Saturday, May 5, 2012

New Ancestry.com VI Records-First Impressions

After seeing the large data set posted to Ancestry.com I was very excited to see what I could find.  Turns out there’s a lot there, but it takes a bit of getting used to to understand what’s there.  From my early browsing it appears that the collection is from several sources.  Ancestry doesn’t help much in their source citation:
Ancestry.com. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Slave and Free People Records, 1733-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: U.S. Virgin Islands St. Croix Records. Frederiksted, U.S. Virgin Islands: Virgin Islands History Associates (VISHA).
That may be where the data came from, but it doesn’t help in understanding the provenance of the records.
The organization of documents help sometimes, but not always.  Overall, the images are organized thematically, by subject and then by collection.  For example, I was looking at the Christiansted school records for 1875.  it is organized under:
    • Record Type:  School Lists, Labor Lists and Movements
    • Category: School Lists
    • Volume: Christiansted School List 1875-1833
The Volume contains 44 images of lists of school records. 
Some images span two pages and may be on separate images (left and right), or may be on a single wide image.  This is true throughout all of the collections from VISHA, including the Slave Tax and the St Croix Census.  For indexed collections like these, it is very important to hit the arrows for next page (and previous page).  There may be more that one page of interest.  I have seen this on Ancestry in the census often, especially in the 1911 census where nearly every household has a page listing address and owner before the actual enumeration page.  The Ancestry search only finds the second page.  If you are looking at an image and find the right portion cut off, go to the next image.  You may find a matching image with the left portion cut off.  Between the two, you have a full image.

I certainly have not been through the whole collection, but I did browse quite a few (lightly). After browsing through them they appear to come from several sources, including NARA, Rigsarkivet Copenhagen, regional archives, and private archives.  I originally planned to discuss all the record types I’ve seen so far, but the post will get too long, so I’ll do it in parts.  Today I will focus on identifying and sourcing NARA microfilms.

NARA Record Group 55 Publications M-1883 and M-18884

Many of the Volumes appear to be scans of prints of microfilms from one of the two NARA microfilm publications.
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Title Page of NARA Collection
These collections can be identified a few ways.  Sometimes they carry the NARA microfilm title page.  The page gives you a roll number and a Target (or Section) number.  Additionally, it includes the actual NARA location of the original documents in the set.  This page, for example, comes from M-1883, an 11 roll set.  The original documents are part of RG-55 in College Park.
Other times, there is no title page but the image may contain the NARA frame number.

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Frame Number on NARA Microfilms
This page is clearly a NARA document, but to find it you would have to cross reference the collection with a Finding List for the microfilm.

In most cases, VISHA has helped locate the documents by writing (usually in red) the source information on the first page of the collection.  Other helpful notations identify people, translate Danish headers, and provide additional notes throughout.  Some records include source information on other pages as well, but look at page 1 always.

An example of the reference is from the first page of the Emancipated Slaves list 1847-1848 (Free Colored Records > Emancipated Slaves, Christiansted District Deaths 1847-1848)

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VISHA Source Citations indicating both Microfilm Publication and Original Documents
From this section of the page, you can see that it is frame 245 of publication M-1883, Roll 11, and is described as “Slaves who died in X’sted and F’sted Jurisdictions between Nov 1, 1847 and July 3, 1848.  They also list the original documents as being from RG55/Box 587.  While the reference is accurate, NARA M-1833 describes frame 245 of Roll 11 as being part of “  Letters Received and Related Papers, 1853–56. [Entry 228, Box 587]”.  I think VISHA’s title is more helpful.

Some of the documents don’t have any indication where they are from.  This one, for example, is a Quarterly Report from St. John’s Anglican Church in St. Croix:

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Baptism Record from Ancestry.com with no Indication of Where the Image Came From
The image was clearly a photograph of a printout, but there is no indication where the document came from.  Turns out, most of the Quarterly Reports from the various churches are at NARA and are part of M-1884.  Here is an image I photographed of NARA M-1884, Roll 3, Section 1, Frame 64.  Clearly it’s the same document.

IMG_3245 (Medium)
Photograph from Microfilm Reader showing that Page is from NARA M-1884
So, while the newest posting is clearly a godsend for those of us in search of more documentation, this collection will take a bit of effort to make sense of, and a long time to review.

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