I’m delighted that Doug Seefeldt has asked me to lead a breakout group at the Digital frontiers workshop and to serve as your humble Google-jockey* for digital materials related to public history. Last year’s session at Lake Tahoe set a high standard and was a wonder of collaboration and ideas.
For my part, I’d like to share a little of the enormous body of digital resources largely used for genealogy, and talk about their application for historians in teaching and research. Most of us are likely familiar with commercial databases such as Ancestry (which actually aggregates thousands of individual databases), but a universe of other resources exist, many of them free and created by volunteer efforts.
To take but one example, a project involving the Colorado Genealogical Society and a troop of volunteers created an index to Colorado Marriages, 1858-1939. The index in its PDF form is 23,417 pages in length, and testifies to the power of volunteer efforts. (I hasten to add every librarian in the Western History/Genealogy Department at the Denver Public Library recalls with horror the first time they clicked “print” rather than “print current page” with this database!) Colorado Marriages provides the name of a bride, a groom, a date for a license application, the county involved, and a license number. The application for genealogists is obvious, but consider how a researcher armed with a surname schedule might use this index to explore ethnicity and patterns of marriage within and amongst different ethnic groups.**
Anyone who wants to dabble in such sources before our session might want to explore the materials available online at FamilySearch, especially the materials under USA, Canada, and Mexico. I encourage you simply to play with these resources. Crossover opportunities abound, and I think the informed historian should be aware of the possibilities and challenges involved with such tools.
* Google-jockey (n.) [goo-guhl jok-ee]: a person who frantically uses Internet search engines and other tools to find and display websites casually mentioned by presenters or participants.
** So where’s the link to the Colorado Marriage Index? It’s not available online. Why not? For reasons that would form an interesting thread at our session: privacy, identity theft, and the public record in the digital age.