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The Citizen Archivist program

There can be no better time than the Memorial Day weekend to join the ranks of the transcription warriors.

No better time than this to add the brainpower of the genealogical community to the Citizen Archivist program of the U.S. National Archives (NARA).

The program offers all of us — The Legal Genealogist included — a chance to add to the findability and usefulness of records held by NARA. All it takes is a little bit of time, a little bit of effort and an interest in history.

History like, for example, one set of records particularly apt for this Memorial Day Weekend: the Escape and Evasion Reports from World War II, now featured as a Citizen Archivist Mission. This is a project where any of us can transcribe “reports that typically include typed or handwritten narrative that documents the escape and evasion experience of the escapee or evader. Reports can also include a brief questionnaire concerning the use of escape and evasion (E&E) training and equipment; an interrogation form with unit designation, target information, number of missions flown, date considered missing in action, date returned to U.S. or allied control, country of escape or evasion, and more.”

Or history like the captions on a set of photographs from World War I. Or Revolutionary War Prize Cases, 1780 – 1787. Or records relating to the service of hospital attendants, matrons and nurses during the Civil War. Or the data from “index cards for awards that include the Purple Heart, Air Medal Decoration, Commendation Medal, Distinguished Service Cross, and Distinguished Flying Cross. Information included consists of: name, service number, rank, general order number, order date and issuing organization, award type, date awarded and more.” Or the contents of a “remarkable collection of more than 65,000 handwritten reflections by U.S. soldiers who fought during the Second World War.” Or “military records of over 200,000 African Americans soldiers who fought for their freedom in the American Civil War.”

Those transcriptions then are used to make the record more searchable in the National Archives Catalog — and anybody who’s ever used the Catalog knows that is a Very Good Thing. And for any user having trouble reading the image of a transcribed record, the transcription is available. You can tell if there is a transcription by looking at the thumbnails to see if there’s a blue tag:

NARA citizen archivist

If military records aren’t your thing, but you’d like to join in, there’s a whole lot more to choose from:

• a wide variety of records relating to African American history, ranging from court case files to pension records;
• oaths of new ship masters, swearing that they’re citizens and won’t use their ships to evade taxes;
• petitions for naturalization in the 20th century;
• records relating to labor in America;
• Forest Service Historical Files, 1901-1962;
• TVA Family Removal and Population Readjustment Case Files, 1937 – 1948 — just to name a few.

All of these records have enormous potential to contribute to our understanding of our family history. And all of them can be made more accessible with our help.

We can begin by registering (yes, it’s free!) and making sure we understand the rules of the road for being a Citizen Archivist at NARA. We can watch a video with more on how-to.

And then we can join in the effort to get more of these records searchable by family historians like you and me.

Just by taking a bit of time and a bit of effort.

And transcribing history.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Transcribing history,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 28 May 2021).

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