NC Historical Records Online has created the GRITS system to enable rapid indexing of online documents. Index items can be people, places, or things, and each item can be tagged with additional information such as the reason they appear (e.g. juror), titles such as sheriff, or other personal attributes such as “negro girl” or “widow”.
To get started, please view our video or read the introduction. If you are interested in the benefits of using these system, please continue reading.
In the “olden” days before the internet, access to original records required a visit to the repository holding that document or book, or if you were lucky, you might have access to a microfilm copy at a local facility. To help both genealogical and historical researchers, dedicated individuals created abstracts and sometimes full transcriptions of various collections and published them as books and/or articles in local genealogical journals. A key component of these books was a comprehensive index, almost always with names if individuals but often times including place names, geographical features, and topics discussed.
In the internet age, records are typically indexed under the primary person(s) associated with that record, for example a person’s will or the grantee and grantors on a deed. This is commonly seen on large commercial sites like ancestry.com . A deed or will could easily contain a dozen or more names in addition to the primary person, so even though records with someones names are online, the only way to find it in these situations is to scan each original image. Some websites will provide full transcriptions, typically when the records are printed instead of handwritten, such as newspapers. These allow searching on the entire text which in many cases will find all those other names.
Computer searching is not without problems, primarily in returning too many false positives. For example, records mentioning enslaved people typically only a first name is given. Although you can search on first and last name, there isn’t a way to search on a first name without a last name, so you end up finding all people names James whether or not they have a last name listed. Another issue is if the last name is the same as a common word so if you are looking in court records for someone with the last name of Judge, you’re going to get hits on many pages and you have to look at each one to see if it is a name or the court official.
The book writers had the answer – a comprehensive index where a person decides what is a name and what is not. In cases with a first name only, those indexing books would put them all in a separate section marked as “no last name” or if it was clear sorted them under a category like “Slave” or “Negro”. A person could also easily tell the difference between David Judge and “the” Judge. One drawback of this type of index is there isn’t an easy way to provide additional information to help narrow down searches. Continuing with court records, suppose your ancestor is the sheriff. His name will appear in many types of records such as warrants, court minutes, and other reports. If they were the sheriff for many years, you could be looking at thousands of instances of that name, so finding records that specifically relate to your ancestor outside of those duties could be extremely time consuming.
To help with these issues, NCHRO has created the Genealogical Rapid Indexing and Tagging System (GRITS). It is specifically designed for indexing names, places, and things, and allowing any number of tags to be associated with that item. For example, if a records refers to “Sheriff John Brown”, the indexer can tag it as #sheriff John Brown so anyone searching can separate the sheriff records from the others. If a record refers to a “negro girl named Sally” then it can be tagged as #negro #girl Sally so not only can you search for the name Sally without a last name you can also search on negro and girl.