Digitisation projects by various non-profit, government and commercial organisations have given family historians access to a plethora of records that were previously very difficult to access or obtain. We can now access rich and diverse materials from a range of institutions across the globe without leaving the confines of our homes.
The National Library of New Zealand's Introduction to Digitisation tells us:
Digitisation is the process of converting a physical object like a book, newspaper, photograph or sound recording into a computer file. Methods of digitising objects include scanning and digital photography.
The benefits of digitisation
Digitising physical objects has a number of benefits, including:
- Improving access. Digitised items which are available on the internet can be accessed anywhere at any time.
- Assisting research. For example, by making the text in magazines and newspapers searchable, researchers can quickly identify sections of interest without having to browse through every issue.
- Preserving items. Digitisation means that original material may not have to be used as often by researchers. It is also an effective means of preserving sound recordings.
Having access to a range of free and subscription digitised collections has greatly enhanced my knowledge of earlier generations, has enabled me to identify new ancestors and verify details for others. Without Trove I would not have known that my great-great-grandfather was the starter at the local race club, a member of the rifle club or the builder of a number of country buildings in New South Wales. From NSW State Records collections I have been able to view digitised passenger lists that include the names and details of my ancestors. Familysearch, a leader in records digitisation, provides access to digital records from many countries; these may just be digital images of card files from resource catalogues to images of original parish records.
Commercial entities like Ancestry and FindMyPast often enter into agreements to digitise records from repositories and make them available for a fee from their sites. I have found numerous Census Records, Shipping Reccords and Electoral Roll entries from sites like these.
As well as accessing images others have taken of ancestors headstones from sites like Australian Cemeteries Index I pay back by photographing images and posting them to BillionGraves to make them available to others.
Many genealogists share digital images of vital records they hold with researchers with shared interests. How many of these, I wonder, have embarked on personal digitisation projects. For the reasons outlined above everyone who holds valuable family documents and artefacts should embark on a program of digitising these assets. I have around 90,000 digitised photographs and documents that are all tagged with keywords so that they are easily accessed. As time permits I continue to add to this collection. Recently I have scanned a collection of letters written by my son and myself when he spent six months in his school's outdoor education campus, I photographed a clay sculpture before it crumbled) done by my daughter at school and several school projects that had seen better days.
You may already make use of resources digitised by large bodies but have you considered embarking on a personal digitisation project?