Writings -- Copyright Christopher D. Barth All Rights Reserved
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Please direct questions or comments to Christopher Barth at chris@arcticwind.com.

Archivists, Genealogists, Access, and Automation

Past and Present Trends in Archival Access Technologies and their
Implications for the Future of Genealogical Research in Archives

By Christopher D. Barth

May 8, 1997


  1. Introduction
  2. A History of Archival and Genealogical Automation: Theory and Practice
  3. Relations Between Archivists and Genealogists
  4. Conclusion


The omnipresence of automated systems in the worlds of information access and use present new and unique challenges for both archivists and researchers seeking respectively to facilitate and operate these automated access systems. Archivists must grapple to convert older forms of access materials retrospectively, such as finding aids and collection guides. They must also create electronic bibliographic records for archival collections under often bleak budgetary conditions. Archival researchers must also now hone new and heightened searching skills and strategies to slice a path through the rubble of the information explosion accompanying the technology revolution of the late twentieth century. While conversion of previous access aids into electronic format can improve and promote use of archival collections, creators of access systems must also reexamine how to provide that access through automated systems in order to best exploit the benefits automation can provide. Advances such as keyword searching, international networking, and digital imaging require access providers to completely rethink how users seek and use not only archival information, but also archival metainformation.(1) This metainformation refers to information (finding aids, electronic collection records, etc.) or to access systems created to facilitate retrieval of information. In this sense, it is information about information.

One group of archival patrons acutely affected by changes in automation technology is genealogists or family historians.(2) What was previously a slow process of corresponding with archives and other genealogists while sifting through mountains of paper-based finding aids, indexes, and records has now become a highly automated process for many researchers. The ability to search large databases of information, self-publish research findings on networks such as the Internet, and correspond electronically with other genealogists permits a greater exchange of information on genealogical topics. Because genealogists are one of the largest patron groups for archival repositories, archivists and access providers must develop greater understandings of how current automated access tools help or hinder researchers. From this awareness, archives can then set up better access systems to promote the efficient and effective use of archival collections, and use staff time more efficiently and wisely to better serve patrons.

Outreach programs and the careful design of access systems will only grow in importance for archives in the near future. Corporations geared toward providing digital aids for conducting genealogical research now provide a variety of products and services for researchers, and will continue to develop as well-organized and well-financed competitors with archival repositories in the genealogical research market. For example, companies such as Broderbund Software create user-friendly, graphically based search engines to search large databases of names (such as Social Security information, or marriage records). While the majority of these search tools only serve as massive "finding aids" or pointers to locations (or other databases) where the actual information can be found, some corporations are now offering digitized information from vital records, military service records, and other sources of family data. As more resources are digitized, researchers will no longer have to travel to remote repositories to use archival materials.

The success of these projects proves that genealogists are willing to pay for well-packaged and easily accessible information, even if it is available elsewhere for free. An example is the Social Security Death Index (1937-1995), currently searchable for free via the World Wide Web.(3) Broderbund offers a two-CD set of this database for the price of $39.99.(4) Broderbund also sponsors a grant program for genealogical research groups, funded by the corporation, to increase its interaction and communication with genealogical groups.(5) While some archivists may welcome a shift in genealogical research methods toward corporate sources and away from archival repositories, they run the risk of losing potentially lucrative methods of generating income -- and losing the support and patronage of a very important archival patron group -- genealogists. In today's business climate of both budgetary and personnel "downsizing," can archivists afford to allow potential decreases in reference requests and collection use affect their standing with their funding agencies?

This paper seeks to raise and explore issues regarding automated access systems for archival repositories from the perspectives of both archivists and researchers. The discussion includes, (1) an examination of the common and individual histories of archival and genealogical automation along with a discussion of the current state of automation in both fields, (2) an exploration of relationships between archivists and genealogists as it has affected and continues to affect access systems, (3) results of surveys conducted with both archivists and genealogists regarding the impact of automated systems upon their respective disciplines, (4) guidelines and suggestions for the design and implementation of successful automated access systems for archival repositories of any size, and (5) a look toward the future of the automation of archival access tools.

The literatures of both archival science and genealogical research contain many discussions of the consequences automated systems have inflicted upon the methodology of both disciplines. This study presents a practical guide to the current state of automation for both archivists and genealogists, with particular scrutiny toward how archivists and access providers can enhance the research process for genealogists, develop new methods for fund-raising, and continue to build stronger relationships with all archival users.

Survey Methodology

For this study, two separate surveys were conducted -- one of genealogists, and another of archivists.(6) Each survey consisted of general background information as well as questions focused specifically on automation, archives, and research. Seventy surveys were distributed to genealogists attending the conference Genealogy '97: They Came in Ships: Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestors, held in Middleton, Wisconsin February 21-22, 1997. Conference attendees were invited to participate in the survey voluntarily by conference staff. Fifty surveys (71.43%) were returned for inclusion in this survey.

Surveys for archivists were sent to twelve archivists in the Area Research Center network of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in early March 1997. Because of its size, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison was excluded from the survey. Nine archivists (75%) responded with completed questionnaires for this study. Data from both surveys is presented throughout the study.

A History of Archival and Genealogical Automation
Theory and Practice

Central to the purpose and theory behind the job of archivist, is the need to provide access to archival materials. No matter whether the materials are to be available for public or private use, archival materials are next to worthless without a well-designed system for identifying and retrieving materials within the collection. Many archivists rely upon their own memory and experience with their collections to serve as an access mechanism for researchers. While for smaller collections of materials, this method can be efficient (if the archivist is around and has a decent memory), large, diverse collections, quirks and anomalies in human memory, and our own mortality make this type of access very impractical.

Because of these realities, both librarians and archivists have turned to written documents (finding aids, card catalogs, online records) containing metainformation about their collections to ensure continued access to materials regardless of staff changes and to promote a degree of user-independence in the research process. Instead of relying upon the librarian or archivist for access to materials, users could read written documentation to identify likely sources to fit research needs. While this system worked well for standard bibliographic items that are relatively easy to describe physically and intellectually within the confines of 3x5" card, archival collections, due to their unique and varied nature, pose much more daunting challenges regarding arrangement and description. Standard bibliographic items are usually easy to quantify by author or creator, and subject. Authors and publishers intend these items for mass-production -- creating multiple copies for public reference and review.

Archival collections instead, "are the records, in any physical form, produced by organizations or individuals in the course of activity over time, and then saved permanently for some further use."(7) Because single archival collections may have multiple individual "authors" or "creators," and deal with diverse subject areas, covering large time spans and comprising multiple formats, they cannot easily be described concisely for any possible reference request. The fact that archival collections are also unique items, not duplicated in other libraries or repositories, magnifies the importance of arrangement and description by custodial archivists. All use and access of any given collection is either enhanced or inhibited based upon the arrangement and description of the given collection. The lack, even today, of universal standard formats for archival finding aids and continuing professional debate regarding theoretical issues of arrangement, description and access methods provides continuing evidence of the difficult problems archival collections pose to access-facilitators. Most archival collections are lucky to have brief series-level descriptions of materials, let alone more detailed folder or item level access. Therefore, the state of providing access systems to archival collections remains very decentralized and inconsistent, not only from institution to institution, but also from collection to collection.

With the technological advances of the late twentieth century, archivists and researchers can now approach access to archival materials in entirely new ways. The history of both archival and genealogical automation share a common infrastructure, despite following two separate paths. At a recent conference regarding technology and genealogy, Richard Eastman, forum manager of the Genealogy Forum on CompuServe and the author of YOUR ROOTS: Total Genealogy Planning on Your Computer(8), discussed past, present, and future trends in automation by defining four eras of automation development.(9) Though presented in the context of genealogical automation, his time line provides relevant insight into the overall development of automated access systems for both archivists and genealogists.

These four stages include, (1) the era of hardware development (roughly until 1985), when technological advances within computing resulted in the microcomputer, which for the first time, brought the concepts of computing out of the hands of specialists and into the hands of lay individuals; (2) the era of software development (roughly 1985-1990), which saw the implementation of more sophisticated applications for microcomputers (databases, word processors, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), electronic cataloging systems); (3) the era of media development (roughly 1990-1994) which included the development and implementation of large-scale databases -- both in terms of library and archival online bibliographic databases via local networks, and other databases/indexes to print materials; and (4) the era of online development coordinating with the widespread use of the Internet and other networking architectures providing real-time access to a multitude of databases/indexes for bibliographic and archival information.(10) As the development of automated systems moved through each of these stages -- the importance and relevance of rethinking information access systems in the digital age became more apparent.

