Monday, December 10, 2012

Genealogists Giving Back

There is nothing that makes a genealogist’s eyes light up like the sight of an old, crumbly document holding the name of a specific, sought-after ancestor. We’ve all been there: at that moment when, after a long search, we get our hands on the age-old document itself, read through the text, and locate that one particular name.

Right now, I’m at the stage in my own research where I’d love to get my hands on some two-hundred-year-old documents—documents of the War of 1812, to be precise.

For that reason, my eyes did light up when I heard about a giving project during this holiday season—a project making possible the digitization of the War of 1812 Pension Application Files.

It’s quite heartening to realize this story of “Giving Back.” I caught glimpses of the story from several different perspectives that, pieced together, mean a new collection that will be of benefit to so many genealogy researchers.

I first heard about the project through an announcement from the Illinois State Genealogical Society. The ISGS is planning on matching donations to the digitization project, up to $10,000 for all funds raised through their efforts by the close of this year. Through their web page on the match challenge, I also learned of the other organizations involved in funding the project. has agreed to match the funds raised by this same state organization. In addition, FamilySearch made its own contribution toward the project funding goal of $3.7 million.

Spearheading the project is a joint effort of the National Archives and Records Administration and the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Both and Fold3 are actively involved in the process.

Over seven million pages of pension applications and bounty land warrant applications will be scanned and indexed by the time the project is completed. At that point, the entire digitization project will be available to the public, for free, at the hosted site provided by Fold3. The best news about this project: as the files are completed, they are posted online, making them immediately available.

Because of the cost of scanning, a tax-deductible gift of $45 allows one hundred pages to be digitized. With the various matches being announced by major players in the genealogy sphere, that same gift can be multiplied to gain up to four times as much progress.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies has been in the forefront of encouraging local and state organizations to join in the effort to raise funds for this multi-year project. A website set up by the key players provides a place for people to donate—and contributions may be made in the name of your ancestor. The FGS has also created a “Preserve the Pensions Honor Roll” to acknowledge donors in various categories. A Facebook page and a Twitter feed round out the publicity for this worthwhile project.

Of course, this project couldn’t be more timely for my own research. I never dreamed I’d be researching ancestors who participated in this war. When I think of the can-do attitude with which the genealogical coalition of last spring conquered the indexing task for the recently-released 1940 census, I know that this collective approach will benefit us all in making these War of 1812 records available to the general public. With NARA stating that they annually receive three thousand requests for copies of soldiers’ files for this war alone, considering the fragility of these two hundred year old documents, it’s about time that we all engaged in making this project possible.

For those of us in a gift-giving position at this season of the year, giving a gift in the memory of an ancestor—or whomever else you’d like to honor—would be a gift that turns around and gives back to all of us. It’s a gift to the community of genealogy researchers, and a gift to the American public.

Now that’s a different way to give a Christmas gift.

Above right: Edward Percy Moran 1910 painting, "The Battle of New Orleans," courtesy the Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain in Australia, the European Union, the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.


  1. Thanks for posting the links to these preservation efforts. I'm looking for War of 1812 pension records too, so this is very timely.

    1. Glad to hear it helped, Patrick. I think we are in a lot of good company, researching these records right now, the bicentennial commemoration of this war.

  2. Replies
    1. Grant, I'm expecting a lot of activity on this project, considering the bicentennial commemoration is directing attention this way right now.

  3. Wow what a wonderful project..and such a worthy cause. Today I met with a Grant Writer..we discussed digitization..BIG project...but it would help so many with their research:)

    1. That is great news! Hopefully, this grant writer will be just what your museum is needing! And yes, I know digitization is lots of work, but so useful to multiplied users once it is completed and made available. There are some grants out there for that...


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