Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ancestry/NARA Memorial Day Announcement

The National ArchivesThe National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and announced today a press event to kick off their new agreement and to celebrate Memorial Day. For more than a decade the two have collaborated to expand the availability of NARA records. Ancestry provides the largest online collection of digitized and indexed NARA content, including all available U.S. census population schedules, all NARA microfilmed passenger lists from 1820-1960, and WWI and WWII draft registration cards.

Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, and Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry will be available at the event next Tuesday, 20-May-2008 at the National Archives Building. They will do one-on-one interviews to explain how the agreement helps preserve America's heritage and provide Internet access of important historical documents. The new agreement between the two will facilitate faster and more flexible digitization of NARA records by allowing personnel to place and use digitization equipment in NARA's facilities.

This event comes just days after NARA posted a new report "Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016," that among other things discusses its philosophy and approach to partnerships with vendors such as Ancestry.

In conjunction with the 20-May event, Ancestry and NARA are celebrating Memorial Day and honoring those who have served our country. Access to Ancestry's U.S. military records will be free from that time until the end of the month. This would be a good time for you to add military memorials to the veterans in your family tree. On their person page in your Ancestry Tree click on Create Military Page in the Tools section on the right side of the page.

Ancestry's NARA Content

Ancestry's NARA content includes more than 750 million names and 70 million images. If stacked, the records would be four times taller than the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and the Hoover Dam piled on top of each other. A line of 750 million people would extend from Los Angeles to New York City 59.5 times.

In recent years has added better source references to material obtained from NARA, allowing researchers to site information properly and to consult original NARA holdings. Now has introduced a new search page that searches all its NARA content. Perhaps even more useful, the page lists all its NARA holdings in one place, giving microfilm series numbers, the NARA series title and the corresponding Ancestry title. Ancestry users have long needed an easy way to take a NARA citation, check to see if the source was available on Ancestry and then view the original document.

List of Ancestry's NARA content, by series

An interesting aspect of this list is the inclusion of the number of microfilm rolls (or fiche) included. I did a little counting and found Ancestry's collection includes over 61,000 rolls of microfilm/fiche from nearly 286 NARA series. Searching for series numbers (like "A1154") in the Card Catalog still doesn't work, but given the enormous value of this new page, I should hardly complain.

To perform a search or see the list of Ancestry's NARA content, visit .

For more information about Ancestry's NARA holdings, visit . For more information about Ancestry's military collection, visit .

Journalists can obtain more information by contacting the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300 or Ancestry's Sara Black at 213-996-3812.


  1. Insider,

    Of course it is a welcome thing for Ancestry or other vendors to cooperate better with NARA and provide more content, whether subscription based for those at home, or free at NARA facilities. I have a question though about Ancestry having work stations at NARA, which is did Ancestry not already have such? Or were they previously just buying the micros and digitizing from them?

    Also regarding citations, there is still one critical missing element which is the *microfilm number tied to an individual frame*, whether in census or other collections. Heritage Quest does provide the microfilm number when viewing the census, and I am sure Ancestry could as well, and especially could do so for new collections more easily. I realize that 95% of Ancestry subscribers who have little notion of proper citations would not care, but it seems simple enough to implement if it is planned for, and makes for providing all the information one would need to generate a proper citation without having to track down the roll numbers elsewhere, which is difficult for non-census record groups.

    Also since I was discussing the census, and since you have previously said you would discuss sometime what some of us have described as large and glaring quality control problems with various databases, I will mention that this past week I had reason to review the census for a certain county in a certain year that is missing a page. I reported this to Ancestry *over one year ago* and got the usual canned response. Since this page is not missing on Heritage Quest, it is obviously available easily for scanning and inclusion. I have many more references to such missing and out of order census records on Ancestry but do not waste my time now reporting same.


  2. Dear Mike,

    Thanks for your comments.

    1. Ancestry previously had to rely on NARA microfilm. Now Ancestry can directly contribute to the long-term preservation efforts of the National Archives.

    2. A little known fact is that Ancestry shows the microfilm roll and frame numbers. Look just above the Source Information underneath an individual record. You are correct that it helps if the citation was planned for. In situations where it was not, Ancestry has had to get creative. In this example the roll number is appended to the series number with an underline.

    3. I feel your pain. I too am frustrated at times by how long it takes to fix some problems. I think Ancestry needs to improve in this area.

    Ancestry does fix plenty of problems. But since Ancestry doesn't have a system to respond to each individual that reports an image problem, you'll see a lot more public buzz about problems discovered than problems resolved.

    And I completely love the Ancestry feature that let's you add your own corrections to names. I've noticed the turn-around time for adding my corrections to the census indexes is down to a couple of days and a week or two for more obscure databases.

    Finally, I can't tell you what I know about a big project to address U.S. Federal Census problems. I'm pretty confident that the project that I didn't mention will almost certainly fix all your outstanding issues.

    -- The Ancestry Insider

    P.S. Don't bother asking; if I can't mention the project's existence, I can't mention when to expect it.

  3. Insider,

    Thanks for the response. That was little known to me, as in unknown, that roll numbers are provided for census records. I usually just open the image from a list of search results and rarely actually click "view record", so I was unaware of that. However that only seems to be the case for census records as I checked a couple other databases like the TN marriage one mentioned, and there are no such roll numbers for that. I can get them from the TSA site, but it would be nice if Ancestry had it too.

    That is good news that at some unspecified time in the future some undisclosed project will fix the census problems :). However I would mention one other thing regarding that. Which is that Ancestry skips some pages in a county enumeration when those pages do not have data. This is problematic precisely for the reason of checking the pagination and determining if a page is missing. While most often it will be obvious such is not the case from an unbroken sequence of dwelling/family numbers, in some enumerations it won't be clear because the enumerator started from 1 at the beginning of each new page, and also because Ancestry incorrectly determines township groupings occasionally. It would be better to just image and serve up every page in the order it comes in the original records.



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