Community Generated Databases for NY State History Conference 2013
Data for Research
Welcome to a presentation about several
developing ways of creating searchable
or readable historical databases and
This is a presentation about several ways of
creating searchable or readable databases which
utilize volunteers outside of traditional
organizations to create the underlying materials to
be used in historical research.
The Church Records Preservation Committee of
the Rochester Genealogical Society, various
aspects of New York Heritage.org, and a program
called Viewshare will be discussed and shown.
Several other projects are mentioned.
How do you get data from the world to a place
where it can be analyzed? One good way is to
utilize people who have an interest in a subject
or place to create a useable data set.
They do this because they want to and they have an
affection for the work - not because they are hired hands
who have to do it. History should not be viewed - it
should be experienced. And “amateurs” love to
How does this relate to CGDB’s?
• Because digital formats lend themselves to
being worked on, on various kinds of
equipment, at various times, and can utilize
skills that volunteers have gained from other
work, in the advancement of history and its
• All these sources which might be overwhelming
to deal with can be more easily utilized if they
are easier to use. And CGDB’s can help do this.
What is the argument for having
or developing a CGDB?
in a nutshell -
• That costs and time may prevent staff from
more fully utilizing items in their
• Some of this can be overcome by doing
outreach into the community and
capitalizing on their skills to create new
materials for research use.
* is the sweet sp
you are seek
What are some examples of
groups and CGDB’s?
• The RGS-CRPC - the Rochester
Genealogical Society Church Records
• New York Heritage
Why are CGDB’s important?
• They make various collections much more
useful and accessible - think a group of
pictures put up willy nilly on a web site vs.
accessible and preserved records (RGSCRPC), an indexed and described collection
with amplified data
(NewYorkHeritage.org), or useful ways of
looking at material (Viewshare).
Why do this?
• Makes your collections available 24/7/365,
and gain a wider audience.
-->Why have a collection if it’s not used?<-• Once it’s created it can be available not
only on the shelf but also on all manner of
devices. In other words, market!
• Position your organization as a leader in
information. Donors take notice.
From a library school in Illinois.
They have a course in library school
Why use non-staff?
• Outsiders can be highly skilled and
motivated, and they can have the time,
equipment, money, and skills to make useful
contributions. Many train themselves.
• There’s a difference for the organization in
inner directed vs. outer directed - the
“don’t come in”, hesitant to change, and
keep it simple for us to have mindset,
• “here’s what we have, come enjoy it” and
the response to users.
• The RGS CRPC has been in operation with a
changing cast of volunteers since 2005.
• New York Heritage is an ongoing project
statewide. I will mention experience in utilizing
skills from my working life to enhance various
• Viewshare is an interesting and free project that
can greatly enhance the visualization and usability
of data. Almost anyone can be shown how it
works and create useful charts from the underlying
the RGS CRPC
• In 2005, RGS initiated a Church Records
Preservation Committee (CRPC) for the purpose of
assisting churches and their archives with
conservation of their non-replaceable records.
• A digitization process has been developed that is
otherwise not available to them, is relatively quick
and not harmful to the documents. The churches are
given a CD of all their records and the privatized
records are posted on the website of the RGS. This is
done at no cost to the churches.
• Work has been expanded to include the records of
the Mt. Hope and Riverside Cemeteries (over
500,000 burials) since their records are of
genealogical and historical interest.
• Records posted on the RGS website
have been edited to comply with New
York State vital records guidelines.
• Copies are given to the church, and will
eventually be given to the public library.
Who does this?
• Volunteers are all active family history
researchers and come from many
different backgrounds. Most are retired
and all are extremely dedicated and
hard-working. The photography
sessions are 3 - 4 hours long and
several volunteers work an average of
10 additional hours per week doing the
How is it funded?
• The work of the CRPC is funded through RGS
membership dues and donations.
• Recently an anonymous benefactor made a
generous donation (multi thousands of $$) to
the organization to further the work of the
committee. This money has been and will be
used to purchase new camera and computer
equipment and software.
