June 2012 ~ The Power of Commitment
June 2012 – The Power of Commitment
For the past few months, we have witnessed the incredible power of people who want to make the world a better place — tens of thousands of people who are willing to dedicate their time, talent and attention to helping to create something will that help many others that they don’t even know.
On April 2, 2012, the 1940 United States census was released to the public, after the 72-year mandatory waiting period. On that day, image copies of the original pages were released to the public by the United States National Archives. The raw images are available for searching on the NARA website by "Enumeration District" – the census tracts organized by city and/or county.
Tens of thousands of volunteers have signed up to help "index" the images, so that records can be searched by individual names or other key information.
There are many supporting processes available to help people use the census. For indexing, the largest effort in being organized by FamilySearch.org, which calls itself "the largest genealogy organization in the world." According to their website, "Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. For over 100 years, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving and sharing genealogical records worldwide. Patrons may freely access our resources and service online at FamilySearch.org or through over 4,500 family history centers in 70 countries, including the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah."
FamilySearch provides a computer program that allows individual people to "index" the 1940 census records (as well as other historical records), from the comfort of their own home on their own schedule as they have time available. FamilySearch provides training in how to use the program and step-by-step help.
For each historical record, two different people enter key data from the record (name, age, race, sex, marital status, place of birth and place of residence in 1935), then those two records are sent to an Arbitrator, who makes sure that the data is entered correctly before making it available. Since most of the records were hand-written, there are many opportunities for mistakes to be made. Over time, the indexers and arbitrators are able to learn the various handwriting styles to make the work easier.
There are also support pages and Forums on the FamilySearch site itself as well as several groups on Facebook for people who need help with a specific issue. All day long, people post their problems to one of the support pages and others assist them with answers, suggestions or any other type of support needed. Telephone and email support is also available from the FamilySearch organization.
Other genealogical sites, such as Ancestry.com, are doing their own indexing using paid indexing staff. Their records can be searched at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2442.
Stephen P. Morse, PhD & Joel D. Weintraub, PhD are two individuals who are assisting by providing easy methods to search the raw image records. Their "1940 Census ED Finder" provides help for locating Enumeration Districts (E.D.) using a specific street addresses and/or cross street.
The 1940 census is the largest census ever done so far, covering more than 130 million individuals. According to an article in TIME Magazine on September 1, 1940, the total population of the United States of 131,409,881.
Original estimates were that it would take until the end of 2012 for the 1940 census to be completely indexed on FamilySearch.org. Based on the work done so far (as of May 23, 2012), about one half of the total is now completed — far ahead of original expectations — due the massive number of volunteers who have come forward to assist in this effort. A graphic map showing the status of each state is available at https://familysearch.org/1940census/.
Many other genealogy sites have information about the 1940 census. Just use your favorite search engine and look for "1940 census" to see a long list of resources.
There are tens of thousands of people who are interested learning more about their family history and efforts toward making historical records more easily available feeds that interest. Recent television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC) and Finding Your Roots (PBS) demonstrate the benefits of finding out about your family history. This is a national hobby that has great benefit for the individuals and for generations to follow them.
It also helps us awaken to facts about our heritage — both positive and negative. We usually learn that we had relatives on both sides of any national or regional conflict, we often have multiple races and ethnic origins in our family history, and we have relatives that span the globe. That all leads to wondering why we have such issues as racial or religious discrimination if our own family has members on all sides of an issue.
What makes this current effort of indexing the 1940 census interesting for us is the incredible power of people (all volunteers) working together to accomplish a huge task – indexing historical records that result in free records that anyone in the world can use.
This example of the power of commitment to a project can be used in any business — large or small — to show how much can be done by interested, enthusiastic and committed people to accomplish far more than expected.
When people want to do something, their efforts are much more powerful that someone telling them to do something or forcing them to do something. People who are excited about what they are doing are very highly productive and self-motivated to complete it. And, they feel good about their efforts and about themselves.
People don’t even need to be paid for it if they are doing something they believe in. This is the same motivation that drives most non-profit efforts – highly committed people.
Businesses who hire people that are committed to their businesses goals, who treat their employees well and are able to harness their enthusiasm, know how much can be accomplished through their efforts.
So, we offer our deep acknowledgement and appreciation to all the many volunteers all over the world who are assisting with the 1940 census indexing efforts and to all of those who had the foresight to create easy ways to bring so many strangers together for the common good. And, to all businesses who have learned this simple fact: the power of commitment is worth far more than it costs.
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Page updated: May 11, 2023
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