21 July 2007

IAJGS: Footnote.com

Beau Sharborough of Footnote.com offered an entertaining session on the site and available information for those searching Jewish ancestors. Free access was provided in the conference resource room, along with other subscription sites.

Among other tidbits, I learned that tech guru Steve Morse is on the site's board of advisors.

Sharborough spoke about the availability of original source documents, not just an index, and how he views Footnote as a history site, providing original documents.

"We put up the original document even if there is a difference of opinion, or if the content is unflattering and we don't shy away from controversy," he told the audience, calling the site "Wikipedia meets the National Archives."

Site organizers wanted to know what was popular in the NARA reading rooms, and brought in archivists to say what they considered their "best stuff." While late 19th-early 20th-century records were popular, he asked if there was anything from before 1790. Sharborough said they became very excited.

As one example of early documents, he spoke about five thick books, with 40 pages on Benjamin Franklin and his original letters, along with other famous early leaders.

While there may be few early documents for Ashkenazi researchers, there is information on Sephardic families in this timeframe. Jewish records are also found in Civil War-era records such as the Southern Claims and in many other Footnote databases.

Users can go directly to the original records to learn about people of interest. After reading a document, readers can annotate what is found, and comments are picked up by the site's indexing almost immediately. While other users may comment on someone's annotation, the original annotation cannot be taken away and others cannot "vandalize" an annotation. Ojectionable comments will be removed, however, and no racial slurs or anti-Semitic statements will be permitted. Staff will review comments quickly.

Some documents or comments are in languages other than English, and Footnote counts on the genealogical community to let the site know if comments are not appropriate.

One example of annotation is interpretation of a signature transcription. Different people might see various "correct" spellings; each viewer may annotate his or her version.

Today, the subscription site is free at the Family History Library, while some academic institutions - such as UCLA - offer it. Said Sharborough, "Someday it will be in your library."

Photographs can be downloaded as JPGs and can be printed. Eventually, all documents will carry a citation or source document for future use. Noted genealogist and author Elizabeth Mills is involved with Footnote and, said Sharborough, insisted that printouts carry correct citations.

Today, the site carries about millions of original documents from Federal District Courts, State and Municipal Courts, including various naturalization and ancillary documents, such as certificates of arrival, naturalization, petitions and more. The investigative files are also very interesting and include various affidavits and investigations carried out by government bodies.

At June's Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, I had an opportunity to work with the site and found information on a host of individuals I had not expected to see.

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