Those Places Thursday- WW1 and Citizen Historians

Reserve Officers Training Corps, Senior Division, Advanced Medical Course class picture. Taken in Ft. Snelling, Minnesota during the course which ran 14 Jun 1923 to 25 July 1923.
Reserve Officers Training Corps, Senior Division, Advanced Medical Course class picture. Taken in Ft. Snelling, Minnesota during the course which ran 14 Jun 1923 to 25 July 1923. Dr. Edward A. McMurray, Sr., is probably in this picture.


“That Place” this week could be anywhere on the Western Front (France and Belgium/Flanders) that British troops served in World War I. You can ‘go’ there, in that time and place, just by reading details of everyday life in the trenches- pun intended (sadly), especially for this war.

Genealogists are pretty much Citizen Historians, especially when they publish their work for others to see. They are also Citizen Historians when they participate in crowd-sourcing projects like FamilySearch Indexing and that of the 1940 US Federal Census.

Zooniverse is a crowd sourcing website that offers opportunities now for citizen historians (in the past it has just been science-oriented) to process data that would either be done by a lowly graduate student, or probably not get done at all in these days of little research funding. By using citizens to classify an overwhelming amount of data, scientists, historians, etc., can then do the analysis they were trained to do, and graduate students get a more interesting learning experience than just counting copepods or classifying galaxy shapes for hours on end.

A new Zooniverse project is “Operation War Diary.” One and a half million pages of British unit diaries from World War I have been digitized and put online. The first World War Centenary is coming up-  the war began 28 Jul 1914- and this project will be used to create a detailed index of orders, signals, maps, narrative reports, etc. Names are mentioned as well. The information is currently available online in a browseable format, but when complete, the index will be a boon to family historians, military history buffs, and university historians.

Worried that you won’t get it perfectly correct? No problem- Zooniverse projects, just like FamilySearch, have many persons classify the data. Zooniverse then uses powerful software that can help decide which is the most correct classification. No “Arbitrators” of questionable ability here- the expert historian (or scientist) has the final say of what is really right.

“Operation War Diary” needs our help! The diaries are not going to be transcribed in full. Each page will be classified, and then entries on each page tagged, sometimes with detailed information like a name and why they were mentioned in the diary. There is a tutorial to help get you started, a field guide to explain more of the information on the pages- I highly recommend going through it in detail before starting- and a discussion room if you have questions or want to share your findings. (Other Zooniverse communities that I have participated in have been great fun- and educational too!) The project supports both Mac and Windows platforms- see the “About Us” page for details on what versions of operating system and browsers are needed.

Remember, you will need to think with British spelling- “The Queen’s English” is ‘favoured’ in these diaries.

World War I is almost a forgotten war since it was so long ago and those who participated are long gone. It was one of the worst wars though, with chemical weapons and new ways to destroy the enemy and our American sons. Help keep the memory of those who served by contributing to this project, whether you have just a few minutes per day or hours to devote to the project. You may even find a rellie mentioned if you have British roots!

PS- If this project doesn’t interest you, Zooniverse has many others available.


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Copyright 2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

[Edited to change name to “Those Places Thursday” to conform to Geneabloggers’ prompts and my previous posts.]