Archive for the ‘Digitization’ Category


If you are doing research on colonial North American ancestors, there is work being done at Harvard that should be of interest. Founded in 1636, Harvard has what should be a rich resource of manuscripts dating throughout the colonial period. The problem is that they are scattered physically throughout a number of collections within the Harvard Library system. This makes them more difficult to find and many are little used. Harvard’s Colonial North American Project is a huge digitization project that should help solve this problem. Digitization allows Harvard to bring all of these manuscripts together in one place and at the same to make them available remotely to researchers — and that includes family history researchers. There are no restrictions to access these collections through its online portal http://colonialnorthamerican.library.harvard.edu.  I believe the project is about one third done. So far there are no transcriptions that I’ve seen, so you may have to brush up on colonial handwriting conventions.

There is a nice presentation on YouTube of this ongoing project by the Harvard University Archivist, Megan Sniffin-Marinoff. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08R8kNd9lHw&sns=em

Looked at another way, you’ll be time travelling back several centuries to a culture and a way of thinking about the world that was very familiar to your ancestors but totally foreign to you.

I’d like to thank Mark from our Genealogy Club for alerting me to this project.

vea/11 February 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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Internet Archive's special book cradle for digitizing books

Internet Archive’s special book cradle for digitizing books

Conservation.  Preservation.  What’s the difference?  These two words are often used interchangeably, but they do mean different things. I often found myself getting confused by the two terms, so I contacted the Boston Public Library.  Stuart Walker, a Book Conservator at the BPL provided this clarification. “Preservation encompasses all the range of things people (such as conservators) do to maintain collections or individual items in the best condition possible.  This includes cleaning, temperature and RH control, education of the public, pest management, disaster preparedness and recovery planning, mass deacidification programs, digitization, etc. etc.  Conservation refers to specific repair work on materials, whether whole collections, or individual items.”

1891 Newton City Directory with Container Plus Separate MapAs you pull together your family documents, photographs, letters, and other materials, you may discover that some have deteriorated. If not now, they may over time. Paper has all sorts of enemies — dampness, heat, light, fire, insects, rodents, even the acid that can be part of the paper itself.  If you look at an old book and see the pages crumble as you turn them, the book is made of highly acidic paper, often from pine wood.  If you look at a book made of older paper, say around the 1770s, it will often be in very good shape.  Why? It’s made using bleached rags, hence the term rag paper.  Photographs pose problems as well.  And newspaper clippings become brittle very quickly.

Durant-Kenrick House, October 2010What if you are concerned about family heirlooms, furniture or even an historic home.  Organizations such as Historic New England (formerly know as The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) are deeply involved in the conservation and preservation of houses built during specific periods and everything that goes into them — clothing, quilts, wall paper, curtains, furniture, cooking utensils, farming implements…

Think about the critical written records of your family, the photographs, the family heirlooms.  To be available to future generations, they must all be preserved and damaged ones may be able to be repaired (conserved).  If this is a concern, you should consult a person with experience in this field for advice. This is not a do-it-yourself project. It is better to leave something alone than to unintentionally do more damage.  “First do no harm” applies to family archives as well as to doctors.

QUICK TIP:  NEVER, EVER use tape on anything you want to save.  Just look at an old book that has been repaired with tape or photographs that have been added with tape.  Tape ruins whatever it touches.


WEBSITES (Just click on the website of interest)

Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library

“Preserving, Protecting, Preserving Family Treasures” from the Library of Congress

FamilyArchives.com  Getting Started

Northeast Document Conservation Center 

American Library Association

Historic New England Library and Archives

Preservation at Historic New England

BOOKS (Just click on the title of interest to see a book’s status)

Baldridge, Aimee.  Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Video, and Personal Documents in a Digital World.  Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2009. 006.6 B19O

May-Levenick, Denise S. How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia, and Genealogy Records. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, 2012. 929.1 L57H

Preserving Local Writers, Genealogy, Photographs, Newspapers and Related Materials.  Edited by Carol Smallwood and Elaine Williams.  Lenham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2012.  025.84 S63P

Taylor, Maureen Alice.  Preserving Your Family Photographs:  How to Care for Your Family Photographs – From Daguerreotypes to Digital Imaging.  Lexington, KY: Picture Perfect Press, 2010.  771.46 T21P

vea/7 January 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy




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1891 Newton City Directory with Container Plus Separate MapThe picture to the left shows the easy way of accessing city directories.  You request the book. It gets delivered to you. You look up what you need.  When you go online, it can be a whole different story.  I had a patron last month who asked me to show him how to actually search and print out information from our online city directories.  It was not easy.

