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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How did FGS and NARA get started on this project?
  2. Why was the War of 1812 Pensions chosen as the first community preservation project?
  3. Is the Pension project the first preservation project for FGS?
  4. How is scanning different from digitizing?
  5. Are there standards adhered to during digital capture?
  6. How is a digitizing project at NARA conducted?
  7. How was Fold3 selected to do the digitization?
  8. How was the community fundraising effort started?
  9. What metadata does Fold3 include in the digitization process?
  10. What is the cost to view the digitized pension files?
  11. Can anyone else match the digitization cost savings?
  12. Who should support this pension project?

How did FGS and NARA get started on this project?

In 2008 the staff at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approached the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and asked if the Federation would consider spearheading a large, consequential preservation and access project.

Why was the War of 1812 Pensions chosen as the first community preservation project?

The “large, consequential preservation and access project” FGS chose, with advice and counsel from NARA, was the War of 1812 pension records. NARA staff members identified these records as the heaviest used of all the record sets that had never been microfilmed, or in any other way preserved. These paper pension documents at Archives I in Washington, D.C. are the only copies available — except for those that have already been digitized due to contributions to this vital project. Visit the home page for the Preserve the Pensions project to see the current image count of the number of digitized pages http://www.preservethepensions.org/.

Is the Preserve the Pension project the first preservation project for FGS?

For over three decades, FGS and other national genealogical organizations marketed the “Dollars for Documents” program in which FGS societies as well as other interested organizations are encouraged to contribute $1 per member each year to image a rather modest NARA record set. This program is still active today, although it has shifted from microfilm to digital images. The Dollars for Documents Program is memorialized in the Malcolm H. Stern-NARA Gift Fund. Malcolm Stern was the visionary that initiated the program. The microfilm sets that legacy donations have made available can be found on the FGS website: http://www.fgs.org/cstm_STERN-NARA.php

How is scanning different from digitizing?

There is a big difference between scanning and digitizing. Scanning involves placing the document on a flatbed scanner and the operation is much like a photocopy machine. Digitization is done with digital cameras snapping images of the document on a camera light stand. Yes, most anyone can scan. Digitizing, though, is done according to professional industry standards, adding metadata to the images so that they can be retrieved, and securing the images on servers that provide secure backup redundancy as well as being published for free access.

Are there standards adhered to during digital capture?

Engaging in digital capture that is done according to contemporary archival standards is not a trivial matter. Current standards include appropriate image density, de-skewing, de-speckling, appropriate contrast, and preserving in the appropriate electronic file format as well as appropriate redundancy and long-term storage and migration of the images to new technologies – all of which factors into the cost per image.

How is a digitizing project at NARA conducted?

Getting approval from NARA to digitize their records is not a trivial matter. Getting this approval is the first step. Only approved “contractors” can film, digitize, and work with the conservation staff and volunteers at a NARA facility. The work itself needs to be overseen by the NARA staff and conducted on the premises. One cannot simply enter any NARA facility, request access to the records, and begin scanning.

How was Fold3 selected to do the digitization?

The in-house contractor at NARA gave FGS a “bare-bones” (“this is absolutely as low as we can go…”) cost of $0.72/image. This cost-per-image did not include the metadata, so the indexed terms like the soldier’s name or the widow’s name, etc. would not have been included. Other pre-approved contractors at NARA were contacted in hopes of a lower cost-per-image, including metadata. After some very amicable negotiations, Fold3 agreed to image and provide an index to the pensioners name for the War of 1812 pension files at $0.48/per image.

How was the community fundraising effort started?

Shortly after Fold3 was selected to digitize the pension files, Ancestry.com (parent company of Fold3) agreed to match every dollar that was raised for the digitizing the War of 1812 pension files. Ancestry.com agreed to match every donated dollar with a dollar of their own money for the project, essentially and practically cutting the amount of funding to raise by the community in half.

What metadata does Fold3 include in the digitization process?

For $0.48/image, Fold3 is also indexing the following fields when there is data available on the pension file folder: Veteran's name, age, place of residence, service data & dates, organization & rank, acres granted, year of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Act, warrant number, soldier’s death date, widow’s name and maiden name, marriage date, widow’s death date, and any additional names.

What is the cost to view the digitized pension files?

By agreement, Fold3 is making the images and associated metadata available for FREE – 24/7, forever for the same $0.48/image to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

Can anyone else match the digitization cost savings?

The FGS “Preserve the Pensions” project to digitize the War of 1812 pension records got a 33% savings from an already approved contractor, and further, the approved contractor’s parent company cut the cost of the project in half. Can anyone else match this level of service and cost savings, plus still include the digitized images and metadata for 7.2 million document pages and all for less than$3.45M cut in half to $1.728M by the Ancestry match.

If this is possible for someone else to do, they would need to have access to the records at NARA, proper equipment, trained staff, and provide professional metadata creation on a number of fields, perpetually free, 24-7 online access for less than $1.728M. Is that something just any one individual or single organization can match? Likely not.

Who should support this pension project?

A lot of people question why they should support this pension project when they don’t have War of 1812 ancestors? There are a number of critical reasons for 21st century genealogists and family historians to consider;

  1. It’s the right thing to do at the right time. Genealogists indicate they care about records, and they want more information of all kinds available. Here is your chance to stand-up and be counted! When other projects are started that more directly impacts your research, you, the 21st century genealogist will want everyone to contribute to the project for which you waited a long time;
  2. This project is an awesome way to honor military personnel of any generation—of every generation. It is a tangible way to say, “We will not forget you,” “We value your service,” “We honor your contributions,” and “We won’t forget veterans from two centuries ago; and we won’t forget you”;
  3. This project puts an amazing number (millions!) of information-rich historical documents in every classroom in America at no cost to the school systems. What a reach, what an impact!
  4. This is a great example of a public/private partnership that saves taxpayer dollars to accomplish something good for all genealogists and students of history of any age.