The IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section, Middle East and North Regional Division, and Local History and Genealogy Section cordially invite you to a webinar on 13 June 2024, 8:00 a.m. EST about making Ottoman records accessible to researchers worldwide.

Please register for the webinar using the link above. Registration is open up to the start of the webinar.


Jonathan McCollum, Historian of the Middle East and an Ottoman and Turkish Language Specialist
Jonathan McCollum, Historian of the Middle East and an Ottoman and Turkish Language Specialist

The Ottoman Empire, like most empires, ran on paper producing hundreds of millions of documents in their expansive territories that stretched from Algeria to Iran. While the empire receded into the pages of history with its ultimate dissolution in 1923, its robust records fell into the hands of archives and libraries across the Mediterranean. Because the Ottoman language suffered the same fate as the empire, archivists struggle to properly catalog and index these Ottoman Turkish collections. Likewise, researchers without proper training in this deceased language overlook these rich resources. Aware of the potential of Ottoman records for genealogical purposes, FamilySearch International is currently exploring a two-pronged approach to make these records accessible to non-specialists. This presentation highlights these effective strategies for utilizing collections in inaccessible languages. First, it documents ongoing efforts to train Arabic and Persian speakers to index Ottoman nüfus (census) registers. Beginning with the Ottoman census of Palestine, FamilySearch is creating a digital and searchable index for the region’s historical population. Second, this presentation details the long-term solution to the Ottoman records question. Given the sheer size and scope of Ottoman collections from the Balkans to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, FamilySearch is leveraging machine learning to develop handwriting recognition capabilities to assist in the indexing of Ottoman record collections. In sum, the presentation proposes a strategy for making all Ottoman records accessible and useable to local and global researchers and suggests a framework for approaching similar language problems that afflict archives around the world.

Jonathan McCollum is a historian of the Middle East and an Ottoman and Turkish Language specialist. He is a visiting professor at Brigham Young University, specializing in the history of the eastern Mediterranean world, and consults with FamilySearch and Ancestry corporations on Middle East family history records. His current book manuscript, The Anti-Colonial Empire: Volunteerism and Humanitarianism in the Late Ottoman World, 1908-1924, investigates the role of humanitarianism and volunteerism in the final wars of the Ottoman Empire and the independence movements of its successor states. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Council for American Overseas Research Centers, the American Research Institute in Turkey, and the Institute of Turkish Studies. After completing his BA (2004) and MA (2007) in history at Brigham Young University, Jonathan worked in the field of education in Turkey and Qatar for several years before returning to graduate school at UCLA, where he obtained his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History in 2018.