The Era of Hardware Development

The first major effort to automate access of archival collections attempted surprisingly not to provide access to holdings on a series or record group level, but by individual item for collections held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress in 1958. In this project, archivists sought to provide indexed access by individual correspondent to more than 2,000,000 documents held in twenty-three collections of Presidential collections.(11) The system relied upon punched cards (one for each document), card sorters and tabulators to prepare a comprehensive index for all materials in the collections. Not only were cards prepared for each item within the collections, but archivists rearranged the collections in chronological order to facilitate access. Generating the index was a very noisy and time-consuming process, as each card had to pass through the sorter twenty-five to thirty times. The project, though time-consuming and massive in scope did produce an index that enhanced the quality of access for both archivists and researchers, though because the process resulted in a static document, it did not allow interactive queries of the "database."(12)

The Library of Congress (LC) acquired its first computer in 1964, which encouraged the archival staff to begin to explore new ways to use the emerging technology to facilitate access. Many limitations existed in the card-based systems already underway, including the extremely high costs (both in terms of personnel and money), and the very limited forms of input and output possible. As a result, LC developed two separate systems, the Master Record of Manuscript Collections (MRMC) to provide administrative control over holdings, and SPINDEX (emerging out of the previous punch card project) to provide automated forms of access to archival materials. The National Archives joined the automation effort in 1967, and developed a derivative system from SPINDEX geared more specifically for archival collections at NARA called SPINDEX II.(13)

SPINDEX II focused on providing access to archival collections by automating previously prepared and published finding aids. These documents were input into the SPINDEX II system which then indexed the files creating a master "index file." This system was hierarchical in nature, which allowed archivists to specify the hierarchical position of any given document (folder, series, or group) within the larger (or smaller) archival hierarchy. This hierarchical approach to automated access systems remains an important element in access systems design even into the 1990s. SPINDEX II, however, continued to operate as a batch process, creating static indexes for use primarily by archivists. It did not permit interactive search query sessions.(14)

The National Archives used SPINDEX II extensively throughout the 1970s, producing among other guides, the first comprehensive index to the Papers of the Continental Congress in conjunction with the American Bicentennial. NARA also used the system to prepare up-to-date collection guides (subject-based, and format-based) as well as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission's Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories. NARA did make the SPINDEX II system available to other organizations, and the system was used widely both as an archival control program, but also in a records management capacity for many corporations in the United States, Canada, and Australia.(15)

As NARA outgrew its SPINDEX II system, two systems grew to take its place; NARS-5, which managed materials found in the Federal Records Centers and schedules them for destruction or transfer to the National Archives, and NARS-A-1, an expanded version of SPINDEX II. The new systems were still limited to batch processes, and without interactive capabilities. The Office of Presidential Libraries within NARA also developed a system (PresNET) in the early 1980s that sought to deliver automated services to Presidential libraries. This system sought to provide specialized control over the many formats of collections within the Presidential libraries including manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings, and videotapes. PresNET included the first relational database operated by NARA, and unlike its predecessor programs, ran on minicomputers instead of mainframe systems, enabling individual libraries to install the systems on-site.

When the National Archives and the Library of Congress set about to develop these automated systems, they envisioned a widespread application of these technologies to libraries and archival repositories throughout the United States. However, as the projects developed, it became clear that the amount of computer processing power needed to execute programs such as SPINDEX II, NARS-5, and NARS-A-1 would make portability impossible to all but the most financially-sound organizations (mostly wealthier corporations).(16) The 1980s however, saw the introduction of computer hardware that finally enabled automation to become a reality for libraries and archival repositories everywhere. The desktop microcomputer, based primarily upon the IBM PC, has, through continued increases in speed and the number of possible peripheral attachments, remained the standard for computing technology until the present day.

The PC revolution also brought computers into the home for the first time, allowing individual researchers access to electronic forms of stored information. Before this time, automated systems could only be effectively created by large organizations with specialized mainframe hardware setups and even more specialized software. With an increasingly affordable home-based model, genealogists and others could now explore the benefits of this new communication and storage medium.

Today, surveyed archival repositories and genealogists indicate that this standard of computer hardware has infiltrated both homes and work spaces, becoming an important part of daily life. Responding archival repositories reported an average of .99 computers per full-time equivalent employee, with nearly every repository having access to basic peripheral hardware devices such as printers and CD-ROM drives (See Table 1). Specific hardware reported through the survey suggested that these repositories are not operating with state of the art equipment however, with the majority of the machines being based on 486 processing architectures, with several 386 and 286 machines still in operation as well.

Genealogists tended to have more current equipment, with a focus on higher end 486 and Pentium processors. With 96% of genealogists surveyed for this project owning computers, genealogical researchers seem particularly inclined toward automated systems, however this variable was not controlled in the survey. A table displaying hardware peripheral ownership (or access) is included below for both genealogists and archivists.

Table 1 -- Ownership or Access to Peripheral Hardware
Equipment Percentage of Genealogists Owning the Item Percentage of Archivists Owning or Having Access to the Item
Laser Printer 43.75% 88.89%
Inkjet Printer 58.33% 33.33%
Dot-Matrix Printer 45.83% 66.67%
Color Flatbed Scanner 16.67% 55.56%
B&W Flatbed Scanner 2.08% 55.56%
Portable Scanner (B&W or Color) 14.58% 22.22%
Tape Backup Drive 16.67% 55.56%
Portable Zip or Jaz Drive 20.83% 44.44%
CD-ROM Drive 70.83% 66.67%
Recordable CD-ROM Drive 2.08% 55.56%
Modem 85.42% 66.67%
Direct Internet Connection 8.33% 88.88%

Over a long period of development, the arrival of the microcomputer with wide application for both business and personal use brought to a close the era of hardware development. Having established a standard for computer hardware, computer manufacturers shifted more of their development toward designing software for these new machines.

The Era of Software Development

While the era of hardware development by necessity also included the design of software applications to meet the needs of users of larger computer systems, the mid to late 1980s saw a sharp increase in the number of both general and specific software applications designed for microcomputers to automate the workflow for offices and researchers. This shift toward more powerful software applications paralleled advances in microcomputer hardware technology that put faster, more reliable machines on the desks of individuals. Word processing software allowed documents to be input in electronic format, saved, reworked, and reprinted easily, and cheaply. The ability to save, "cut-and-paste," and reprint correspondence eased the jobs of both archivists and genealogists who were accustomed to manually typing or handwriting correspondence. Word processors also allowed archival repositories to enter print-based finding aids, registers, and other access guides into electronic format, allowing more sophisticated searching and retrieval. Subject guides could now be compiled much more easily than before, and repositories could publish more materials with less difficulty to aid in outreach programs. Advances in spreadsheet and relational database software also enabled archivists to track numerical data (use statistics, budgets, etc.) and develop their own specialized access tools for individual collections or entire repositories through off-the-shelf relational databases.

Genealogists have three main interests regarding automation and their research. They seek automated systems to (1) access data; (2) compile and record research data; and (3) publish their research widely.(17) With the software becoming available in the late 1980s, genealogists began to convert paper-based notes and lineage information into electronic format to meet these interests. This was accomplished first through generic word processing programs, and then through specialized genealogical database programs. Initial applications merely provided basic templates to compile genealogical information, using much of the same logic and function as genealogists had used in paper-based research. While enabling the user to create a few printed reports, these programs did little to advance the automation of genealogical research.(18)

However, as relational databases become more advanced, software companies adapted the technology making the shift from lineage-based databases to event and relationship-based databases. This represented a fundamental shift in the approach to genealogical automation and unlocked many new features for genealogists using these programs.(19) Genealogists could now compile and record their research, and prepare research for publications in word processors by exporting data from their genealogical software. The implementation of a standard record format, GEDCOM, also allowed sharing of electronic genealogical research among different users using different genealogical programs.(20) Databases and bulletin boards of genealogical information were expanded through the use of a common file format. Many genealogists, however, feel this standard has been underutilized by commercial vendors more interested in promoting their own proprietary record formats.(21) Nonetheless, virtually all major programs support the format for import and export of genealogical data.

