FamilySearch Indexing

Do you index for FamilySearch? I do. It’s a wonderful way to contribute to the genealogical community, and also a way to say “thank you” to FamilySearch for their generosity in providing free online access to the riches of the Family History Library’s microfilm collections.

Did you know that the number of searchable names on recently exceeded 2.5 billion? This is a direct result of individuals like you and me participating in the indexing effort. (For a mind-boggling overview of FamilySearch’s progress since the old site went online in 1999, check out this FamilySearch Blog entry. We knew it was big, but yowzah!)

Since 2006, FamilySearch has continuously improved the indexing interface and enhanced training tools for indexers. Today, the process is easy to start and use. Once you register as an indexer, you download batches of records from your selection of the available projects. (The project I’ve been working on recently is US, Pennsylvania–County Marriages, 1885-1950.) Projects are rated Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced based on the skill level required to index the project’s materials.

Indexing batches are sized to be completed in a half hour or less. Each project has project-specific instructions and/or training aids accessible from within the batch. Once you select the project you want to work on and click Download Batch, the indexing window appears with your batch. There you follow the instructions and do the indexing, which is really quite idiot-proof. For example, the interface doesn’t allow you to enter text in a number field, or vice versa, and it highlights name variants that aren’t in the indexing databases.

After you’ve indexed all the records in the batch, a quality checker highlights anomalies in spelling and gives you the opportunity to accept the entries you made or change them. After the quality check is complete, you upload the completed batch, and you’re done. Of course, if you download a batch and discover it’s too difficult, you don’t like it, or you don’t have time to finish it, you can upload the batch unfinished and allow another indexer to take a crack.

What happens after you upload a completed batch? Are the genealogists of the world at the mercy of your accuracy in interpreting the records (gulp)? Have you joined the legions of indexers producing inaccurate indexes (oh, no!)? Well, in a word, no. To ensure quality, FamilySearch has developed a multi-step process. Two indexers index each batch, and then a third person, called an arbitrator, who is selected on the basis of experience and accuracy with the indexing process, reconciles any differences between the two. These three sets of eyes result in pretty darn accurate indexing.

Reasons to index:

  • Indexing improves your skills in reading and extracting information from records.
  • Indexing gives you the opportunity to work with new record types and records from new locations.
  • You get feedback on the accuracy of your work. (Where else can you get this kind of feedback?)
  • Indexing increases your confidence in your ability to read and interpret records.
  • Indexing is relaxing. Really. FamilySearch’s David Rencher told me this last spring when he was in Minnesota to speak at the British Isles Family History Days Conference. I didn’t believe him at the time, but after indexing a number of batches, I think he’s right!
  • Indexing allows you to give back to FamilySearch and all the other indexers, and “pay it forward” to members of the genealogical community.
  • If you start indexing now, you can practice for indexing the 1940 census when it’s released on April 2. The more people indexing, the faster those 1940 indexes will be available!

Ready to sign up? Click here to get started. If you’re not ready to commit yourself, you can even take a two-minute test drive. If you’re a smartphone jockey, there are apps for iPhone and Android in beta.