Fold3.com is Essential To Your Research

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

Almost exactly three years ago, I posted an article entitled “Footnote.com – A Gem of a Resource.” Proving that nothing is immutable in the world of technology, Footnote evolved and changed during the intervening time period, making an update appropriate.

In 2010, Ancestry purchased Footnote. Many of us, as subscribers, wondered what that purchase might mean, as Footnote represented one of the best research returns on subscription investment among online genealogical resources. A year later, in August 2011, the company announced that it would change its name to Fold3 and that it would focus primarily on United States military records. This rebranding elicited numerous blog postings ranging from thoughtful and constructive comments to more emotional complaints. The official explanation given on the Fold3 site was that “As we refocus our efforts on gathering the best online collection of military records and stories we wanted a name that would reflect military history and honor…Traditionally, the third fold in a flag-folding ceremony honors and remembers veterans for their sacrifice in defending their country and promoting peace in the world.”

When Footnote first went live in January 2007, it provided access to over 5,000,000 documents. Its developers understood the importance of convenient access to original documents “unaltered and unfiltered” by others. In its inaugural month, it announced a partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to offer access to historical records in the collections of the various physical NARA sites – a total expected, eventually, to top nine billion records. Five months later, Footnote became a primary affiliate of FamilySearch, again providing for the digitization of and access to documents previously unavailable online. When I wrote my original article in 2008, there were 47,264,133 documents available on Footnote. As I write this updated article, Fold3 has 79,321,956 record images available, as well as 99,870,690 memorial pages. Even with price increases, and despite the complaints of some, I believe that Fold3 still represents a bargain for the cost of an annual subscription (currently $79.95), convenience of access (at my home, at midnight, when time has ceased to exist in the exhilaration of researching), and the quality of the digital images (remember those ugly copies from worn and barely readable microfilm?).

A useful new feature is Fold3’s Training Center which became available in October. Look for Uncle Sam’s image at the bottom right of the home page where you are invited (ordered?) to “Report to the Fold3 Training Center.” Once at the Center, you can view three tutorial videos (each about five minutes in length). These tutorials include “An Introduction to Fold3,” “How to Search on Fold3,” and “Browse for Records on Fold3.” I watched them on my iPad2 with no problem, so they can be watched as a review or to answer a specific question, even during research trips. Although I have been using the site for several years, I found the videos informative, and the techniques demonstrated in them have resolved some of my frustrations with the site’s search engine. In addition to the videos, the Center also provides thirteen “text tutorials” with illustrated, step-by-step instructions for using many of the non-search features of Fold3. Viewing these resources will definitely help you get the most out Fold3.

As a caveat, even after viewing the training videos, searches can be frustrating and care must be exercised, particularly in the application of filters to narrow search parameters. When I did an unfiltered name search for Charlton R. Barkley, no matches were found. When I searched more generically for Charlton Barkley, I found twenty-one matches. Nineteen of these were images from Charlton R. Barkley’s Confederate service record. The other two matches were records from the 1860 federal census for his relatives, Charlton Y. Barkley and Charlton N. Barkley, who both lived in Florida. I then tried to filter the responses geographically by typing in “North Carolina” without looking at the choices offered after I typed only an “N” (which I had been told to do in the training video!). Finding no matches, I then slowed down, read more carefully, and discovered that the suggested place name format was “N. Carolina.” The resulting single record match was the Charlton N. Barkley census image from Florida (presumably because he was born in North Carolina?), but not the one for Charlton Y. Barkley, and not the 1860 North Carolina census image that I know exists for Charlton R. Barkley, the subject of my search. On the positive side, the service record images are wonderful in comparison with those I have copied from microfilm in the past.

Many of you have accessed non-military documents before Ancestry’s acquisition of Footnote and may wonder about what has happened to these files on Fold3. On the home page, choose the Browse Collections option above the search box. You can then choose to look at a listing of all titles, a listing of records in one of seven wars (Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican and early Indian, Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam), and “Other records.” You will find non-military record collections in this latter category, including the African American collection, census (1860 and 1900-1930), city directories, newspapers, and more. My understanding is that these collections will remain on the site, but without further additions. I would recommend checking on the status of collections of particular interest to your research as future company decisions may alter this. Similarly, by subscribing to the RSS feed for the Fold3 blog, you can receive emails of blog postings, including announcements of content updates and other items of interest. For example, an August email included information on the availability of War of 1812 Pension Files, Mexican War Service Records, Confederate Casualty Reports, World War I Officer Experience Reports, and the World War II “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards. An October email included a brief discussion of the Confederate Casualty Report records. I have received two emails this month, one featuring “This Month in History November” with information on the Battle of Tippecanoe, and the other inviting users to explore the World War II collection.

Fold3 provides several opportunities for interactive history and social networking.

  • Spotlight pages provide members with an opportunity to “show off an interesting image” in order to invite discussion. More information on this feature can be found in the Training Center. In addition, by clicking the “spotlight” button at the top of the home page, you can access spotlights of other members as well as interesting featured spotlights. Spotlights are open to member comment.
  • Memorial pages allow subscribers to share ideas and attach related documents to them. The text tutorial for memorial pages indicates that you can share your research and personal experiences, write a biography, keep notes on your research, attach pictures and documents, see events on a timeline, and much more. By selecting the “memorials” button at the top of the home page, you can search memorial pages, view popular memorial pages, or view the special Vietnam Wall and USS Arizona memorial pages. Currently all memorial pages are “published and viewable” by all members.
  • The Your Gallery function creates a location where you can upload images and documents from your PC or from your searches within Fold3. You can then annotate them, organize them, and connect them to other images. These images then serve as your source for creating personal spotlight or memorial pages.
  • Watches and Notifications is a method of notifying you when an image of interest to your research is updated by an annotation, comment, or connection by another member. In addition, you can choose to be notified when new content is added to a particular title, or when new images are added that match searches you have tried in the past. You can manage your watches and notifications through your account details page.

I find that my Fold3 subscription is very useful in my research. Quality online genealogical searching requires the use of more than one subscription. This need for multiple subscriptions is illustrated by a search for Charlton R. Barkley in FamilySearch. One of the matches was to Charlton’s Confederate service record, but when I selected the match, it directed me to Fold3 to view the digitized image. If I did not have a subscription, I would have felt quite frustrated. If you do a lot of military research; moreover,  this resource will quickly pay for itself in both time and money. If your research is only occasional, you may be able to access the database through your local library. In the meantime, I’ll schedule the next Fold3 update for November of 2014 and we can explore what new research opportunities will have materialized in the intervening three years.

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