During this same period, the archival world struggled with the issue of a standardized record format for electronic holdings' records. The MARC AMC (Machine-Readable Cagalogue Archives and Manuscript Control) (now MARC MIX) format was originally developed to be used with other MARC formats for shared bibliographic cataloging purposes. The development of national bibliographic databases such as OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) and RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) spurred the development of a standard record format to facilitate the sharing of cataloging resources. As library OPACs developed in the 1980s, archives moved to include their holdings within these systems, resulting in the development of the MARC AMC format. This format altered the standard bibliographic format somewhat with specialized fields for specific types of archival control. However, this system did not offer the same level of hierarchical control as previous systems designed specifically for archival purposes. As a result, many archives do not rely on the MARC format as their main source of control over archival materials, turning to other more specialized database programs instead.(22)

Because of the pervasive nature of the MARC format in library automation, however, the MARC AMC format (and its successor the MARC MIX format), have achieved a prominent place within archival automation practices. For many patrons, these records remain the primary way they seek information on archival holdings, especially for those unfamiliar with archival collections and research methods. Specialized microcomputer cataloging applications also became available during this time for smaller libraries and archival repositories to begin applying these standards with their own collections.(23)

While the development of these new software applications and formats helped to direct and shape the uses for automation within the workplace and for research, perhaps the most important development during this time was the shift from often confusing command-based interfaces on the microcomputer (MS-DOS) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs / Windows). With a mouse and a cursor, users could now visually navigate through the commands of the software, reducing to some degree, the amount of training, memory and recall needed to operate the system. This opened the microcomputer market to even more individuals and businesses alike.

Currently, most archival repositories surveyed use their computing equipment primarily for general office applications, while 55% of respondents employed in-house cataloging systems (specifically for the archives or as part of the larger library system) to maintain control over archival collections. Sixty-six percent of surveyed repositories included MARC records within their host institution's OPAC systems, though only 33% support electronic versions of their archival finding aids. This low number illustrates the difficulties in retrospectively converting paper-based documents into electronic formats, and though all repositories expressed they would eventually convert these materials, progress has been slow with some institutions.

Genealogists use primarily genealogical software (91.30%), word processing applications (86.96%), and communications software for the Internet (41.30%). Though survey respondents use a wide variety of genealogy software to compile their research, one clear leader emerged from the pack as setting the standard for genealogical software, Family Tree Maker offered by Broderbund Software.

Table 2 -- Genealogical Software by Title
Software Title Percent Owning
Family Tree Maker (Broderbund) 41.60%
PAF 24.96%
Family Origins (Parsons Technology) 12.48%
Family Roots (Quinsept) 8.32%
Brother's Keeper (John Steed) 6.24%
Roots (Commsoft) 4.16%
Ancestral Quest (Incline Software) 2.08%
Everyone's Family Tree (AGLL/Dollarhide) 2.08%
Personal Roots (Expert Software) 2.08%
Reunion (Leister Productions) 2.08%

Genealogists list features and personal recommendations as most important when choosing software. Family Tree Maker by Broderbund offers a large number of reports easily created at the touch of a button, inclusion of images, and now integration with online databases and Internet resources through the software interface.(24)

As with hardware in the early 1980s, much of the software developed by the end of the 1980s such as word processors, relational databases, and genealogical applications comprised the raw tools which archivists and genealogists needed to begin the process of automating their internal processes, to access their collections, and compile and exchange information.

The Era of Media Development

With standards and fundamental applications now established for both hardware and software, advances in storage capacity and processing speeds began to make larger amounts of raw data available to researchers. The advent of CD-ROM technology and strong interest in the technology during this period enabled individual users with access to the proper computer hardware and software to search CD-ROMs using keyword and Boolean search methods. Storing up to 700 megabytes per CD, this medium allows users to search many standard reference publications electronically such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica. Genealogical researchers can search among other sources, census and social security records published on CD-ROM by name, allowing efficient and unprecedented speed in searching records. While such searching of some of these databases had long been available to information professionals through services such as DIALOG, this period is crucial because this searching ability has become widely available to the end users through user-friendly GUIs.(25)

Because end users during this period gain the ability to search larger databases for information, discrepancies among the quality of information available via these sources provide evidence that information providers need to work to develop standards to maintain a high level of quality in information available for searching. One area of control over archival materials that has long caused difficulties and disagreement within the profession is the use of controlled vocabulary to facilitate search strategies.

Use of controlled vocabulary has long been a standard approach to increasing the efficiency and accuracy of searching -- even before the time of automation. By carefully preparing thesauri or authority lists, indexers could assign proper terms for subject headings and other headings to ensure accurate retrieval. While a good idea in theory, in practice controlled vocabulary has not been the answer to the problems of searchers. Because individual indexers may interpret items differently than others, and tools such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are so large and unwieldy, even when using controlled vocabulary, indexers can create wildly different headings. Controlled vocabulary also relies on reliable human beings serving as indexers to individual items -- a tremendous cost when it comes to controlling large fluid databases. A 1987 study asking several archivists to create controlled vocabulary search terms for a common collection, resulted in a very wide disparity of search terms chosen. This study illustrated the pitfalls and difficulties faced not only by indexers attempting to assign controlled vocabulary terms, but also for researchers navigating the myriad of possible search term combinations in an attempt to derive a high recall search set.(26)

As a result, high quality controlled vocabulary systems are not fiscally or practically feasible, resulting in an increased reliance on keyword or free text searching. Through interactive query sessions, this form of searching allows high retrieval on specific known terms such as personal names. Recall for frequently used words and words with multiple meanings (a particularly large problem in the redundant and verbose English language) is usually poor, though relevancy and proximity rankings in searches with more than one search term can better the search results. Keyword searching, however, remains the only choice for searchers using many databases, because of poor controlled vocabulary.

Advances in graphical imaging technology (most notably scanners) during this period also brought the notion of digital imaging to the forefront as an automated application for the archival profession. Combined with the large storage media emerging at this time (CD-ROM and others) large collections of digital images can be collected and stored with fast and efficient retrieval. Archivists can use digital images as a preservation tool to prevent frequent use of fragile materials, as an outreach and reference tool to reproduce copies of images easily, and can be placed on networks to allow researchers access to the material electronically from any networked computer.

The era of media development impacted the work of genealogists and researchers more directly than it did archivists. Today, genealogical research companies derive a substantial portion of their business from creating and marketing CD-ROM materials to libraries, family research centers and individuals. Current offerings by one industry leader, Broderbund Software includes birth records, cemetery records, census indexes (both international and U.S.), church records, family pedigrees, land records, marriage records, military records, mortality indexes, ship passenger lists, social security death records, and state records indexes.(27)

Besides compiling and offering these indexes, Broderbund also sells World Family Tree CDS containing actual family trees from Family Tree Maker users to help connect genealogists working on similar lines together. Broderbund has released six CD-ROMs with actual family trees within the last year, due to an explosion in interest among genealogists.(28)

Some of these databases, such as the Social Security Death Index, are available for free via other sources, and can even be searched via the Internet.(29) However, many individuals still pay to receive their own copies -- especially those without unlimited access to Internet resources. A CD-ROM copy enables them to conduct searches without the pressure of online connect time through an Internet provider.

The Era of Online Development

The line separating media and online development is thin, and the two are closely related. The evolution of the Internet and its explosion into popular culture within the past three years has launched both archivists and genealogists into "cyberspace" -- where online real-time access to networked resources begins to completely reshape how information providers and information consumers interact. The three most important aspects of the new networking technology are the revolutions in interpersonal communication -- email, and the revolutions in static documentation via delivery systems such as the world wide web, and the delivery of dynamic databases via networks (either command-based or graphics-based).

Electronic mail, or email, provides a fast and economical way to conduct interpersonal communication via automated networked resources for any type of user. Not only is it appropriate for communications between two individuals, but for online discussion groups in any number of fields including the archival profession (the ARCHIVES listserv(30)) and genealogical research (the ROOTS-L listserv(31)). The speed and convenience of email have made it a preferred form of communication for many researchers communicating with archival repositories. All archival repositories surveyed for this study reported that they do service email inquiries, which continue to increase in number, while only 33% of repositories actually solicit email reference requests. The immediacy of electronic communication also can generate beliefs that electronic replies can somehow be handled more quickly than other types of requests. Especially in terms of reference assistance requests, this is most likely not the case, and archival repositories (as well as libraries and other information centers) will need to establish guidelines and policies regarding electronically-submitted reference requests to provide patrons with information regarding how their reference requests are handled.

