Take part in crowdsourcing the census
I am an avid amateur genealogist; it’s natural for someone who loves puzzles as much as I do. I began learning about my family’s history in the seventh grade, using information I gathered from relatives. Later on I dug into primary sources and uncovered new information. Fifteen years ago, increased access to the internet caused genealogy to explode as a hobby. I can now easily connect with like-minded folks and pool what we know about the family tree.
The web also provides access to an amazing wealth of searchable databases. Two of the largest sources are Familysearch.org, a free service of the LDS (Mormon) Church, and Ancestry.com, a commercial enterprise. The Familysearch databases were created through the efforts of thousands of volunteers, not all of whom were Mormons. It’s an excellent example of crowdsourcing – lots of people contributing bits of work to a large project.
If you’re a genealogy nut, you know that a month from now the US will release the records of the 1940 Census. We won’t immediately be able to find our lost relatives, though. First someone has to index the data – and YOU can help! The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project is a joint initiative between a number of genealogy organizations. All you need to do to become a part of this project is:
- Download and install the free indexing software,
- Register as an indexing volunteer, and
- Download a “batch” of images to transcribe.
The connection with teaching and learning in higher education is that every scholar needs online databases – for journal articles if nothing else. However, I would guess that very few students have ever been involved in a data entry project. This is a great opportunity for students to be part of creating a database to which most of them can literally “relate.” In the process they may gain generalizable knowledge – both about the data entry process and also about the raw data itself. For example:
- Transcribing handwriting is not an exact science,
- Entering lots of data can become very boring,
- Data are not always entered consistently,
- Census takers make errors entering data,
- Family members who provide data don’t always know the answers, and
- Not everyone tells the truth to census takers.