Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Digital Volunteer

1916 is much in the news at the moment, and the call to help transcribe the Letters of 1916 received a tremendous response to the point that there was little or nothing left to transcribe for those who were late to hear the call.

For anyone wishing to dabble in the transcription process and view digitized versions of primary sources there are other projects out there. Indeed, there was a lot going on in the world in 1916 from the point of view of richness of historical artefacts. Back in those days, people kept paper records in metal filing cabinets, and wrote letters by putting pen to paper.
An example project is Measuring the ANZACs, where volunteers are asked to:
Do your part to help transcribe first-hand accounts of New Zealanders from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps circa World War I.

According to the NewZealand History website, about 120,000 New Zealanders enlisted during the First World War, of whom nearly 100,000 served overseas. When the war broke out in 1914 men flocked in their thousands to answer the call to arms. By the end of the first week of the war 14,000 had volunteered to enlist.
Unclear photo of WW1 soldier
Off to War: a volunteer?
A nice feature of the site is that you can start working immediately, no need to register and sign in. Another important feature for getting and keeping volunteers on board is that the website offers up an item that needs work, the volunteer is not required to go fishing for unworked artefacts. Admittedly, there may be questions about the quality of the marking and transcribing as volunteers do not even need to follow the tutorials, and let’s face it most of us won’t bother reading the help text. In this age of digital intuitiveness, we want to dive in and figure it out as we go. In this case, this can work, as the tasks are fairly simple, and really only require a bit of application and patience.

Another nice thing about working on the Anzac artefacts is the continuity with regards to the subject. With such volumes of data, it is easy to forget that we are dealing with real people. But the project builders added a nice touch, in that when you work on a record for a given soldier, and decide to work on the next record, it pertains to the same person. Thus, I soon became quite interested in the fate of Corporal James Henry McConquadale, especially when one record to transcribe was his will. Presumably it was standard procedure for all soldiers to make a will before going to the front?

The first record the site presented to me was a Casualty Form:

Transcription attempt at ANZAC Casualty Form

Followed by his Will:

Transcription attempt at record of will

Thankfully, however, the will was followed by his Discharge papers:

Sample ANZAC Certificate of Discharge

You will notice that in the first record I was unsure of the good corporal’s surname because of the handwriting, but by the last record I think I had figured it out. There was no way to go back to the first record and redo, so another volunteer (was James Henry a volunteer?) will tidy that up.

'First World War census and conscription', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-Feb-2015

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