Footnote.com: the Original Documents
NOTE: This is part #1 of a 3-part article that looks at the many services available at www.footnote.com.
Footnote is a rather new online web site, having launched this past January. The site quickly earned a reputation for offering high-quality scanned images of original historic documents. Footnote.com offers millions of documents that are not available online anywhere else, including the following:
- naturalization records
- Revolutionary War documents
- Continental Congress documents
- Bureau of Investigation reports
- the post-Civil War records of the Southern Claims Commission
- A name index to the Civil War and later Pension Claims Records
- The complete Revolutionary War Pension Applications documents
- The United States versus The Amistad records from 1841
- Newspapers and City Directories
- Civil War photographs by Brady
- Navy Widows' Certificates
- The many holdings of the Pennsylvania State Archives
- Presidential photographs of Coolidge, Eisenhower, Truman, and Roosevelt
- World War II Japanese Photographs and much more.
In fact, you can even find the complete Project Blue Book UFO Investigations documents on Footnote.com.
I have always joked that my great-great-grandfather must have been deposited here by a Martian spaceship since I can find no documents of his origins. Maybe I have been looking in the wrong records! Perhaps it is time to check for out-of-this-world possibilities in the Project Blue Book documents. Whatever your purpose, the Project Blue Book UFO Investigations documents are fascinating to read.
While Footnote.com is well known for providing scanned images of original historic documents, I have found that the site also provides much more. In fact, many of the services of Footnote.com are available to everyone at no charge. I thought that I would write about the many services that are not as well known as their reputation of providing historical documents.
Upon closer examination, I find that Footnote.com contains many of the elements of a social networking service. The site makes it easy to collaborate on projects or to work alone at preserving and publishing articles of historical interest. The site is obviously graphics-intensive. Users can easily upload textual information and photographs of ancestors, photographs of historical importance, class reunion photographs, scanned images of all sorts of documents, and more. Almost all of these services are available at no charge.
I am delighted that Footnote has become the exclusive sponsor of this newsletter. While discussing the possibility last year, I had an opportunity to spend quite a few hours with the managers and software developers at Footnote.com. One thing that I have learned is that I cannot describe this vast web site in only a few paragraphs. Every time I start looking, I find something that I had not seen before.
Another thing that I learned is that this company has a solid business plan. The company's executives repeated over and over that they are looking for long-term satisfied customers, not a "quick sale." There is no effort to constantly encourage customers to spend more and more. They do not flood their customers' in-boxes with "special offers."
Let's take a look at the web site:
The home page at http://www.footnote.com is divided into two main categories: original documents and member-contributed "Story Pages." You can search both categories simultaneously or separately. The extended search functionality brings up a variety of filters for sorting the results by title, either from the Original Documents or from Story Pages. (I'll explain Story Pages a bit later.) The search pages also load a thumbnail preview of the document. All of this is available at no charge. You are not asked to pay until you click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized, high-resolution document.
In addition, Footnote.com works well with both Windows and Macintosh computers. Much of the site's software was developed on Macintosh systems. It seems that about half of Footnote.com's developers use Macintosh systems to write software while the other half use Windows. Every bit of functionality is checked again and again on both operating systems. The site fully supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari web browsers.
Here are the services that I have found so far.
Images of Historical Documents
Let's start with Footnote.com's "bread and butter" service: that of providing scanned images of historical documents. Ten million documents are already available, and the site will soon be adding two million more images per month.
Footnote.com has contracted with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and several other local and state agencies and private institutions, to offer all sorts of documents on the web site. The available images range from pension applications from the Revolutionary War to investigators' case reports of potential spies in World War I.
In fact, Footnote.com is not limited to the role of a genealogy site. It appeals to a much wider audience. Footnote.com is really a history web site that provides information to many people with a wide variety of interests in historical topics. Of course, this includes genealogists, but the site also appeals to historians, re-enactors, teachers, students, members of local historical societies, ethnic organizations, class reunions, railroad buffs, anyone interested in house history, and many others.
As you start to look at Footnote.com, you quickly find one major difference between this web site and its competitors: you are not asked for money just to browse. Most of Footnote.com's competitors require you to pay substantial fees before allowing you to browse the available records. With those other services, you must pay in advance in the hopes that there may be something of interest on the site.
In contrast, Footnote.com makes all of the indexes, annotations, and transcriptions available to everyone, free of charge. You are encouraged to spend as much time on the site as you wish, looking for information of interest at no charge. You are only asked for payment when you decide to view the image of an original document, assuming that the document was not uploaded by another user. (Access to user-contributed images is always free of charge.)
Footnote.com's fee structure is very simple as well as modest:
View a single image: $1.95
Unlimited access to all images for one month: $7.95
Unlimited access to all images for one year: $59.95
There are no other charges.
Note that these prices are a significant reduction from the announced prices when the site first launched. Anyone who initially paid the higher price has since had the term of the original subscription automatically extended to match the new, lower prices.
