Oh, the many problems with Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Documents may use a plain font. But in specialty publications, yearbooks, for example, the typeface might be a bit fancier. This leads to problems in text recognition. The scanning, digitizing or interpreting software may preclude finding what you’re looking for.
I had a few details on a woman my friend JoAnne was researching. I found her on a FamilySearch family tree and discovered in the notes on the subject that she was a 1906 graduate of Smith College. I searched for the subject, Harriet Leitch in Ancestry’s “U.S. School Yearbooks, 1900-1990 Database.” I couldn’t find her on a name search, but I was able to find the 1906 Smith yearbook. A page-by-page search yielded Harriet’s picture right where it should have been, with the other L names. I suspected the fancy font might have been a problem when I saw it.
Afterwards, I did a search on Ancestry by location, using the college’s name as a keyword, specifying only the year, but no student’s name. It took a few pages to get to the Ls but along the way I saw many butchered names and words – try a few of these on for size:
Jsentor Bvamattcs - yep, that’s Senior Dramatics
Jswbstttute Sasfeetball Eeam – that’s Substitute Basketball Team
Those two were set in a Gothic font. But even with a hopefully clearer font, what appears to me to be Cambria, there are many errors, particularly regarding the letter H.
Iiavex Hol'sii – that, my friends, is Haven House, one of the dormitories.
My new friend Harriet Elizabeth Leitch? She did OK until they got to the back end of her name. She became “Harriet Elizabeth Leitcii”. Her next-door-neighbor on the page, Helen Mae Larmouth, had a similar problem – “Helen Mae Larmoutii”. It seems a small capital H is definitely a problem for the eyes of Ancestry’s computers.
When you’re searching specialty publications such as yearbooks, be willing to expand your search. Maybe search by first name only, last name only, use a lot of wildcards, or just resort to a page-by-page search. It’d be a shame to let a little OCR hiccup stand between you and a picture of your ancestor.
1 “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1265 : accessed 13 August 2018) > Massachusetts > Northampton > Smith College > 1906, image 34, Harriet Elizabeth Leitch.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.