By Dick Eastman
One of the greatest online genealogy resources seems to receive little publicity. The Harold B. Lee Library at BYU has a major project underway of offering genealogy history books online. Staff members are scanning the books and placing them online at the rate of about 100 titles per week. The 5,000 titles already available include diaries, biographies, and numerous family history books. The books are easily searched.
The Family History Archive can be searched by surname, geographic area, book title, author, or any combination of those search fields. When you include the Full Text option in your search, the database will locate every page containing the words you included in your search and may return up to10,000 of those pages in your results. For example, a full-text search for the name "Young" in the collection will bring back 10,000 pages.
You can easily narrow your search by using the keyword searches. Each of the histories has been cataloged by a professional librarian who analyzes the contents of the history and provides appropriate terms, called keywords, for family names, locations, authors, and other important topics. The keyword searches use the information provided by the cataloger to locate family histories, and this is the best way to quickly find the histories most likely to be of use to you.
The actual pages appear on the user’s screen as PDF files (Portable Document Format). This is a good choice as the pages are easily viewed and printed on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and other operating systems.
The pages displayed are facsimiles, or copies, of the original pages. Many of the images that I saw appear to have been made from microfilm copies of the books. The quality of the images depends on several factors, beginning with their original creation.
In addition to providing access to images of the pages, BYU also attempted to convert the original text into a machine-readable format. This effort should make the histories more useful by allowing you to search through text, using your computer. The process of converting the text is called Optical Character Recognition, or OCR. In the OCR process a computer program looks at the scanned images of the pages and replaces the printed alphanumeric characters as the program "sees" them with the same characters as digital type. The quality of the OCR is directly related to the quality of the image. In most cases, the OCR is quite successful in accurately reading the text. However, in the case of some of the older histories, the results are not as good. The text is not always 100% accurate. You should always carefully examine the actual pages of the family histories – or their actual scanned pages – and not depend completely on full-text search results.
The BYU Family History Archive is available to everyone free of charge at http://www.lib.byu.edu/fhc
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