Recent NARA Staff Blog Posts

NARA has several regular blogs which are listed here: https://www.archives.gov/social-media/blogs, of which The Text Message, The Unwritten Record, Pieces of History, and Rediscovering Black History, will be of the most interest to genealogical researchers.

In addition, NARA’s designated subject matter experts (SMEs) also write blog posts several times a year that can be found on the History Hub. Recent examples include WWI Enemy Alien Registrations, Permits, and Enforcement by Elizabeth Burnes; Researching World War II Bombing Aerial Photography by Corbin Apkin; and NARA Records Pertaining to Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period (1763-1861) by Damani Davis. Check them out!

Webinars by the Department of the Interior Library

There are several upcoming webinars sponsored by the Department of the Interior Library that should be of interest to genealogical researchers. For information, see https://www.doi.gov/library/programs/training-sessions. It is necessary to contact the DOI Library in advance of each session for access information.

A Room for the Night

Are you researching someone who owned a hotel, motel, or inn? Did you find someone enumerated in the census at one of those locations? Did your ancestor frequent a tavern at a local inn? If so, you might learn more about the structure and its history in the records of the National Register of Historic Places!

Archives Specialist John LeGloahec takes us on a brief trip through some of those records in “A Room for the Night – Hotels, Motels, and Inns Found in the Records of the National Register of Historic Places” (NRHP) at https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2022/07/21/a-room-for-the-night-hotels-motels-and-inns-found-in-the-records-of-the-national-register-of-historic-places/.

John’s post helps you dig into the descriptions of over 23,000 properties with the term hotel, motel, or inn in their title in the National Archives Catalog. We promise there’s no check-out time: You can stay in the NARA Catalog as long as you like!

Memorial Day Remembrance: Beneath His Shirt Sleeves

On this Memorial Day, as we remember the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives to defend our freedoms and preserve one United States of America, I respectfully direct your attention to an excellent two-part article by archives specialist Jackie Budell entitled “Beneath His Shirt Sleeves: Evidence of Injury” with Part I here and Part II here. This article highlights the sacrifice and stories of eight Union Civil War veterans who lost most – or part – of an arm during their war service.

1950 Census Website Improvement:  Transcribed Names are Now Shown in Search Results!

On May 17, 2022, NARA’s 1950 Census website development team made a wonderful improvement to the name search feature.  Names transcribed by humans are now shown in the search results above and below the census page image.  What does this mean?  Let’s look at an example.

Let’s search for Mildred Lauska in Ohio.  Fortunately, some human transcribed her name.

Here’s the search result showing both OCR (optical character recognition) results AND human transcription results above the census page image in the upper right under “Matched Name(s).”  (Click on the image for a bigger view.)’

Mildred Lauska, ED 92-47, with search result above the census page image

Here’s the same search result showing both OCR (optical character recognition) results AND human transcription results below the census page.  (Click on the image for a bigger view.)

  • The OCR results generated by “Machine Learning (AI) Extracted Names” are shown first:  Only Mildred’s husband, “Lauska melvins” is boldfaced because OCR had not transcribed Mildred or their daughters Joanne and Judith.
  • The “User Contributed Transcriptions” are shown second:  All persons with the Lauska surname shown in bold:  Melvin Lauska, Mildred Lauska, Joanne Lauska, and Judith Lauska.

Mildred Lauska, ED 92-47, with search result below the census page image

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Important Takeaways:

  • Thank you for your transcriptions!  They matter!  They significantly improve the search results!  In the Lauska family example, all four members of the household can easily be found instead of just one.
  • Now You Can See Everyone’s Transcriptions at Work!  Yay!
  • Narrowing your name search to include state and county always better if the name was significantly misread by the OCR and has not been transcribed, or contains common names (John, Smith, and so forth!)
  • Thank you for your suggestions for website improvements!

ICYMI: 50 Million Images Added to NARA’s Catalog Since August 2020

With all the excitement and preparation for the 1950 census over the past several months, you may have missed it: Millions of images of textual records keep being added to NARA’s online Catalog.

According to NARA’s “Record Group Explorer” webpage, as of March 2022 there are 161,492,780 scans online representing 1.393% of the approximate estimated total of 11.5 billion textual pages in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration.

One month earlier, in February 2022, that number was 159,188,420 images: so in just one month, 2,304,360 images were added!

Back in August 2020, there were 111,114,108 images in the Catalog, so in 18 months, 50,378,672 images were added.

Fifty million, that’s a pretty big number. Considering that this growth happened during a pandemic that limited staff access to the buildings – and to the records – that’s pretty impressive.

NARA 1950 Census Webpages Now Online

This week the National Archives launched several webpages devoted to the 1950 census, including the main page, 1950 Census Records, at https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950. Information on these pages will undoubtedly evolve over time. The supporting informational pages include:

As noted on 1950 Census Records, you will be able to search the 1950 Census website by name and location beginning on Day 1 — April 1, 2022. To develop the initial name index, NARA used Amazon Web Services’ artificial intelligence / optical character recognition (AI/OCR) Textract tool to extract the handwritten names from the digitized 1950 Census population schedules. Because the initial name index is built on optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it will not be 100-percent accurate. The National Archives is asking for your help in submitting name updates to the index using a transcription tool that will be available on the 1950 Census website. You can help us improve the accuracy of the name index and make the records more accessible for everyone. More information on this volunteer opportunity will be forthcoming.

Researchers can learn more about this census from the 1950 Census blog posts at the History Hub and watch for news at National Archives News.

Tintypes and Photos in Civil War Pension Files

If you’ve ever wondered why some U.S. Civil War pension files have tintypes and photos – wonder no more! NARA archives specialist Jackie Budell details the reasons in three excellent recent blog posts at The Text Message:

(1) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Your Questions Answered

(2) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why Private William Carman Sent a Tintype to His Wife

(3) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why William Carman’s Tintype Was in His Widow’s Pension File

Exciting 1950 Census News from NARA

When the 1950 Census becomes available on a NARA website on April 1, 2022, there will be a name search function powered by an Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology tool. Granted, it will be imperfect on opening day – but that just means that all of us will have the opportunity to make it better through a transcription tool that will also be available. Exciting times! Read more about it at 1950 Census Release Will Offer Enhanced Digital Access, Public Collaboration Opportunity, a December 14, 2021 press release.