The world wide web is also growing as an information medium, where anyone can publish and maintain documents that are available to anyone with access to the Internet. This technology is significant for archivists in that it allows them to offer a "24-Hour" presence in the Internet with information regarding collections, hours, location, staff, etc. Repositories may also publish finding aids, collections guides, subject guides and other access aids to their collections as well. Via keyword searching of Internet search engines, users can then have keyword access to any document available on the archival website, greatly enhancing access to these documents.(32)

Currently, members of the archival profession are working upon a new set of standards for encoding such online access aids termed EAD or Encoded Archival Description.(33) This set of standards is based on SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), as is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the standard encoding language on the world wide web.(34) The project to develop EAD began in 1993 before the world wide web and HTML became strong players in the Internet arena, and represented an attempt by archivists to devise a specialized coding structure to reflect the needs of archival access providers and researchers.(35) Most important in the design of EAD was the inclusion of a hierarchical structure of relationships within documents, the ability to define and link portions of documents together, and the development of a standard format for these finding aids in electronic form. The first release of the SGML standards for EAD will occur in late 1997. Because SGML is currently not supported on the world wide web, documents encoded with EAD must be converted to HTML documents in order to be of use to researchers. The success of EAD as an information access tool for archival repositories has yet to be determined, and its fate lays mostly in the hands of the Internet itself and how its technology continues to develop. Regardless, it is unlikely that EAD will be a major factor for smaller archival repositories and libraries just automating their access systems.(36)

Dynamic databases, such as the aforementioned Social Security Death Index also can be accessed through the World Wide Web. Searchers of these databases must not rely on updated CD-ROMs to search the most recent entries, but may search the most current datafile available. Many of these systems are proprietary, and do charge for access ranging from as little as a few dollars a month, to thousands of dollars for major online database services (DIALOG, EBSCO, etc.).(37)

Genealogical corporations and societies now offer databases through the Internet, available for a fee. The most recent versions of genealogical software programs also allow users to create HTML documents from their data for publication on the world wide web. The Internet, therefore, provides a powerful tool for genealogists sharing large amounts of data and research with other genealogists. Because this tool is so powerful, genealogists and other researchers must also take into account the security and authenticity of the information published on the Internet. Many genealogists refuse to publish their work electronically because others may download their work and resell it as their own. Other genealogists have created fictitious research to claim distinguished ancestry, which when accessed through networked documents, can multiply and do damage to the integrity of genealogical research. These issues are not only valid regarding genealogical information, but any information published on a medium that does not in any way control its content, or its information providers.

Both archivists and genealogists are actively participating in "cyberspace" through websites and online services. Seventy-seven percent of archival repositories surveyed currently support websites containing primarily basic repository information (location, hours, basic collection information). Several repositories offer more in-depth material including online exhibits and links to other resources of interest on the world wide web. All repositories expressed a commitment to create or continue to implement their web-based resources when it was possible. Of genealogists surveyed for this study, 62% subscribed to online services offering Internet access, and 68% had used the world wide web to conduct genealogical research. More genealogists subscribe to America Online (45.16%) than to any other service, with many others (41.94%) shunning major online providers in favor of local services. Only three genealogists (6%) currently provide their genealogical research on the Internet via a personal website.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In today's technologically-inclined world, both archivists and genealogists display an increasing knowledge and understanding of how these new information delivery systems will impact how they conduct their work or research. Similarly, surveys of both archival repositories and individual researchers demonstrate both groups are reasonably well-equipped in terms of hardware and software to effectively access new technologies such as the Internet. Perhaps the one facet that has not yet been adequately explored, now that a deep and diverse information infrastructure is now in place, is -- how well does it work? Information retrieval systems can only be as good as the work that goes into them and comprises the data within them. Are the current priorities that archivists have assigned to automated systems adequate for the research needs of their patrons? In an information-based society, archivists and records holders cannot afford to be left behind in seeking out new, innovative, and perhaps more profitable forms of facilitating access to information.

Relations Between Archivists
and Genealogists

While automation has strongly impacted both the work of archivists and the research patterns of genealogists, has automation helped to bring archivists and genealogists closer together in understanding each other? Traditionally, archivists and genealogists have eyed each other in a somewhat apprehensive light -- each seeing the other as somewhat of a distraction to their overall purpose.(38) Yet genealogists comprise perhaps the largest single group of archival patrons for nearly all archival institutions. Increased automated service by archives holds the potential to allow archives to offer services to genealogists remotely through networked and other media (the Internet) without the direct intervention of archival staff. Genealogists might be able to determine for themselves through subject and/or collection guides if a repository would have a specific collection they sought. Routine questions regarding location, hours, policies regarding photocopying, etc. can also be supplied in electronic format to ease the flow of information, and save the valuable time of archivists. Such automated efforts can serve the interests of both archivists and genealogists, yet take effort to establish as effective tools of information dissemination.

Many examples of successful implementation of automated archival services for genealogists exist, as well as many instances of poorly-planned, ineffective efforts. Creating the most effective automated systems require archivists to completely reexamine the process to be automated, not to simply automate existing processes. Often, processes that work well in a non-automated setting do not transfer well or efficiently into an automated situation. Understanding such processes requires a great deal of communication between the systems implementors and the target audience.

Overall, communication between archivists and genealogists has improved in recent years, though in some cases, poor communication still hampers effective understandings of the needs and responsibilities of each group by the other. Archivists and genealogists surveyed for this project do have different perceptions of many issues relating to the automation of archival access systems, stemming in part, from a general lack of quality communication between the two communities. Many types of collections found in archival repositories -- most notably public records -- are open and available for unrestricted public use. As for-profit corporations continue their efforts to provide access to much of this genealogical information through their own proprietary systems, genealogists, as the information seekers may choose to pay for the convenience and understanding of genealogical issues demonstrated by these corporations. Archivists, as information providers need to reach out to provide innovative systems of information delivery that can benefit both the archival repository and the researchers and genealogists to maintain the necessity of archival repositories in the field of genealogical research.

General Understandings of Each Other

While stereotyping any particular patron group may not be the most politically-correct pastime, general impressions of different types of researchers, over time, create composite identities that help to color subsequent interactions with patrons of the same group. Archivists and librarians have long held general "stereotypes" of different types of users, especially "scholars" and "genealogists." Such preconceived notions of how each type of researcher interacts with archival or library collections affect the quality and level of reference service accorded to each user group.(39)

Many reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, lay behind these perceptions, and their origins lay deep within the history of archival collections. Perhaps the most crucial element concerns general conceptions of why archival repositories are created and who they are intended to benefit. Most archives are created to serve as a record keeper for a parent government, organization, corporation, or other entity. The archives houses records and materials of evidential value germane to the operations of the parent entity, and works primarily to serve the needs of that body. Many archival repositories, though not all, allow public access to their holdings, often in the name of advancing scholarship in areas related to their collections, or due to public records laws. As a result, archivists often see professional scholars, historians, and internal administrators as their most important clientele. Serving administrators is in the best interest of the archives in order to maintain a good rapport with the parent (and usually funding) body. Serving academic researchers often results in published scholarly works for which archivists can take some credit for facilitating the research, and perhaps a mention in the acknowledgments as well.(40)

Seemingly at the bottom of the archival food chain are genealogical researchers, or other individuals seeking information contained in archival records for personal use. Because the products of such research are not as glorious as scholarly publications, and the researchers themselves often lack training in historical research and the use of primary source materials, custodians of such materials are often reluctant to prescribe the same level of reference assistance to genealogical researchers as other scholarly or administrative users.(41)

Biases against genealogists in general have a long and storied history, from Biblical times to World War II. Traditionally, genealogies have existed only to serve the rich and the well-connected in attempts to gain or maintain prestigious positions in world societies. Genealogies acted to exclude "unworthy" individuals from elite classifications, including individuals under the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s. Professional historians have also long looked askance toward "amateurs" pursuing genealogical research in historical terms. Archivists and historians alike believed that researchers lacking professional training in history and research could not treat primary source documents with the care, respect and insight that they deserved. Historians, who traditionally have dealt with the histories of the powerful and influential men in society, scorned family histories that failed to impart any lasting conclusions relevant for society at large.(42)

Genealogists have been criticized in the library literature "for their ineptness in historical research and . . . their uncritical interpretation of records."(43) Another article from the American Archivist continues, "Denigrating genealogists has been a cherished avocation of archivists ever since we began scratching our way up the ladder toward professional status."(44) Many of these comments saw print during the 1970s and 1980s as interest in genealogical research caught fire in the United States following the television mini-series based on Alex Haley's Roots. Archives and record centers felt a sharp increase in the number of genealogists using their collections, and this upsurge caught most archives and records centers completely by surprise.(45)

Since that time, archivists and genealogists have tended "toward peaceful coexistence" as interest in genealogy held steady and even continued to increase, and records handlers grew more accustomed to servicing genealogical requests.(46) Automation has begun to play, and will continue to play a fundamental role in allowing archivists to grapple with the increasing demands placed upon them by increasing numbers of genealogical research requests through the automation of simple, repetitive, but frequent reference requests.(47) Evidence does suggest that relations between archivists and genealogists are improving, in part due to electronic access to archival information, though a general lack of communication between archival circles and genealogical organizations continues to stymie solid advances within the realm of archival/genealogical relations.

