02 December 2013

Who Made What Digital Image and How? Ancestry.com's Headstone Applications for Military Veterans

I searched Ancestry.com's "Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963" for my relative and was surprised to find two references to him in the database. But this post isn't going to have the punch line that my ancestor accidentally has two military stones. There's more to the story than an oversight on the part of the Veteran's Administration and my ancestor being given a duplication stone.

The National Archives, in their microfilm publication M1916, microfilmed the tombstone applications for military veterans that were made from 1925 until mid-1941. Genealogists have used this publication on microfilm before it ever appeared on the internet in digital format.

A closer inspection of the "Original data" for Ancestry.com's "Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963" indicates that there are two sources for the images that appear in this database--one is the microfilm publication M1916. The other source is the applications themselves. It appears that Ancestry.com has converted M1916 to digital format, resulting in black and white images and that they have also made color digital images of the actual cards. Because the color digital images were made of the entire set of records, those cards that were in M1916 appear in the Ancestry.com database twice.

Once--from the microfilm.
Twice--from the digital photograph.

The microfilming only included the front of the card. The digital photography (done in color) included the front and the back of the card.

The database results and actual card images for Riley Rampley serve to illustrate.

The database results from the digital photograph of the original image:

The front of Riley's card from the digital photograph of the actual card:

The back of Riley's card from the digital photograph of the actual card:

The search results for Riley's card--from the digital image made from the NARA microfilm publication M1916:
The digital image of Riley's card made from the NARA microfilm publication M1916.

The back of the card was not microfilmed, hence there was no digital image of the reverse in black and white.

It's clear the same card is in both images. The frustrating part is that Ancestry.com is making me guess which image was made from the microfilm and which image was the actual picture that Ancestry.com (or their contractor) took.


Users of these images will need to be careful. Citing the black and white image should indicate that the digital image was apparently made from the NARA M1916 publication. Citing the color image should make no such reference to the M1916 publication as that was apparently not used to create the color image.

One always needs to know what one is using.