FamilySearch Indexing Volunteers

You know you’re GEG-bound when you want to give back. Finding time to do volunteer work in genealogy can be a challenge, though. What if I told you I volunteer from the comfort of my home, in my pajamas, in the middle of the night? I volunteer for 15 minutes at a time, if that’s what I have. Better yet, I volunteer to read fascinating historical documents that few people have ever seen. FamilySearch Indexing offers me that opportunity to pay it forward . . . one document at a time. And you can share this privilege.

What is FamilySearch Indexing?

FamilySearch preserves and expands the world’s largest collection of genealogical and historical records. Every GEG knows the immense debt the field of genealogy owes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), which provides the FamilySearch service. I don’t happen to be an LDS member, but every hour I spend in genealogy, my debt to them grows. I hate to think what family history research would be like today had they not taken up this cause.

But you know what? The LDS never asks me to pay it back. Its members never pressure me to become LDS. They just keep serving me. In recent years, though, they provided us all a way to pay the debt forward. And it is a brilliant concept in volunteerism.

FamilySearch visionaries recognized they needed vast manpower to index the growing collection of records the LDS is digitizing. So, they came up with a way to recruit busy people from all over the globe to work around the clock without overtaxing a single person. They call this program FamilySearch Indexing (FSI).

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How does FamilySearch Indexing work?

FamilySearch created this system to allow volunteers, using their own home computers, to index whenever they have a moment. Using it, we volunteers “check out” small, manageable batches of records. We then follow simple instructions to extract the key data from each record — names, dates, and places primarily. Two volunteers independently process each batch, then the system compares them against each other. Finally, a human “arbitrator” works through any inconsistencies between the two volunteers’ work.

As of this morning, FSI reports that it has completed the indexing on more than 1.3 billion records — just passing 70 million this year alone. Nearly 270,000 volunteers in 2016 processed these records. (And please note, these numbers keep rising, even as I write, so view the most current at the FSI home page.)

FamilySearch Indexing statistics as of 9/2/2016. Click to see updated numbers.

You get to select indexing projects related to your own interests. If you want to index Alabama records today, for example,  you have a choice between Marriage Records, 1750–1990, or World War II Draft Registrations, 1940–1945. Broader interests? How about U.S. Passport Applications, 1795–1905, or US Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783?

My favorite records have been the Freedmen’s Bureau collection. It’s a privilege to wander through these fascinating legal disputes, classroom rosters, employment contracts, watching how our ancestors negotiated one of the most phenomenal changes to life in the American South. These records surprised me in the degree to which they document both black and white circumstances. These will be some of the most valuable U.S. documents to genealogists, not to mention historians, as soon as they are indexed.

And that’s the key. Without indexing, our ancestors would be needles in a huge haystack. But, we can change that.

FamilySearch Indexing volunteer workspaceTo do your part, you will load a small software package to your computer. The indexing workspace offers the document image at the top. In the bottom-left, you see the pane in which you extract the information. For each type of document, FSI might seek different data. In the bottom-right pane, you see the ever-present help, telling you exactly what is needed. Before you submit your batch, the software will review your batch for easily identifiable problems, and let you fix them.

This volunteer work also offers a valuable education in interpreting old handwriting. We GEGs want to be able to read documents ourselves. We don’t blindly trust transcripts or even indexes, though we are thankful for the clues they offer. The hours spent in FSI records will strengthen your skills. And you can look back at any places the arbitrator disagreed with your interpretation, and learn from that.

Beyond being valuable to the world, and valuable to the volunteer, this is just plain fun. Fun in the way genealogy is fun. Made for GEGs.

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How do I join FamilySearch Indexing?

It’s very easy to sign up to be a FamilySearch indexer. If you already have a FamilySearch account, you’ll use the same login. Or, if not, you’ll set one up as you get started.

Go to the Family Search Indexing home page. You’ll see a simple menu that will guide you through the process.

FamilySearch Indexing -- Get started menu. See https://familysearch.org/indexing/.


Join us in the rapidly swelling volunteer workforce that makes the great collections available and searchable! The more of us there are, the faster new evidence surfaces about your own ancestors.

GEG_Single Wrap

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