Current Perceptions and Impressions

For this study, archivists were asked to list three adjectives that they felt best described an individual patron group. This question sought to gather general perceptions and impressions of distinct user groups, especially in relation to other types of archival users. Within each user group (administrative, genealogical, and scholarly), responses were categorized based upon the tone of the adjectives selected into 'Positive' and 'Negative' comments. Adjectives submitted with a questionable tone are listed following the table.

Table 3 -- Archivists' General Impressions of Patron Groups
Administrative Users Genealogical Users Scholarly Users
Positive Negative Positive Negative Positive Negative

Questionable Term: "Rare"

Interestingly, genealogical users received the largest number of positive comments, and more comments of a positive nature than negative. Of the negative comments given to all groups, those attributed to administrative and scholarly users seem more negative than those for genealogists. Genealogists may be the friendliest group in the eyes of archivists with terms such as "enthusiastic, friendly, and pleasant." Administrative and scholarly users both received the term "polite," suggesting a more professional and reserved manner, though all groups received the negative term "demanding" suggesting an overall attitude that archival patrons are unaware of the demands they place upon archival staff. These perceptions do demonstrate that archivists have come a long way in tempering their perceptions of genealogical patrons in particular. What at times, could have been a hostile relationship with each other in the 1970s and 1980s has given way to a more positive working relationship benefitting both parties.

In a similar vein, genealogists who have visited archival repositories to conduct genealogical research were asked to use three adjectives to describe their experiences while conducting research. The range of responses varied greatly, including descriptions of how they perceived their treatment by archival staff, how they felt about the research process in general, and how they dealt with the information they gained from their research. Responses have been grouped again according to the tone of the chosen response. All responses received are included (regardless of the appropriateness of the grammar) and numbers following individual entries represent multiple responses for one term.

Table 4 -- Genealogists' Impressions of their Archival Experiences
Positive Neutral Negative
Enlightening (2)
Excellent (2)
Exciting (10)
Fascinating (2)
Friendly (4)
Happy (2)
Helpful (10)
Intrigued (2)
Knowledgeable (4)
Learning (2)
Satisfied (4)
Busy (3)
Challenged (2)
Frustrating (5)
Overwhelmed (6)
Rushed (2)
Slow (2)

Positive responses to this query far outnumber negative responses, and it is clear that genealogists on the whole are enjoying positive responses to their research inquiries. Even some of the most negative comments (frustrating, overwhelmed) do not reflect directly upon their treatment at an archival facility but portray a more negative image of the research process itself.

This overall "approval rating" for archives however, did not extend to their automated systems, but seems to come more from personal interaction with staff. While saying much about the quality of reference service in archival repositories, this casts strong shadows over current efforts to automate research aids in archival repositories. Surveyed genealogists were asked about their general experiences in archival repositories, especially with regard to the reference service they received in person from archivists, and reference service received through electronic means. The results do not point to the overall success of archival automation with respect to genealogical researchers.

Table 5 -- Genealogists' Impressions of Reference Service and Automated Systems in Archives
Question Affirmative* Negative*
Have you visited a library or archive to consult primary source material for your genealogical research? 94.00% 6.00%
During your visit, were you satisfied with the reference assistance provided by the library/archive staff? 96.00% 2.00%
Did you feel the librarians/archivists demonstrated an understanding of the needs of genealogical researchers? 88.00% 8.00%
In your experience, are the automation efforts regarding genealogical resources made by libraries and archival repositories meeting the needs of genealogical researchers? 40.00% 46.00%
* Composite totals may equal less than 100% if respondents did not return an answer for that question.

This data suggests that archivists have a very high "success" rate when dealing with individuals in person. Visiting researchers are by-and-large furnished with the materials they request in a timely, efficient manner with ample and appropriate reference assistance. In this regard, archivists and genealogists have come a long way in understanding each another and learning to work together.

Unfortunately, the success rate for archival automation efforts is far less appealing than that for in-house reference requests. Twenty-three of fifty respondents (46.00%) responded negatively while twenty respondents (40.00%) returned an affirmative answer, with six individuals not responding to this question. This suggests only four of ten genealogical researchers are able to adequately conduct (or facilitate) their genealogical research through current implementations of archival automation methods, such as online bibliographic records, electronic finding aids, and availability of networked (Internet) resources. The remaining six researchers of every ten find themselves resorting to other methods to attain their desired search results -- which in more cases than not, involve personal interaction with archival staff.

This apparent problem in understanding the automation needs of genealogical researchers is exacerbated by a general perception within the archival community that the automation needs of researchers are currently being met by current practices. Archivists were asked to respond positively or negatively to the question of whether or not they found their automation efforts meeting the needs of their researchers. Responses were divided by archival patron group and are included below.

Table 6 -- Archivists' Impressions of the Success of Current Automated Systems
Administrative Users Genealogical Users Scholarly Users
Yes 66.67% 66.67% 55.56%
Somewhat 11.11% 11.11% 22.22%
No 22.22% 22.22% 22.22%

If archivists perceive their automation efforts as satisfactory and meeting the needs of their patrons, there is little incentive to continue developing and examining their automated systems. However, survey data from genealogists suggests that this perception by archivists is not entirely accurate and that archivists need to reexamine their automated systems currently in place, or look toward developing new automated information tools to meet the needs of their researchers.

Doubtless, many genealogists may not jump on the "automation bandwagon," and they will continue to conduct their genealogical research via personal reference interactions (telephone, in-house, etc.). Yet, already a substantial number of researchers are beginning to seek archival information through electronic gateways, and it appears that archival repositories lag behind their researchers in tackling these emerging technologies. Even taking into account the current operating milieu of budget cutbacks and staff shortages, archival repositories cannot afford to ignore today's automation trends. It is therefore crucial for repositories to understand the needs of their constituents, most specifically, how they use electronic information, in order to construct a strategic plan for implementing a successful automation program for the 21st century.

As more researchers of all types become better acquainted with automated technologies, archival repositories will need to adapt to the new ways their patrons will seek archival information. Current trends in automation provide for two basic forms of automated communication to improve access systems for archivists -- static electronic information communication media (online MARC records, electronic finding aids, and world wide web sites) and dynamic interpersonal communication media (email, chat facilities, etc.). To form an effective plan for automation, it is imperative for archivists to (1) understand the history of archival automation, to gain a broader understanding of how automated information delivery systems have evolved (as discussed earlier); (2) understand how their patron constituents currently use these types of automated electronic information; and (3) understand that automation and technology are not stationary, and any successful program for archival automation will depend upon periodic review and revision to incorporate new technological advances.

What Users Want -- The Most Effective Automated Tools

Understanding the importance and pervasiveness of automated systems within the archival environment, the most difficult question remains how to maximize the limited resources of most archival repositories to allow for the most effective automated systems. The key to understanding these implementation issues lies in understanding how archival patrons are currently using access tools, and how automation in general affects those use patterns.

Surveyed genealogists were asked to rate automated systems with regard to their overall helpfulness in assisting and expediting their genealogical research. A rating of "one" indicated it was the most important automation tool, while a rating of "five" indicated the least effective tool. A summary of responses is provided in Table 7.

Table 7 -- Most Important Automation Tools According to Genealogists
Automated System Response Average
Online MARC Records in Library OPACs 1.38
Keyword Searchable Finding Aids 2.43
World Wide Web Sites 2.65
Email 3.30
Gopher Sites 4.00

These results are unequivocal in displaying a preference first for online records, followed closely by the keyword searching abilities of finding aids and websites. Email ranks a distant fourth in preference, illustrating a clear desire for static "on-demand" information supplied by archival repositories. In other words, genealogical researchers prefer not to involve archival staff in their initial searches if at all possible. This also suggests that successful automated information delivery tools will (1) be used by researchers, and (2) will result in fewer basic queries directed to archival staff, sparing staff from answering repetitive, basic questions.

