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Friday, April 25, 2014

The State of the States: Digitization Projects by State

The last time I checked, there were 50 states in the United States of America. I also realize that there are a number of other entities that vie for recognition, usually the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. All of these political jurisdictions have genealogically significant records and to a greater or lesser extent, some of these records are in the process of being digitized. On a national basis, the focus of the digitization has been primarily on newspapers. But the question is where are we nationally in digitally preserving our records?

Digitization efforts in the United States are highly fragmented. There are relatively small, very local projects and huge government-sponsored ones involving millions of documents. From a genealogical standpoint, there is a significant involvement by major online genealogical database programs. But my question concerns the involvement of the various states in preserving their own records.

But first a look at the National Digital Newspaper Project. Overall, the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Digital Newspaper Project has 7,597,817 pages of digitized newspapers from around the country. Click here for a list of the participating states and the years for which each state received funding. In addition, many of the states have their own digital newspaper collections. Wikipedia maintains a List of online newspaper archives. Another resource is the Historical Newspapers Online from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

The Library of Congress has compiled a guide to the State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials Collections. You can also view the Library of Congress Primary Sources by State.

The best way to determine whether or not your state of interest has online record collections is to look to the various state libraries and archives. Several state's archives and libraries have been under attack in the past few years from budget reductions and attempts to limit access to records for political reasons. Apparently, some of the state legislatures and other political officers believe that allowing their citizens access to historical records threatens their ability to maintain high levels of graft and corruption. Despite these efforts, there are still a huge number of state documents making their way into online digital collections. the National Archives maintains an online list of each of the state archives as well as a helpful list of genealogy related websites. Another useful list is maintained by the Council of State Archivists in its Directory of State and Territorial Archives and Records Programs.

The number of websites is somewhat overwhelming. One major effort to consolidate these diverse online resources is the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) The DPLA continues to attract a variety of partners and increase its online resources dramatically. The New York Public Library recently opened a significant number of its online documents to the DPLA.

If you search using terms such as "state digital collections online" and similar terms you will keep finding more such collections and links.

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