NewYorkHeritage.org is a research portal for students, educators,
historians, genealogists, and everyone else interested the people,
places and institutions of historical New York State. The site
provides immediate, free access to digital collections that reflect
New York State's long history.
But anyone can contribute!
Who is this done for?
While the materials in New York Heritage are
available to anyone visiting the site, the primary
focus of the program is geared to New York
audiences. The target audiences include:
students and teachers of all levels; scholars and
researchers; government employees; business
community; tourists and tourism agencies;
genealogists; and residents and former residents of
Who does the work?
• Sometimes staff of libraries and societies,
sometimes students, and often community
Does it take professional skills?
•Only teachability, and adequate equipment.
•Can be done in smaller increments and
What is my experience?
• Interesting to do
• Helpful to others
• Can use Ancestry.com, etc. to further
amplify the informational content.
• Putting additional content and explanatory
information in the searchable metadata
makes the collection much more useful.
That was oversized, and was stitched together by a Flip-Pal
What is Viewshare?
“Viewshare is a free platform for generating
and customizing views (interactive maps,
timelines, facets, tag clouds) that allow
users to experience your digital
What does it look like?
What is necessary?
• Viewshare links to or operates on already
digital materials. It can ingest data from
Excel spreadsheets, Metadata Object
Description Schema (MODS), Dublin Core
data from an OAI [Open Archives
Initiative] end point and some instances of
ContentDM (version 4 Only)
What are some other generated
data that have been created?
There are several:
The Henrietta NY Public Library has digitized
various obits and diaries.
An individual from the Wayne County
Genealogical Society has taken over 1000
images of Newark/Arcadia Township
• The University of Rochester has a Speaking
Stones class where biographies of persons
buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery are written
and made available
• Nazareth College has a similar project
dealing with the Pittsford NY cemetery
• The Ogden Farmers’ Library hosts a
genealogical society and has residents who
have produced indexes. Some of these are
now part of the Rochester Public Library’s
Life Records Project.
Basic concepts of CGDB's
• Traditional vs. new
• Paper vs. digital
• Storage vs. use
Information can be found much more
easily, using search engines etc.
Almost anything that exists in a tangible
format can be digitized and made
available on multiple devices and
• Easy idea, with complex implementation
• What is needed vs. what is wanted
• If you don’t embrace it, you could be blindsided and
• Rise of individual sites and lack of curation/standards.
• Levels the playing field in a way by allowing
communities to help decide what is important to them.
Who can do this?
• Besides staff of institutions, think of
utilizing students and community volunteers
to prepare the data, do the scanning of the
materials to be made digital, and uploading
it. If they are talented, oversee the metadata
production that they do.
• You ARE going to do metadata, right?
How does this relate to CGDBs?
Many organizations have existing but underutilized
The people doing the scanning, transcribing and
actual processing of the materials can be
developed from a motivated community.
By volunteering their time and expertise, these
people process materials that can be discovered
and utilized by by a wider audience.
How can people to do the CGDB
work be identified and used?
Talk to groups that want to talk to you.
Market the collections
Utilize students and volunteers to develop
• History is in competition with everything
else for the user’s attention and it should be
easier to access.
Ok, how about standards?
• Know the requirements for projects like
New York Heritage and Viewshare; discuss
what standards will be done for a
• Set a goal. Have the necessary equipment.
Do act on what is produced.
• Look at your collection and see what could
use indexing, easier access, and better
• Try to contact local groups who can do this.
• Establish standards, or review the ones that
the community group itself has.
• If necessary, start small and gradually grow.
• Have a plan to follow.
To sum up about CGDB’s
What do you have that could use more attention?
Who in your area might be approached about volunteering
or contributing (retirees, students, etc?)
What kind of background are you looking for?
What kind of training will be required, if any?
How are you going to catalog it and make it available?
You can find many guides to volunteers in
historical settings through a web search.
Library schools or college history classes
may be other places to look for information.
A (sanitized) quote from the
actor John Wayne
• If you get their eyes, their hearts and minds will follow.