As more genealogists become familiar with networked resources -- especially large databases made available through both commercial and non-profit information providers via the Internet -- these preference for automated resources should shift more toward keyword-searchable, full-text resources, such as finding aids, and websites. Online MARC records may currently be the most frequently used source, but due to the limitations of that format, it stands to be superseded by more powerful and reliable search systems currently taking shape on the Internet. Archivists planning automated systems need to be aware of these shifts and plan accordingly for the success of their systems.

Archivists, when asked a similarly phrased question also responded that overall online records provided the most important access to archival collections, followed closely by the ability to email archival staff and websites. More infrequent responses were electronic finding aids and gopher sites.

As both archivists and genealogists have entered the automated research world in the past thirty years, initial efforts at automation included OPACs for libraries and archives allowing local access to locally-held materials. As internetworking initiatives have been established, these local systems have become available remotely. Because this technology is therefore the oldest, it is relied upon most heavily by both archivists and genealogists.

Such systems, and the records within them however, do provide some drawbacks -- most notably, these records have not been available through any other system other than that of the individual institution. Users must first select the institution in which to search before initiating the search for the desired information. For researchers wishing to search the holdings of multiple institutions, this results in a highly repetitive and time-consuming search process of searching each individual database for specific information.

Newer "open-platform" systems such as the world wide web, however, allow searchers to search large indexed collections of electronic data via one search interface, even with one search command. As more individuals become familiar with the capabilities of this search technology -- and as more information becomes available in this format, the speed, ease of use, and efficiency of such systems will swing public support more for tools such as the world wide web.(48)

It is conceivable that gateway technologies will be developed to allow multiple OPAC searching among selected institutions, which would then provide an equally powerful tool for researchers casting a wide net for their search. Web-based access protocols such as the Z39.50 standard have begun the process of developing "open-platform" approaches to many of these OPAC systems. Therefore, despite the limited scope of current OPAC systems, the potential exists for more powerful applications in the future.

In light of these responses, and considering the benefits and trends toward keyword searching of electronic documents, archival repositories with as little as a PC and word processing software can begin to plan their implementation of these expanding technologies in order to take advantage of the technological advances fully as soon as resources allow. These steps to automation based in part upon the needs and use patterns of researchers include:

(1) Create and/or convert important documents facilitating access to archival collections into machine-readable formats.

The most important step toward providing electronic automated access is first having documents in electronic format. Such documents can easily be converted into hypertext documents for publication on the Internet, or for other database purposes.

(2) Continue and expand implementation of MARC records for archival collections for inclusion in local and national bibliographic utilities.

Still the most popular way to access collections information, these records may also become available through other search utilities as technology develops. Measures need to be taken by archival repositories to ensure quality in the production of these records to provide the best access, and to prevent subsequent corrective work to revise errors.

(3) Facilitate keyword searching of locally-available finding aids, collection guides, and other repository access documents.

Most word processing programs allow for keyword searching of electronic documents. Patrons with read-only access to these materials in electronic format via a reading room workstation can conduct easy and efficient searches of all available documentation for the repository. Staff may also execute similar searches for remote clients.

Other more advanced forms of search software have recently become available (i.e., Alta Vista) which allow searching of PC files over multiple platforms and software packages. However, for all but the largest repositories, word processing search features should be sufficient to allow searching.

(4) Convert electronic documents to Internet-formatted documents (HTML) for inclusion in a repository Internet site.

Conversion of word processing documents prepared in any of the major word processing packages can easily be converted into HTML documents for publication on the Internet. Such preparation requires little technical knowledge of web publishing and HTML coding.

(5) Maintain an awareness of emerging trends in automated information access tools.

Throughout the development of automated systems, it is imperative to maintain a general understanding of the issues regarding automated information retrieval.

The Future

Rapid change within the information technology industry makes it very alluring and enthralling to those involved with information access and delivery.(49) However, the price to maintain a presence on the cutting edge of automation exceeds the resources of most archival repositories. What is necessary then, is not necessarily state-of-the-art hardware and software, but state-of-the-art planning and awareness. Archivists entering the 21st century must cultivate and develop a strong understanding of the theories behind automation efforts in order to be able to support and implement automated services whether today, in one year, or in five years.

One of the distinguishing aspects separating archival repositories from libraries and other information centers, is that the majority of archival holdings are normally unique items of a primary nature. Genealogists flock to archival repositories for access to these vital records, sacramental records, land records, and other personal and organizational records. However, with the costs of automating this information dropping, and a burgeoning interest in family history research, corporate firms have quickly realized the value of this information in the eyes of genealogists. Many of these firms are currently taking the very material that attracts genealogists to archives and digitizing it to sell to genealogical researchers, such as the aforementioned Social Security Death Indexes. Consumers, unaware that much of this information is available for free and having been conditioned to expect to have to pay for much of this information do not hesitate to purchase these digital records. Even those researchers aware that access to these records in their original format is available free of charge may elect to purchase electronic copies for issues of convenience -- they will be able to access records in their own homes.

One particularly noteworthy effort to provide electronic access to original materials outside of the corporate world, is the work of the Special Collections department at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.(50) This repository has placed scanned images of all marriage certificates registered in Hillsborough County, Florida for the period from 1878 to 1884 on the World Wide Web. Access to the images is provided through four separate registers, (1) by last name of groom, (2) by last name of bride, (3) by last name of officiator, and (4) by date. As computing and networking technologies have evolved to permit these types of graphical file transfer, repositories and corporations dealing with primary source, unique documents should prepare themselves to turn this replication and dissemination tool into a profit-making venture. Corporations surely will continue to pioneer in this area, yet archives need to also develop systems like those at the University of South Florida as evidence of their own outreach tools.(51)

Reviews of the archival literature and survey data indicate that the single most important patron group in archives are genealogical researchers, comprising approximately 50% or more of archival patrons.

Table 8 -- Approximate Percentages of Reference Requests per Year by Patron Group
Approximate Percentages of Reference Requests per Year by Patron Group
(ARC Institutions)
Administrative 13.16%
Genealogical 45.99%
Scholarly 33.55%

Archivists need to view the increasing trend toward commercial digitization of archival materials with some concern, as it threatens to lure away a substantial portion of archival patrons. While some in the archival profession may welcome a shift away from genealogical research, the loss of genealogists will undoubtedly threaten the future of many archival repositories who will be unable to justify their continued existence to resource allocators. While it is theoretically and intellectually true that archives should not have to be used with frequency to justify their existence, the fiscal realities of today's world make it necessary even for archives to show their work contributes to the well-being of the parent organization.

Archivists can lessen the impact of commercially-available records by planning and implementing active outreach programs with a strong automated component, as that demonstrated by the University of South Florida. By demonstrating to researchers, especially genealogical researchers, the benefits of archival collections, and the lack of a need for corporate middle-men, repositories have an opportunity to strengthen and increase their patron base. Detailed holdings information available on the world wide web may still allow individuals needed access to the information they seek at a cost-savings to consumers. Therefore it is crucial for archival repositories to look to the future in order to plan and implement automated systems that will serve as effective outreach tools to strengthen the repository within its constituent base. Corporate providers will continue to seek out and provide access to this information -- archival repositories must look to automation in order to remain competitive.

Some archival repositories might even be able to exploit these new technologies to provide proprietary access methods to their own data to generate additional income. Two methods exist for capitalizing on these digital technologies as profit mechanisms for archival repositories, (1) by charging for documents provided in digital format, and (2) by charging for access to proprietary indexes or access systems to archival collections. Many public records are protected against charges for accessing the information they contain. It is important that archives not charge for access to the materials, but instead prepare fee schedules for finding or delivering the information in a specified form. In the first case, fees for digital images can be implemented alongside fees for photocopies, photographs, or other reproductions for which archival repositories currently charge. In this regard, individuals visiting the archives in person could have free access to the materials and the material contained therein, but those choosing to access the materials remotely or examine copies in surrogate form (photocopy, photograph, or digital image) would pay for the cost of duplication (both materials and staff time). In the second case, archival staff could also sell access to proprietary indexes or access systems created to enhance item-level or keyword searching of archival collections. Such systems do not restrict access to materials, but can allow both local and remote researchers better access to otherwise difficult-to-use collections. This system could serve as a "luxury" service, similar to research fees currently charged for reference requests by most archival repositories.