You can purchase access to the images by a safe and secure online credit card processing system. However, if you prefer, you can also call a U.S. toll-free telephone number and give the credit card information over the phone.
You can view the documents on your computer screen and also copy them to your computer's local hard drive and use them later in other programs, such as word processing documents, image editing and enhancement programs, genealogy programs, desktop publishing, and more.
The document viewer used by Footnote.com must be seen to be appreciated. The user can quickly zoom in and out, click and drag in all directions (called panning the image), print any document on a local printer, and even save documents to the local hard drive. You can also add annotations and transcriptions from within the viewer, as I will describe later. The operation is smooth and intuitive. I think that Footnote.com has the best image viewer that I have ever seen on the web. I'd suggest that you first try it out on one of the free documents, such as those of the Pennsylvania State Archives, to see what I mean. I bet you will be impressed.
On multi-page documents, the viewer (optionally) displays a filmstrip along the bottom of the screen, showing thumbnail images of all the available pages of the document. If you have subscribed to the unlimited images for $7.95 a month or $59.95 a year, you can click on any thumbnail image on the filmstrip. A full-sized image will then appear on your screen as fast as your Internet connection allows.
The viewer in use at Footnote.com was custom-written by Josh Buhler, one of the software developers employed at Footnote.com. That viewer is not available anyplace else. Josh wrote it in Flash's programming language, however.
You can read Josh's description of the features of the viewer he wrote on the Footnote.com blog at http://blog.footnote.com/viewer-updates/ entitled "Viewer Updates."
Typical broadband connections will display images in three or four seconds although dial-up connections will obviously be slower. I recently had the chance to view Footnote.com images from a computer company's office that has multiple fiber optic connections to various Internet backbones: the images on Footnote.com always appeared within a half second or so after clicking on the thumbnail. The speed of access to Footnote.com seems to be limited only by the speed of your Internet connection.
Listing all the historical collections available on Footnote.com would fill several newsletters. However, here are some of the major collections:
Pennsylvania Archives (Free) - The Pennsylvania State Archives published 10 series of historical records in 135 volumes, covering the initial colonial settlement through the Civil War. The entire collection, including all images, is available free of charge. This collection provides an excellent method of experimenting with Footnote and its image browser free of charge. Once you are familiar with the usage of the Pennsylvania Archives, you can move on to other topics, confident that you already know how to use the service.
Southern Claims Commission - In the 1870s, residents of the southern states filed 22,298 claims before the Southern Claims Commission (SCC), based on the fact they (1.) were loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and (2.) had quartermaster stores or supplies taken by or furnished to the Union Army during the rebellion. The paper trail the claimants created and the people who came forward to testify, for or against a claimant, provide a wealth of information about individuals living in the South during the Civil War. You often find claims accompanied by affidavits signed by relatives, neighbors, or parents.
Even if your ancestor was loyal to the Confederacy, you may find detailed information about him or her when listed as a witness to someone else's claim or as the person who originally sold the supplies in question to the claimant. The 22,298 claims files probably mention 100,000 people or more, including detailed information about many of them. A significant number of the claimants were Black Americans, with the Southern Claims Commission providing more information about them, their families, and their former owners than can be found in any other single resource.
Many of the claims will provide family information, such as "my nephew John Duke, son of my brother William Duke, sold this horse to me for $75. I later gave the horse to troops of the 42nd Maine Regiment." Only 7,092 claims (32%) were approved for settlements. However, Footnote.com's database will eventually include images of all approved and rejected claims alike. Even the rejected claims can provide a lot of personal information.
The Southern Claims Commission records are a "work in progress:" many of them are already available online and thousands more are being added every month. If you do not find what you want today, check back again in a few months. Remember that searching for documents is always free; you do not pay until you find and display a full document on your screen.
Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922 - Before it became the FBI, the Bureau of Investigation investigated real and perceived threats to the nation and its citizens. The perceived threats often included multi-page background reports of people whose only "crime" was that they had a German-sounding name. In fact, the phrase "German-sounding" seems to include many Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Polish names. These records typically are far more detailed than anything found in census records, naturalization documents, and other mainstays of genealogy research. You may be surprised as to who appears in the Bureau of Investigation records! The details provided typically include dates and places of birth, parent's names, spouse's name, children, siblings, addresses, religious affiliation, employer, fraternal organizations and more.
Naturalization Records 1792-1966 - Petitions and Declarations for New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Louisiana. In some cases, only the indexes are available, while other collections contain complete documents. This database contains images of millions of records. The petitions and declarations almost always show the date and place of birth of the individual petitioning for U.S. citizenship. Most include the date and place of entry in the United States, a great help when looking for ships' passenger lists. Many of the applications list the parents and sometimes other family members are mentioned.
