FamilySearch Indexing

Simply put, FamilySearch indexing is a process of looking at records and manually entering data into the system to make it searchable for people who want to find their ancestors. If you want to ease your way into genealogy research, this is a good place to start. 

There's a mountain of FamilySearch indexing that still needs to be done on every kind of record imaginable. And while we're making good progress indexing English records, we also need to do it for the hundreds of other languages on the planet!

FamilySearch Blog: Non-English Indexing Help Urgently Needed!

So, how do we find records and enter them into FamilySearch? Log into your account and I'll show you.

Finding a FamilySearch Indexing Project

Start by clicking on the 'Indexing' link.

Scroll down and click on 'Find a Project'.

Choose a country. In my case, I'm choosing 'United States'.

I scroll down until I find something that is of interest to me, given the family work I've been doing in Pennsylvania:

Click on 'Start Indexing'.

Click on 'Find Batches'.

My Pennsylvania project is automatically loaded into the Web Indexing page.

Click 'Open Batch'.

Things to Watch For in the Batch Instructions

First I want to look at the project instructions.

Notice the “What to Index” section of the instructions. They often put up batches of images, and then only have you select certain types of documents from among them. In this case, they only want us to index: declarations of intention (to naturalize), petitions of naturalization, oaths of allegiance, naturalization certificates and cards. They also point out a list of other types of documents that may appear in the batch but that should NOT be documented at this time.

The next section of instructions shows you through some examples of documents that should be indexed as part of this batch. Note that various types of documents can appear in one image, only some of which should be indexed.

Be sure to read through the instructions. It would be a good idea to open the Basic Indexing Guidelines page and have a look at that if you are just getting started.

Next, per the instructions for this particular project, I'm going to review the images to determine which should be indexed, and which should not.

This image contains a declaration of intention and a petition for naturalization, so I choose 'Yes' and click 'Next Image'.

Image 2 contains an oath of allegiance, so we'll say 'Yes' to this one as well. However, it also contains another type of document – one that does not appear to be part of this indexing project, per the instructions. We'll watch for opportunities to index this, and if needed, we'll review the instructions at that time.

I'll move quickly through the remaining eight images, approving and disapproving as demonstrated. We have to be careful during this step – compare the fields against the images. If it takes two consecutive images to get all the information for the fields, you'll need to mark the second image as one that should not be indexed. All information gathered from the second image will then be associated with the record from the first image. This is what we want.

Starting Data Entry

Now that I've completed my review of the ten documents, I get a set of fields on the left where I can enter a file or certificate number, given names, surname, and other information. I have to go looking for these on the document.

I enter the file or certificate number.

I enter his name as 'John Verker', assuming that last letter to be a cursive 'r'. However, just to double-check, I notice a similarity between that 'r' and the 's' in 'Budapest'. Later in the document I find John's signature, with the 'r' more meticulously written, so I know for sure this is correct.

I enter the date of declaration.

I continue working through the fields until completed. Then I click to the next record and so on.

Things to Watch Out For During Data Entry

In the next record, the handwriting is harder to make out. For example, notice this man's birth place:

Now, I don't know the cities of Russia well enough to be sure what this is, so I'm going to guess it reads 'Vitebisk, Russia' and just google it to see what I come up with.

So now I know the city name is actually 'Vitebsk' in Belarus.

Even though I know the city Vitebsk is found in modern-day Belarus, I'm putting Russia in because that's what it says on the record. I have no way to know whether Vitebsk was inside the borders of Russia at the time, so I just write what's on the record.

It's important to find out what exactly is being recorded. A right guess might be quick, but a wrong one can make research difficult for people who are trying to find this person.

The Importance of Knowing Cursive

Another issue I've run into during research is incorrectly indexed records. This is mostly due to twenty-first century readers not knowing their cursive alphabet or other applicable historic handwriting styles.

It doesn't help any that in the old days, they wrote more loopy characters and added other little frills to the letters that we're not accustomed to.

Because of extra loops and such, I've seen a capital 'G' get mistaken for a 'B', a 'K', and even an 'R'. I've seen a cursive capital 'I' get confused with 'S', and 'F' get confused with 'T'. Capital 'Q' is really confusing -- is that a "2"?

In the lowercase letters, if the 'r' is sloppily written and the 's' has a little bit of a top to it, these two can be confused for each other. I've seen an extra-loopy 'u' get confused for a 'w'. I've seen 'i' and 'j' get confused. I've seen 'i' and 'l' get confused.

Just remember to check your cursive alphabet if you run into something that's hard to read. It'll shed light that will make your FamilySearch indexing more accurate. Conversely, if you run into something weird in a digitized record, be sure to view the image to make sure there wasn't an indexing error.

If you have to make a change to information put into a person's profile by a newly added record, be sure to make a note of the discrepancy between the image and the indexing when FamilySearch asks you for a reason for the change.

When you've completed the project, click 'Submit Batch', and you're done.

FamilySearch Indexing and a Thank You from a Lady in Kentucky

One day I was indexing a census record from Kentucky in the early 1800's when I came across the name of a particular woman. I've long since forgotten her name, but I will never forget realizing that her "household status" was "indentured servant" and her race was "negro". Given the place and the time period, we all know what that means. 

Like so many others, the poor woman had worked as a slave in the early nineteenth century. 

As I saved her information into the system, this woman just felt very "real" to me, almost as though she were there in the room with me. She seemed to be saying "thank you" for making her records available for her family to find some day. 

I hoped that day would come soon. It felt neat to be able to honor her, to help repay a debt long owed to her in this small way.

Even indexing work can produce the kinds of deeply personal experiences that are commonplace in the lives of those who do genealogy and family history research... Don't miss out; get started today!