Like all family names, my maiden name appears in different forms in different records, the spelling depending on the speaking and spelling abilities of family members and officials, not to mention the readability of the scribe's handwriting. Being able to do a wild card search on a searchable, indexed census helped me break through this long-standing obstacle of genealogists everywhere.
How FamilySearch Indexing Works
FamilySearch's Record Search pilot project currently has projects from all over the world being painstakingly indexed into a searchable format by volunteers. Projects include census, marriage registries, and parish registries from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, and many more countries.
Volunteers and employees microfilm government and church records from all over the world, which are then divided into batches of 20 – 50 names. Volunteers can download batches and work on them from their own computers. Each batch is indexed separately by two volunteers, and an arbitrator checks and solves any discrepancies between the two versions. The final corrected version appears in the database.
Why Should I Join FamilySearch Indexing?
Indexing is a great way to sharpen your genealogical skills and work hands-on with valuable records. Indexing a batch requires patience, discipline, a keen eye, and a problem-solving mind. The software also offers several tools to help indexers, including a handwriting guide, a look-up list for names, and detailed explanations for each field.
The knowledge that you're able to bring to a particular census will help as well. My first indexing project was a page from the 1920 U.S. Census in Kentucky. While I felt comfortable deciphering the surnames, some of the unique first names in the early 20th century U.S. South were difficult. FamilySearch allows you to choose certain projects to work on, letting you match your knowledge of a certain area to its records.
At the same time, working through a page from the U.S. South in 1920 did give me an appreciation of a different time and culture. You will also gain a deep sympathy for harried census takers and family members who had to list off the names, ages, and birth places of everyone in their household, which frequently included children, grandchildren and in-laws!
How Do I Join FamilySearch Indexing?
To volunteer with FamilySearch, go to www.familysearch.org and click on "volunteer." You will need to set up a user name and password, and fill in your name, e-mail address, and location. FamilySearch offers three online tutorial sessions and a certificate of completion you can print off once you have completed the short training.
Once you have finished reading the training material, you're ready to start indexing. If you don't choose a specific project, you will receive a batch picked from a high priority project. Each batch takes about 30 – 60 minutes to finish, but FamilySearch gives you seven days to complete it. If you have Java, you can start working with the indexing software immediately. If not, you will need to download the program, which is about 30 MB.
About the Record Search Pilot
I was disheartened when the 1895 Argentina Census suddenly disappeared from FamilySearch. The support team informed me that Record Search is still under development, and that changes and improvements will sometimes mean that a census is temporarily unavailable or not browsable.
Looking at the mammoth international scope of Record Search, and knowing that the faster work gets completed the faster it will be available, I realized that the best solution was to roll up my sleeves and pitch in. It may be the best reason to consider indexing for Family Search – you'll end up finding the information you need, and you'll help fellow genealogists do the same.