that promises to be useful for genealogical researchers.
My experience with Viewshare is at a beginner's level. I would encourage anyone who reads this to investigate what they have in their local areas that could become part of this project, as well as searching what is already in the web sites. There are a number of statewide collections from many contributors. This is meant to be another way of accessing these collections, and also allows different ways of looking at data that are done automatically by the software.
And, oh yes, it's free. So are accounts that you register. And so are the blogs and web pages about this project.
So, what is Viewshare and why should you use it or be a part of it? It is free, as I have mentioned, and it is sponsored and hosted by the Library of Congress. It is a part of the Digital NDIIP program. See the Library of Congress Digital Preservation web site for a longer discussion.
Why is this important to you? At the time of writing there are only about 1400 databases available, but these can be searched and information can be found. The point I am making is that Viewshare is one more place to search for information about your ancestors and other relatives, and since it is free there is no cost involved to you. Instead of writing at length about it here, I will keep to a few simple examples.
One item that I found was the Cason-Monk funeral card collection for Nacogdoches TX. This is displayed showing where people from that area are buried, and contains a link to each burial card that has been digitized. Yes, it's from East Texas, but the information contained is for more than 2800 families.
If you or your genealogical society, historical society and so on were to put your information online, then local people and those far away from your location could access it. And it is more than just genealogy - there are political science, industrial information, and other sources that would help find more information about relatives that might have been involved in these areas. Even art displays might be helpful, as many families do have people who are talented in artistic endeavors.
For example, locally I have an Excel spreadsheet database of a state census, which gives the county of birth if in New York, how long a person has lived in the area, and about 20 other fields. What makes using this in Viewshare "better" if you will, is the easy way that various views of the data can be created. For example, if the county of birth is given, Viewshare will automagically retrieve the latitude and longitude for the place and plot it on a map. The views that can be created and done in plots are only limited by what is in the database. So, everything that the user wants to be in the online version has to be there.
Another example I have created is one of the earliest German Lutheran settlers' marriages in my town. Having nearly 700 of them allows users to see the average age at marriage, location on a map of where they were from, etc; and when the underlying records are digitized, they can be linked to this online dataset.
This differs from the commercial subscription databases, because by and large Viewshare is being put together by individuals, small groups, or colleges and it will be a long time, if ever, when this information is available on the large major genealogical search sites, either commercial or nonprofit.
And why is this important? Because even then, you will be limited to just looking at them and not visualizing them in various ways. I will explain that next.
It is possible to make a reference to a collection stored online elsewhere. That was what was done in Texas with the Cason-Monk funeral cards. These have a tremendous amount of genealogically useful data on the, as described on the Cason-Monk Collection web page. Various views have been created which show Age at Death, Death Year, Birth Year, Race, Religion, (which includes Assembly of God, Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Protestant, Quaker, Seven Day Adventist) and the views contain, Age v. Death • Birth v. Death • Age v. Birth • Map • and a Gallery. And each of the plots is linked to the underlying person's information. Even better, one can make extra value-added compilations which appear where you choose. Examples would be the number of people from a certain area (such as in a cemetery or a census), people by ages (such as the numbers of brides or grooms within a user specified age grouping), and so on. This is all generated on the fly - but the underlying numbers do have to be in the uploaded data set.
This is just a brief overview of what can be found. At this writing it's not possible to do a "federated search" across all the collections; you have to look collection-by-collection. And yet there are family pictures, manuscripts, etc., so you never know what will be helpful to you.
Here's a bit of technical information about this project, taken from the web site: "Viewshare.org is a free web application for generating and customizing unique, dynamic views through which users can experience cultural heritage digital collections. The intended users of Viewshare are individuals managing and creating access to digital collections of cultural heritage materials. Contact us at email@example.com to request a free account."
Viewshare.org runs an open source web application (Recollection) that creates the website. Recollection can be downloaded from the Library of Congress' Recollection Sourceforge page. Recollection is built from a series of web-based open standards and open source tools.
There currently isn't a way to search across the data that individuals upload. So the view of 1402 collections is itself created from a spreadsheet and those 1402 collections from various partners in the NDIIPP program, not necessarily that those collections are currently using Viewshare. The Library of Congress is discussing implementing ways to search across or explore other collections for the future, but for right now it is primarily a tool for composing these views and sharing them directly with users. You can also take a look at some of the various blog posts that the Library of Congress has written about the project and about particular uses of the project: http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/?s=viewshare
Do note that Viewshare cannot currently handle a data set of more than 5,000 items with ease. I have loaded 10,000 into it, but the response time slows to minutes, not seconds. So, if you put items online, break down a larger set into some sensible (i.e., chronological for marriages) data sets.
What kinds of data will it import? (The online manual goes into great detail). Excel spreadsheets; Add a File From a URL; from XML MODS; and from Open Archival Initiative data sets.
Following are some links for better understanding and using Viewshare:
- http://digital.sfasu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/CasonMonk - the actual digitized funeral cards.
- http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2012/04/better-know-a-viewshare-exploring-texas-funeral-records/ - an interview with the creator of the funeral card links.
- http://viewshare.org/views/trow/cason-monk-metcalf/ - an experimental collection of views created from the aforementioned Cason-Monk data set.
- http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/ - The Signal Digital Preservation blog, with great links to various projects around the country.
- http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2012/03/sheer-preservation-%E2%80%93-familysearch-and-preserving-the-heritage-of-mankind/ - an interview with people from Familysearch.org. (Of course, I found this interesting: "What is the most interesting aspect of your digital preservation work? - People are often astonished at the volume of information we process—10 to 15 terabytes of record images every day as we scan our microfilm collection and digitally capture and transcribe new records around the world. We currently have 4 petabytes of high resolution images stored in automated tape libraries.").
- http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/collections/ - a page with a map showing the nationwide distribution of the projects.
- http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/?s=genealogy - gives eight results which discuss personal archiving etc.
- http://digital.sfasu.edu/cdm/ - the digital archives at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, TX: "The digitized material is freely available to students, teachers and the general public for their historical and genealogical research."
- http://viewshare.org/profiles/ - lists the various partners in the Viewshare project.
- http://sassyjanegenealogy.blogspot.com/2012/05/follow-friday-exploring-texas-funeral.html - a blog post about the Texas death cards
- http://viewshare.org/about/userguide/ - the online user guide for Viewshare.
- http://viewshare.org/about/faq/ and http://viewshare.org/import/ - the pages that tell you which kinds of collections can be imported and how to do it.
- http://sourceforge.net/projects/loc-recollect/ - the Sourceforge page to download the software.