Revolutionary War Pension Files and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files - This collection of U.S. Revolutionary War Pension files is taken from NARA microfilm publication M804, which includes an estimated 80,000 pension and bounty-land warrant application files based on the participation of American military, naval, and marine officers and enlisted men in the Revolutionary War. Most of the records in the files are dated between 1800 and 1900. The files are part of Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration. This collection on Footnote.com is the only online collection of the COMPLETE records although another online service does offer the smaller SELECTED Revolutionary War Pension Files and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files from NARA microfilm M805.
Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 - Browse these rolls by state and name of organization (regiment, battalion, guard, company, etc.). Find names of soldiers with the help of annotations supplied by other Footnote users, and feel free to add your own. Eventually, thousands of records from 138 rolls of microfilm will be available on Footnote.com.
The Revolutionary War Prize Cases: Records of the Court of Appeal in Cases of Capture, 1776-1787 - During the American Revolution, armed vessels serving under individual colonies began to prey upon British commerce. The lack of courts for the condemnation of prizes taken by the Continental vessels was a source of annoyance to General Washington. He saw a need for speedy and regular condemnation of the prizes taken by all these ships to avoid conflict among colonies. The cases in this publication cover the appeals process that resulted for dealing with prize cases.
Civil War Pensions Index 1865-1899 - Images of the Index Cards of Union Soldiers
Papers of the Continental Congress - The complete correspondence, journals, committee reports, and records of the Continental Congress (1774-1789).
Papers of the Constitutional Convention 1787 - This database contains the Journal of Proceedings and provides excellent insight to history students everywhere.
Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs - Brady led a team of photographers who captured thousands of the most memorable images of the Civil War. Almost all of the Brady photographs are online and can be viewed on your screen, printed, or downloaded to your computer and saved. You may later incorporate them into your own documents as you wish.
Investigation and Trial Papers Relating to the Assassination of President Lincoln - Reports, correspondence, and testimony of persons connected with the Lincoln assassination trial. This database also contains images of exhibits, court martial proceedings, and contemporary issues of the Daily National Intelligencer.
City Directories - A number of city directories from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are now available online with more promised for the future.
One major collection not yet available will create a lot of interest when it becomes available in the near future: Confederate Soldier Service Records-Texas & Virginia
In short, the Footnote.com site offers millions of documents that are not available online anywhere else.
Adding annotations to existing pages
Users can easily annotate images that are already on Footnote.com, whether placed there by the web site's owners or by users. The "annotation" can be as simple as transcribing the names from a hand-written document or a larger contribution, such as transcribing an entire document, word for word. Every word that you annotate/transcribe is added to the site's master index within seconds. Your efforts can help future site visitors quickly find the information that you transcribe.
For instance, I looked on Footnote.com at the Bangor, Maine, City Directory of 1871. The document had been indexed with only one name per page: the first name on each page had been indexed. That's a great way to quickly find information if you already know how the book was indexed. My great-grandfather's listing was the second name on page 56; so, he did not appear in the online index. However, I was able to add him by annotating the image of page 56. .
Annotating a page turned out to be as easy as child's play. While looking at the image of page 56, I clicked on ADD ANNOTATION. A "fill in the blank" box appeared. I entered great-granddad's name into the box: Orman Eastman. I then dragged the corners of the box so that it just covered his name on the image of page 56. I then clicked on SAVE. That's it! The name "Orman Eastman" appeared within Footnote.com's search index within seconds. Anyone who searches the web site for Orman Eastman in the future will immediately see the reference to page 56 of the 1871 City Directory for Bangor, Maine. Once his name is located in the online index, future searchers will be able to view the image of Orman Eastman's entry on page 56 of that Directory with one more mouseclick.
While I was at it, I annotated all the other Eastman entries in this directory as well as the 1882 Bangor City Directory. I can also later return to any annotation that I have made to correct or delete my original annotation, if I wish.
The annotations can be a person's name, a date, a place name, or a bit of text. While annotations obviously can be used to add information to the online documents, annotations also have several other potential functions. Annotation becomes especially useful in handwritten documents that can only be indexed manually.
I also use annotations to add corrections to original documents. After all, not all original documents are error-free. For a name that I believe is misspelled, I might add a text note that says, "Name spelled as Orman Eastman in his will filed in 1924 but spelled as Ormon Eastman on his tombstone."
A Footnote.com annotation provides a source citation with the best of both worlds: future visitors to that image will see both the original document exactly as recorded and supplemental information believed to contain corrections. A printout of the document preserves the original document, however. Annotations appear on the screen but not on the printed document.
You can access all of the above and more at http://www.footnote.com.
The above is a summary of the images provided by the owners of Footnote.com and the use of such images. In Part #2 of this article, I will discuss how you can add your own text, images, ideas, opinions, and discoveries. The process is simple and encourages group collaboration. By adding your historical materials to Footnote.com, you may receive more assistance than you ever expected from distant relatives and others.
Part #2 of this article is available at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/06/an_indepth_look_1.html.