While the influence of the corporate world may be most acute today in the area of genealogical research, there is reason to believe that in an increasingly digitized environment, more scholarly users may drive a demand for digital access to other kinds of archival resources.(52) Archives with sharp understandings of automation issues and well-crafted policies and procedures for implementing and supporting digital access to their materials will survive this transition in research techniques well, while other institutions may suffer greatly due to the ease of access to materials in other automated repositories.

The current use of automated and print indexes to journal publications provides a startlingly similar analogy to the impact of digital information. Many individuals today seeking journal articles on any given topic will rely heavily upon electronic indexes to search for citations. Many are unaware that such indexes may only include entries from the mid 1980s and later, and are even unfamiliar with print indexes that provide access to materials published before digitization. As a result, citations for journal literature tend to include those citations available through electronic indexes. Many researchers perceive that all the information they need will appear in online databases. While archival collections have not yet reached the largely neglected point of printed journal indexes, it is a scenario that remains very viable, and could jeopardize the futures of some archival repositories.


Automation has already begun to impact the fields of archival science and genealogical research in unprecedented ways. In this new digital environment, successful and viable archival repositories will need well-conceived and well-executed plans for implementing automated services into other standard outreach programs. The current status of commercial vendors entering the field of genealogical research should serve as a reminder to archivists that genealogists are fueling an expansive effort to digitize and commercialize vital and other records. Archives need to work to promote their collections within this new digital environment more ingeniously than ever before, as the digital revolution threatens to loosen archival control of many different types of records. The traditionally adversarial relationship between archivists and genealogists has improved greatly, and through greater cooperation and communication between the archival and genealogical communities, specific plans to implement automated services specifically for genealogists will help to secure the role of archival repositories for future genealogical research.

End Notes

1. David A. Wallace, "Archives and the Information Superhighway: Current Status and Future Challenges," International Information and Library Review 28 (1996): 79-91.

2. Some debate exists among different groups regarding the relationship between the terms 'genealogy' which carries a more amateur connotation and 'family history' connoting a 'professional' discipline. For the sake of this discussion, 'genealogy' or 'genealogist' will stand for all types of family research.

3. http://www.ancestry.com/ssdi/main-frame.htm

4. http://www.familytreemaker.com/110facd.html

5. http://www.familytreemaker.com/grantfrm.html

6. Please see the appendices for survey questions.

7. Fredric M. Miller, Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts, Archival Fundamentals Series (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1990), 3.

8. Richard Eastman, YOUR ROOTS: Total Genealogy Planning on Your Computer (Emeryville, Calif.: Ziff Davis Publishing, 1995).

9. John Wylie, "GENTECH97 Reviews," [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/mar97/gentech.htm], March 1997.

10. Ibid.

11. Russell M. Smith, "Item Indexing by Automated Processes," American Archivist 30 (April 1967): 295-302; Marion M. Torchia, "Two Experiments in Automated Indexing: The Presidential Papers and the Papers of the Continental Congress," American Archivist 39, 437-440.

12. H. Thomas Hickerson, Archives & Manuscripts: An Introduction to Automated Access Basic Manual Series. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1981), 22.

13. Ibid., 23; Stephen E. Hannestad, "Clay Tablets to Micro Chips: The Evolution of Archival Practice into the Twenty-First Century," Library Hi Tech 9, no. 4 (1991), 88.

14. Ibid., 89-91.

15. Ibid., 91.

16. More detailed discussions of the histories of SPINDEX, NARS A-1 and other archival automation systems is found in: Lawrence J. McCrank, ed. Automating the Archives: Issues and Problems in Computer Applications (New York: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1981).

17. Brian Mavrogeorge, "Genealogy Software," Journal of Online Genealogy 1 [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/jul96/software1.html], July 1996.

18. Charles Clement, ed. Genealogy and Computers (Chicago: American Library Association, 1986).

19. Mavrogeorge, [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/jul96/software1.html], July 1996.

20. Clement, 27-37.

21. Mavrogeorge, [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/jul96/software1.html], July 1996.

22. Hannestad, 91-92.

23. For a description of how one repository employs both generic software and archives-specific programs, see C.M. Woolgar, "Automation and Archives: A Survey of the Systems at the University of Southampton Library," Program 28 no. 4 (October 1994): 333-347.

24. More information on Family Tree Maker is available from http://www.familytreemaker.com/.

25. Glen A. Gildemeister, "Automation, Reference, and the Small Repository, 1967-1997," The Midwestern Archivist 13 no. 1 (1988): 5-15.

26. Avra Michelson, "Description and Reference in the Age of Automation," American Archivist 50 (Spring 1987).

27. Broderbund Software, "Family Tree Maker's Family Archive CDS," [http://www.familytreemaker.com/facds.html], 1997.

28. Broderbund Software, "World Family Tree CDS," [http://www.familytreemaker.com/wft.html], 1997.

29. The Social Security Death Index is available through Ancestry HomeTown at [http://ssdi2.ancestry.com/ssdi/main-frame.htm].

30. More information on the ARCHIVES listserv is available from http://miavx1.muohio.edu/~harlanjb/personal/projects/archives/.

31. More information on the ROOTS-L listserv is available from http://www.rootsweb.com/roots-l/.

32. William Landis, "Archival Outreach on the World Wide Web," Archival Issues 20 no. 2 (1995): 129-147.

33. Daniel Pitti, et al., "Encoding Standard for Electronic Finding Aids," Archival Outlook (January 1996): 10-13.

34. Softquad, Inc.,"SGML Resources," [http://www.softquad.com/htmlsgml/], n.d.

35. Two Internet sites provide extensive information regarding the background and current implementation of EAD, (1) University of California Regents, "SGML: Standard Generalized Markup Language," [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/SGML/], 1997; and (2) American Memory, Library of Congress, "<EAD> Finding Aid Pilot Project," [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ead/eadhome.html], n.d.

36. Current examples of EAD examples are available through the website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ead/eadsamp.html. (These aids require an SGML-capable browser (Panorama) available from Softquad, Inc. [http://www.sq.com/products/panorama/pan-free.htm]. The Digital Library Project at UC-Berkeley offers EAD encoded finding aids converted "on-the-fly" to HTML at their website, [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/FindingAids/].

37. Information on DIALOG is available at http://www.dialog.com/; information on EBSCO is available at http://www.ebsco.com/.

38. Gail R. Redmann, "Archivists and Genealogists: The Trend Toward Peaceful Coexistence," Archival Issues 18, no. 2 (1993): 121-132.

39. Redmann, 124.

40. Phebe R. Jacobsen, "'The World Turned Upside Down'": Reference Priorities and the State Archives," American Archivist 44 (1981): 342-3.

41. Ibid., 342.

42. Russell E. Bidlack, "Genealogy Today," Library Trends 32 (1983): 13.

43. Ibid., 13.

44. Jacobsen, 341-345.

45. Timothy L. Ericson, "The Development of Archival Networks: Not Exactly What We Had Expected," American Archivist 46 (Fall 1983): 417.

46. Redmann, 121.

47. Jacobsen, 343-344.

48. Raimund E. Goerler, "Towards 2001: Electronic Workstations and the Future of Academic Archives," Archival Issues 17 no. 1 (1992): 11-22.

49. Ronald F.E. Weissman, "Archives and the New Information Architecture of the Late 1990s," American Archivist 57 (Winter 1994): 20-45.

50. University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library, Special Collections Department. Hillsborough County, Florida Marriage Records - Index. [http://www.lib.usf.edu/spccoll/guide/m/ml/guide.html], 1996.

51. Information on the site at the University of South Florida and other web resources employing digital representations of primary documents is available through: Mark Howells, "'Psssstt....Want to see the future of online genealogy?'," Journal of Online Genealogy 1 [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/dec96/newsites.htm], December 1996.

52. Daniel V. Pitti, "Settling the Digital Frontier: The Future of Scholarly Communication in the Humanities," [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/FindingAids/EAD/dpitti.html], April 1995; Avra Michelson and Jeff Rothenberg, "Scholarly Communication and Information Technology: Exploring the Impact of Changes in the Research Process on Archives," American Archivist 55 (Spring 1992): 227-315.