As regular readers of this blog know, I do not remember how to do anything technological if I haven’t used a particular process for several months (or a shorter time if it’s complicated). Nobody has the time to keep reinventing the wheel.  So early on I devised a system where I took screenshots of what I was doing and added instructions.  (A good filing system helps here, whether hard copy or online.) So this is what I did to remind myself how to work with the city directories.  If I need it, I figure some of you could use the help, too.

Below I give two links.  The first is a link to the Newton City Directories that are online.  The second is to my instructions for dealing with digitized city directories.  Be patient. I may take a couple of minutes to come up.  It is a pdf, so you should be able to print it out if you like to work from hard copy.

Click here for the digitized Newton City Directories.

Click here for Searching and Printing Historic City Directories Using the City of Newton Website.

If the above instructions do not work for the digitized city directories of other cities or towns, let me know, along with a link to those city directories.

vea/25 November 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy


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Digital Commonwealth, begun in 2007,  hopes to do two things:  to facilitate the creation of digital collections within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to provide a central site for access to these collections. Funding for Digital Commonwealth  has come from two sources: the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and membership fees.  There are fees for participating members.  For of small institution the fee is $50.00.  For a larger one it is $100.00.  For Group Sponsoring Organizations it is $500.00.  (For more information on membership, see the Membership Information link below.)

Camera setup at the BPL

Camera setup at the BPL

The Boston Public Library has also long been committed to developing and maintaining free digital access to library material.  The initial funding for the BPL’s scanning and digitization lab came from a portion of the insurance money received as a result of the August 1998 flood that took out much of the library’s basement.  They also have received grants through  various sources, including the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).  In 2007 the BPL committed to a two year project to scan their government documents collection, which took a major hit during the flooding.  In 2008 they partnered with Open Library/Internet Archive with the ultimate goal of  digitizing  all their public domain books. (The genealogy books located in the Social Sciences Department have all been done. )  The main building of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square  has two labs, one for the Internet Archive (see my earlier post of 15 October below) and their digitization lab, where the pictures included in this posting were taken on 18 July 2012.

Digital Commonwealth  partnered with the Boston Public Library in November of 2011. A letter of agreement between Digital Commonwealth and the BPL “states that Digital Commonwealth will take the lead on planning outreach activities and conferences and that the BPL will take the lead on developing and maintaining the technological infrastructure, creating user-friendly instructions, and providing some customer service for participating members.”   (Click on the previous sentence to learn more about the agreement.)

Who can have material digitized? Massachusetts libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies can have collections digitized. The Digital Commonwealth considers itself a resource for all libraries in the Commonwealth. The group hopes to build a broad based, state wide coalition. Even individuals can have material digitized and added to Digital Commonwealth.

Helen Keller's Bathing Suit

Helen Keller’s Bathing Suit

What can be digitized? Basically, if it can fit through the door they can do it. Digital Commonwealth works with books, maps, glass slides, photos, objects, even Helen Keller’s bathing suit …  If a map is too large, they will do it in sections and Photoshop it back together again. There is, however, one exception.  They do not digitize newspapers. Think of the difference between the setup of a book and a newspaper. Digitizing newspapers is a whole different ballgame.  It requires separate, specialized hardware and software.

Scanner and Storage

Scanner and Storage

What do you need to do and how much will it cost?  My understanding is that Digital Commonwealth will do the digitization for free, through an LSTA grant they receive.   However, if you want them to digitize your material, there is a certain amount of work that needs to be done in advance.  First, if needed, the material must be conserved.  Digitization is never a replacement for conservation.  After you have the original material conserved, then you must create a specific description for each item.  Digital Commonwealth can advise you on what information needs to be included.  You may need a grant to get all of this done.  Again, check with Digital Commonwealth.  They can come to you to assess what is needed to digitize your material, to give you advice on how to proceed and, when ready for digitization, to pick up and return your material. Another point of note, this should not be considered a piecemeal project. They encourage the digitization of entire collections, not a bit here and a bit there.

To learn more, click on:

Digital Commonwealth.

