Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ancestry.com announced yesterday that they are teaming up to build the world’s largest online database of information on victims of the Holocaust.
The Museum has an enormous collection of 170 million documents and records containing information on at least 17 million people who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis during World War II. It already has 50,000 of those records available for searching on its website, but obviously that’s just a small drop in the bucket, and with even the youngest Holocaust survivors now in their 70s and 80s, it’s important that the pace of digitization increase exponentially so that the elderly survivors have every chance to find out what happened to their lost family members and friends.
Here’s where Ancestry.com comes in. They have proprietary software that allows people to enter data from scanned records into a searchable database. They also have a pre-existing network of 60,000 volunteers who use the software to digitize genealogies and government records.
Put together the task-appropriate software with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s hundreds of millions of documents and the keying manpower of an Internet full of volunteers, and you get the World Memory Project.
Anyone can join the effort now to help index Holocaust records that include German occupation records, community records from across Europe and displaced persons records from the Allied forces after the war. [...]
A volunteer will be able to access a digital copy of a document from any computer, and read whatever was handwritten or typed on it. They then fill out a form online with names and other identifying information that links the document to the digital database. The process takes only a few minutes.
The process is repeated by another volunteer for each document to ensure accuracy, and an arbitrator serves as a final check.
Those who search can obtain copies of the original records from the museum’s research centre.
The more volunteers, the faster the data will be uploaded.
I’ll be honest, I have some issues with Ancestry.com — I question their leaf system and I think their product placement deal on Who Do You Think You Are? verges on the obscene — but this is such an important project and it’s very rare that we regular people get to help achieve so laudable a goal from the ease and comfort of our own keyboards.
Here’s how it works. First, you have to be using a PC. Sorreh, Macs. Then, you register an Ancestry.com account here. Once you’ve registered, it will tell you your username and automatically-generated password. (If you neglect to jot it down like I did, go to your My Account page and save a new password.)
Then it will take you to a page where you can download the software. Double-click the setup.exe file to install the software. If you don’t have Microsoft WSE 3.0 Runtime installed, it will install that first. Once installation is done, open the software which will prompt you for your Ancestry.com username and password. Click on the “Download image sets” button on the upper right and scroll down the list to anything that starts with the USHMM tag. I just picked the first one, Holocaust records from Ain, France, which contains “records relating to Jewish affairs, Freemasons and secret societies, escapees, internment of Jews, and lists of fugitive foreigners.” Most of them are in French, some in German. Let’s hope my highly rusty French doesn’t disappoint.
On a related note, another large archive of the Holocaust has just gone online. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has created a website called Our Shared Legacy: World War II and “The Joint” which makes available for searches and perusals the Committee’s own records, pictures, names, and individual stories of the Holocaust.