ADAH staff, volunteers, and student workers spent eighteen months digitizing the cards, which are now available for browsing by county and surname. But the work is not complete. From the start, we intended for this to result in a community project that would coincide with both the centennial of the war and the bicentennial of the state. Now that the cards have been scanned, we are seeking volunteers to help us transcribe the information and create a new, searchable resource for our patrons.
Before this project, volunteering at the ADAH formerly required being physically present. Not so with Alabama History DIY: World War I Service Records. Anyone with an Internet connection can contribute. These “virtual volunteers” will assist staff just like their counterparts in Montgomery. The success of this effort will put us in the company of such august institutions as the US National Archives and Records Administration and the Smithsonian Institution, where crowdsourcing (outsourcing tasks to “the crowd”) has become a key method of public engagement.
One of the challenges of planning this project was finding a suitable platform for online transcription. Most readily available solutions required advanced Web coding and more technical support than we could commit. We tried to create a system ourselves using a combination of free tools, but the result was cumbersome and would likely have discouraged participation. Still, it seemed like the best option for us until we had our first conversation with Ben and Sara Brumfield, creators of FromThePage. This open-source transcription website, developed for large crowdsourcing initiatives, is where our volunteers will work.
FromThePage immediately impressed us with its clean, simple interface and the hosting services that it offered. But the software was designed for free-text transcription of letters and diaries, rather than field-based forms like our index cards. The Brumfields were not deterred, however. We explained our needs, and less than four months later we were adding content and preparing to go live. All this work—from software development to the hosting subscription—was made possible by the generous support of the Friends of the Alabama Archives and the Alabama Genealogical Society, along with the state archives of Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri, which saw the benefit of the new features that we commissioned.
The steps are simple, the software is user-friendly, and the work is addictive. You can’t stop after one card. No special technical skill or subject knowledge is required. When you sign up, you’ll receive login information and a project guide with thorough instructions. Just read the guide, sign in, pick a county, and get started. Not all the information on the cards is to be transcribed. In the interest of time and consistency, we selected only the details we determined to be the most useful for searching, such as home town and service number. Our goal is to get researchers to the cards, where they can examine the rest of the data for themselves.
Though we have not set an official target date for completion, everyone has an eye toward November 2018. What better way to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day than to present this collection as a tribute to Alabamians who served? The project launched in early April to an enthusiastic response, but there will be work to do for months to come. Make sure that your county’s service records get transcribed: become part of our virtual volunteer corps. We want you!
To join the effort, contact Meredith McDonough at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Meredith McDonough is the digital assets coordinator at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.