Selected Bibliography


American Library Association. Genealogy Committee. Program (1985 : Chicago, Ill.) RASD History Section Genealogy Committee Program (1985 : Chicago, Ill.). Genealogy & computers : proceedings of the RASD History Section Genealogy Committee Program, Reference and Adult Services Division, American Library Association, 9 July 1985. Edited by Charles Clement. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.

Beginning Your Genealogical Research in the National Archives in Washington. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1987.

Clement, Charles, ed. Genealogy and Computers. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.

Clifford, Karen. Genealogy & Computers for the Complete Beginner : a Step-by-step Guide to the PAF Computer Program, Automated Data Bases, Family History Centers, and Local Sources. [Baltimore, Md: Clearfield Company, 1992]

Computer Genealogy : a Guide to Research Through High Technology. Edited by Richard A. Pence. Revised Edition. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1991.

Cook, Michael. Archives and Computers. Second Edition. London: Butterworths, 1986.

Crowe, Elizabeth Powell. Genealogy Online : Researching Your Roots. New York: Windcrest/McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Crowe, Elizabeth Powell. Genealogy Online : Researching Your Roots. Second edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 1996.

Doane, Gilbert Harry and James B. Bell. Searching for Your Ancestors; the How and Why of Genealogy. Fifth Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.

Dollar, Charles M. Archival Theory and Information Technologies: The Impact of Information Technologies on Archival Principles and Methods. Edited by Oddo Bucci. Macerata, Italy: University of Macerata, 1992.

Eastman, Richard. Your Roots : Total Genealogy Planning on Your Computer. Emeryville, Calif.: Ziff-Davis Press, 1995.

Gilmer, Lois C. Genealogical Research and Resources : a Guide for Library Use. Chicago: American Library Association, 1988.

Harvey, Richard (Richard A. M.). Genealogy for Librarians. London: Bingley, 1983.

Hawgood, David. Computers for Family History : an Introduction. London: Hawgood Computing, 1985.

Hey, David. The Oxford Guide to Family History. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993.

Hickerson, H. Thomas. Archives & Manuscripts: An Introduction to Automated Access. Basic Manual Series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1981.

Holbert, Sue E. Archives & Manuscripts, Reference & Access. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1977.

Kesner, Richard M. Automation for Archivists and Records Managers: Planning and Implementation Strategies. Chicago: American Library Association, 1984.

McCrank, Lawrence J., ed. Automating the Archives: Issues and Problems in Computer Applications. New York: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1981.

Miller, Fredric M. Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Archival Fundamentals Series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1990.

Nichols, Elizabeth L. Genealogy in the computer age : understanding FamilySearch (Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, and Social Security Death Index). Revised edition. Salt Lake City: Family History Educators, 1994.

Parker, J. Carlyle. Library Service for Genealogists. Detroit, Mich: Gale Research Co., 1981.

Przecha, Donna and Joan Lowrey. Guide to Genealogy Software. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical. Publishing. Co., 1993.

Pugh, Mary Jo. Providing Reference Services for Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1992.

Reference Services in Archives. Edited by Lucille Whalen. New York: Haworth Press, 1986.

Savage, Earl R. Computing Your Genealogy. Richmond, Va.: JERLS, Inc., 1991.

Taylor, Hugh A. (Hugh Alexander). "Transformation in the archives: technological adjustment or paradigm shift?" In Canadian Archival Studies and the Rediscovery of Provenance. Edited by Tom Nesmith. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Wright, Raymond S. The Genealogist's Handbook : Modern Methods for Researching Family History. Chicago: American Library Association, 1995.

Journal Articles:

Amason, Craig R. "Instruction for Genealogists in the Public Library," The Reference Librarian no. 22 (1988): 283-95.

Balas, Janet. "Genealogists Online," Computers in Libraries 12 (1992): 42-3.

Barnett, LeRoy. "Standing on the Other Side of the Reference Desk," Archival Issues 19, no. 2 (1994): 119-29.

Bidlack, Russell E. "Genealogy Today." Library Trends 32 (1983).

Cook, Michael. "The Role of Computers in Archives," Information Development 5 (1989): 217-20.

Cox, Richard J. "Electronic Information Technology and the Archivist: Bright Lights, Lingering Concerns," The American Archivist 55 (1992): 232-4.

________. "Researching Archival Reference as an Information Function: Observations on Needs and Opportunities," RQ 31 (1992): 387-97.

Ericson, Timothy L. "The Development of Archival Networks: Not Exactly What We Had Expected." American Archivist 46 (1983): 416-422.

Gardiner, Allen. "Genealogy and the Librarian; Hope and Help for the Librarian's Frayed Nerves," Show-Me Libraries 35 (1984): 25-32.

Gildemeister, Glen A. "Automation, Reference, and the Small Repository, 1967-1997," The Midwestern Archivist 13, no. 1 (1988): 5-15.

Gilliland-Swetland, Anne. "Automating Intellectual Access to Archives," Library Trends 36 (1988): 495-623.

Goerler, Raimund E. "Towards 2001: Electronic Workstations and the Future of Academic Archives," Archival Issues 17, no. 1, (1992): 11-22.

Hannestad, Stephen E. "Clay Tablets to Micro Chips: the Evolution of Archival Practice into the Twenty-first Century," Library Hi Tech 9, no. 4 (1991): 75-96.

Heald, Carolyn A. "Reference Service in Archives: Whither a Professional Ethos?" Canadian Library Journal 49 (1992): 353-9.

Jacobsen, Phebe R. "'The World Turned Upside Down': Reference Priorities and the State Archives." American Archivist 44 (1981): 341-345.

Kiemele, Sandra. "A Study of Archivists' Perceptions of Reference Service," Canadian Library Journal 47 (1990): 355-7.

Landis, William. "Archival Outreach on the World Wide Web." Archival Issues 20 (1995): 129-147.

Michelson, Avra. "Description and Reference in the Age of Automation." American Archivist 50 (1987).

Michelson, Avra and Jeff Rothenberg. "Scholarly Communication and Information Technology: Exploring the Impact of Changes in the Research Process on Archives," The American Archivist 55 (1992): 236-315.

Peterson, Trudy Huskamp. "Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic: Speculations on Change in Research Processes," The American Archivist 55 (1992): 414-19.

Pitti, Daniel, et al. "Encoding Standard for Electronic Finding Aids." Archival Outlook (1996): 10-13.

Redmann, Gail R. "Archivists and Genealogists: the Trend Toward Peaceful Coexistence." Archival Issues 18 no. 2 (1993): 121-32.

Smith, Russell M. "Item Indexing by Automated Processes." American Archivist 30 (1967): 295-302.

Snell, Mary Kay. "Genealogy for Librarians," Texas Libraries 52 (1991): 17-22.

Stielow, Frederick J. "The Impact of Information Technology on Archival Theory: a Discourse on an Automation Pedagogy," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 34 (1993): 48-65.

Strasser, Theresa C. "Computers and Genealogy," The Bookmark (Albany, N.Y.) 49 (1991): 147-51.

Torchia, Marion M. "Two Experiments in Automated Indexing: The Presidential Papers and the Papers of the Continental Congress." American Archivist 39: 437-440.

Vazquez de Parga, Margarita and Pedro Gonzalez. "Changing Technologies in European Archives," The American Archivist 55 (1992): 156-66.

Wallace, David A. "Archives and the Information Superhighway: Current Status and Future Challenges," International Information & Library Review 28 (1996): 79-91.

Weissman, Ronald F. E. "Archives and the New Information Architecture of the Late 1990s," The American Archivist 57 (1994): 20-45.

Woolgar, C. M. (Christopher Michael). "Automation and Archives: a Survey of the Systems at the University of Southampton Library," Program 28 (1994): 333-47.

Internet Resources

ARCHIVES Listserv Information. [http://miavx1.muohio.edu/~harlanjb/personal/projects/archives/].

DIALOG. [http://www.dialog.com/].

EBSCO. [http://www.ebsco.com/].

Family Tree Maker Online. [http://www.familytreemaker.com/], 1997.

Journal of Online Genealogy. [http://www.onlinegenealogy.com/], 1996-1997.

Library of Congress (SGML). [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ead/eadhome.html].

ROOTS-L Listserv Information. [http://www.rootsweb.com/roots-l/].

Social Security Death Indexes. [http://ssdi2.ancestry.com/ssdi/main-frame.htm].

Softquad Corporation (SGML). [http://www.softquad.com/htmlsgml/].

University of California-Berkeley (SGML). [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/SGML/].

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