Some Notes on Coding

Country/State, Service, Branch

Pigeonholing - One of the big problems with indexing is that to make the index useful you must divide a subject into a finite number of categories and then fit each item into a category. Too many categories is no good and neither is too few. Another problem is that different folks will have different approaches to how and where the dividing lines should be. Since I did the coding based on my background and training, it reflects my prejudices. The best I can do is try to tell you where there are potential problems, so that you can adjust your search strategy to accommodate them.

Lumping and Splitting - Another of the age old problems for the indexer. I broke things down (indexed) with no preformed groups, then I used the power of the computer to look at the groups that were formed. At that point I became a lumper, and combined things with few entries into a single category. Some examples: There were at the end of the indexing process entries for military police, provost, provost martial, and marcheusse; I have coded them all under military police; there were entries for balloon corps, aviation, air corps, air force (but not Air Force); they have been lumped into a category labled 'ancestor aviation' so that it will be easy to pull all articles and plates related to the development of the air arm. Medical personnel of all types have been lumped under the medical branch.

In the Country/State field all entries in the database are listed on the menus in Paragraph 2 of the search form. There has been no lumping, except when indexing reviews: I used Europe instead of listing a long list of countries, and World if a cross section of countries around the globe were represented in the work. I have split out the Continental period from the rest of the United States; Colonial/Provincial articles are listed under the colonizing power: Britain, France, Spain, etc, and the state occupying that territory today. For the German hierlings of the British during the American Revolution, they have been lumped under "Hessians', but can be split by using the menu in paragraph 3 under Service.

I had a great deal of difficulty assigning articles to the Service category. This reflects changes in how the militia system and federal powers changed. Early on, every male citizen between certain ages was part of the militia; over time volunteer milita were formed. When the federal government needed to expand its' army in the War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War and Spanish-American War, they asked the states for volunteers. In some cases a militia unit enlisted en-masse as a volunteer unit clouding what they should be called. In some states when their militia (and later their National Guard) volunteered for war, the states formed state militia or state guard to provide for defense within the state. In many cases the information to make the determination was lacking. Before the Civil War, I classified city and state units as militia; there may be some units labeled militia that should be Independent. During the Civil War period, I labelled units of both sides that fought as 'Volunteers,' unless they were obviously federal. Some state units which remained at home were labelled 'militia' or 'guard.'


The List - Before I started coding, I reviewed that categories that Maria Todd used in her first index and created the list which is appended. I then went through Ballard's index for 40 years of MC&H and added to the list. As I indexed things, the need for new terms surfaced and they were added to the list. I know I didn't always repeat terms that existed in the title in the keywords field. So the combined title/keywords search, in paragraph 1 of the keywords search form, will yield better results than either title or keywords alone.

Time Period

Time periods used in the database are geared to United States history. Since this is a database of military related items it made sense (to me) to group the periods around wars. Not all wars are singled out for a separate period. Where not separated out, I've tried to code the war into the Key Words section, so in the period 1816-1859 those interested in the Mexican War or Seminole War will get more specific matches by using 'Mexican' or 'Seminole' in the Key Words search field. In some ways the periods chosen reflect the number of articles in MC&H for the period. At some future time, the period 1946 - present, which has meager material, may be split by some enterprising indexer to reflect a volume of material on Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and whatever comes next. For the present they remain in a single time group.

As noted above when breaking a continum up in to divisions, there is always something that doesn't fit cleanly in one or the other group. In coding Time Period, where this happens I have coded multiple periods, so an article on militia units that existed before the Civil War and served during the war will be coded so that the article is listed in prewar searches and Civil War period searches. Book Reviews, when I could indentify the period covered from the review, are coded with each applicable period and should pop up in the multiple searches they pertain to.

I welcome hearing from users about what appears to be coded wrong, or not coded to appear where it should. I also welcome constructive ideas on how to improve the database. Contact Us

John K. Robertson
Webmaster Emeritus



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