New York State Funeral Directors Association

Henry Bell was among more than 600,000 Americans who died during the dark days of the U.S. Civil War.

Bell was a freed slave who agreed to fight for his liberty with the Union Army.

Today, citizen volunteers can play an important role in the goal of keeping the memory of earlier Americans alive.

If it weren’t for the preservation of records at Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Bell might be an unknown, or worse yet, forgotten altogether.

There are volumes of records available in written form – and citizen volunteers are needed to help bring the legacy of early Americans to light.


The National Archives and Records Administration – known as the nation’s “record keeper,” has opened up an opportunity for the public to help preserve memories.

It’s called the Citizen Archivist Program.

Volunteers who sign up are asked to read and transcribe documents that have been scanned.

Participants are asked to type out these handwritten words into the Citizen Archivist interface.

Then, they can add “tags,” to these records.

Tags are words that people might use while searching through the National Archives hoping to find a glimpse of their ancestor or others influential figure or topic of the past.


Transcribing and tagging helps make records available to more people.

That means this work will make it easier for descendants to find ancestors.

The transcriptions and tags are all added to the massive holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration’s catalog, the NARA website explains.

And, with some practice and the helpful guide made available to Citizen Archivists, translating 1800s cursive writing – something that’s becoming a lost art – will turn difficult text into words everyone will be able to read.

Adding words to a website, for those who don’t know, elevates those words in terms of being able to find them on the internet.

Like the words “Henry Bell.” Simply publishing this article puts two additional instances of this veteran’s name out onto the internet. The Cemetery at Camp Nelson, Kentucky. Image from the Library of Congress.

The name will become searchable on Google and other search engines.

Bell’s date of death and his burial site at Camp Nelson are among the few details available about him.

He was a member of the 119th United States Colored Troops trained at Camp Nelson.

According to the National Park Service, Camp Nelson – now a National Cemetery – was the largest center for recruiting African American soldiers in the state of Kentucky.

Many who served – and died there – were freed slaves.

They lived in “poorly constructed shacks” until a refugee camp was built on the site, which also served as a supply depot and hospital facility for the Union Army.

There are many in the list along with Henry Bell.

Names like Stephen Collins, William Craus, Green Doyle, Perry Donegar and Lewis Bowlin all cry out for some recognition within the webpages of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Becoming a Citizen Archivist is a great opportunity to immerse oneself in the history of America’s people, while helping to ensure future generations may be able to discover one of their ancestors.

CLICK HERE to visit the National Archives website to learn more about the Citizen Archivist program.

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association