Digital Commonwealth Collections  (listed as the Collection Tree)       Once here, click on an individual library and then click on the specific collection of interest to access the material.

Digital Commonwealth Membership Information

Digital Commonwealth Contact Information

Digital Commonwealth News Blog

Digital Commonwealth List of Members

Digital Commonwealth Member Resources


The Boston Public Library’s blog, the BPL Compass, published a series of blog postings about Digital Commonwealth in March and April of 2012. I have listed the links below.

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Introduction

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 1

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 2

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 3

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 4

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 5

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 6

vea/3 January 2013/links updated 7 January 2012
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass

Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net

Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com

Exploring Newton’s Past (a LibGuide): http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy?hs=a

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Recently I did a blog posting about the Internet Archive at the Boston Public Library. Since that time I have been working with it more than I have in the past.  I know the Boston Public Library has put all of their older books relating to genealogy into the Internet Archive.  (This is the collection that is housed in their Social Sciences Collection on the second floor of their older McKim building. ) With just one genealogy collection this large, let alone the the collections that other libraries  have been adding, it seemed logical that the Internet Archive would have a category devoted to genealogy.  I went hunting.  It takes a few clicks  to get there.  If you click on one of the options below, you will find five screenshots that will show you how to get there.



A WORD OF WARNING REGARDING A SIMILAR WEBSITE.  The Internet Archive is absolutely free to use.  You can usually download books into your computer to use as needed.  It has a specific arddress: https://archive.org. If you find yourself at a site that offers a seven day free trial it is not this site.  There is another site whose web address ends in archives [plural, not singular].com [not .org] that is a for profit site.  This other site will ask you for a credit card to access its free trial.  I have known two people who have used this second site.  They have not been able to opt out by clicking a designated spot on the website.  Both had to actually phone the company.  Neither found anything useful at this second site.  I repeat, there is no cost to use the Internet Archive site I am citing.  You will NOT be asked for your credit card.

vea/17 November 2012
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com Exploring Newton’s Past (LibGuide) : http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy?hs=a

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To me, there is nothing like having a book in my hands or an original record on the table in front of me.  Sometimes seeing the original gives you that one piece of information that you need that you would not get from it online. At the same time, none of us have unlimited resources (time or money).  The only things that do appear to be unlimited are the books and records that just might contain the information we are seeking.

Thank goodness for digitization. Although what is available online is still the tip of the iceberg, that tip keeps getting bigger thanks to grants for digitization projects and groups like the Internet Archive.  We are able to quickly search an entire online book electronically for one piece of information or read it page by page for a more in depth study.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Internet Archive at its Northeast Regional Scanning Center, conveniently located at the Boston Public Library.  The Archive digitizes books, yearbooks, city annual reports. Anything between covers could be a candidate for digitization. Our guide specifically discussed Boston’s annual reports. Now a city’s annual report may sound like boring reading.  Don’t you believe it. There can be all sorts of information packed away there. They have great local history. One researcher was able to digitally search city annual reports to track the growth and decline of specific ethnic groups within specific neighborhoods of Boston.  This was make possible by the work that had already been done by the Internet Archive.

Books used to be time consuming and difficult to digitize, but the Internet Archive now uses a specially designed V-shaped cradle to hold the books being copied.  [No broken spines.]  A 300 page book can now take just a few hours.  The Internet Archive scans also include OCR (Optical Code Recognition). This creates data code for the content of books which, in turn, allows information and specific words within books to be tracked. It could have taken our friend mentioned above years to do the research that he was able to search digitally in a much shorter time.

Did you know that you can read any of the books scanned by the Internet Archive on your Kindle? They can also be listened to as audio books as well, but the voice does sound canned. Internet Archive owns the books that they copy and they give their digital copies away free to whoever wants to read or listen to them.  The cost is 10 cents per page.  It’s $30.00 for a 300 page book, but you get it for free. Money for the scanning often comes from grants. Google would have digitized all these books for free, but in the end Google would have owned the digitized version of all the books.  If they wanted to charge for access in the future, they could.

The BPL has had all their genealogy books digitized.  If a book is still under copyright and it is a book that cannot be lent in hard copy, they loan out digitally only that number that they have in hard copy.  If they own three hard copy (paper) books, only three people can borrow the digital copies.  Legally this seems to satisfy the copyrights. For a link to this treasure trove, just click BPL at the Internet Archive.

vea/15 October 2012
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com

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