“If you go back far enough, everybody is related,” is a common quote when you tell people you’re into genealogy . That is certainly the case with my father’s side of the family tree. I started researching my ancestors over twenty years ago. Pretty soon, I discovered that my paternal grandparents, both from Winterswijk, shared multiple ancestors. Bit by bit, my tree grew from an ahnentafel to a population reconstruction of the entire region.
Whenever I copied a record, I would inevitable come home to find that the next record that started at the bottom of the page was about another person of interest. That is why I switched from copying individual records to photographing entire sources. Using my digital camera, a tripod and a laptop, I can create images in a fast and cheap manner. One hit on the space bar and the photo appears on the screen and is saved on the hard drive. A typical visit to an archive exists of turn the page – key press – turn the page – key press. My personal record stands at 5,000 photos in one single day…
My ‘virtual repository’ of photographs now consists of tens of thousands of photographs of records, including about hundred years of the court records of Bredevoort, which jurisdiction includes Winterswijk. I share these on the photo website Flickr.com, that allows me to share unlimited photographs for just $25 per year. I am not the only genealogist to use Flickr for this purpose: others post photos of the Achterhoek church records (Genealogiedomein) and Oisterwijk court records (Duul58).
Another way to share digital photographs online is through Van Papier naar Digitaal [From paper to digital]. In this project, volunteers make photographs that are published for free on the From Paper to Digital website. Other visitors can download them for free or help to transcribe records.
Fortunately, archives are becoming increasingly supportive if visitors photograph their records to publish online. This allows the collection to be used more intensively, without increased handling of the fragile originals. Online publication can also help when disaster strikes. The building of the municipal archives of Cologne in Germany was destroyed in 2009, when the building collapsed into a subway tunnel. The Cologne archives have created a website where visitors can upload photographs of their previously created photos of the records. This allows the archive to reconstruct some of the records that were lost. This Cologne virtual reading room already contains over two million images.
The main advantage of having a virtual repository for me is being able to access the records whenever I need to, in the comfort of my own living room.