Tag Archives: FamilySearch Indexing

Giving Back – Part 2 – Indexing in Your Jammies

These are my "genealogy pants."
These are my “genealogy pants.”

I work from home. My commute is the 60-90 seconds it takes me to fill my coffee cup and head to my office. I am not too proud to admit that I sometimes trade my jammies for sweatpants. Sometimes, on particularly chilly, rainy days when I have no plans on leaving the house, I have been known, on occasion, to stay in my jammies. It’s one of the perks of working from home.

Another way to “give back” to the genealogical community, AND STAY IN YOUR JAMMIES, is through online indexing projects. Sometimes these might be sponsored by a local or state genealogical society. However, the largest online project is through FamilySearch Indexing. Since 2006, FamilySearch Indexing has been hosting indexing projects of thousands (millions?) of digitized records. (Their wiki page says they began this in 2006 but I recall that I was in attendance in 2005 at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Salt Lake City when they unrolled this to the public at a conference and I was among the first round of public volunteers to sign up.)

I am not going to describe the technical requirements to get started. Those can be found here. Let me just say that the process is very simple and can be done on either a Mac or PC. Once you sign up to be an indexer, you download a program that will allow you to choose from a variety of projects and then will download your batch of records to be indexed. Each and every project comes with its own set of instructions and help files, so don’t worry. If you are thinking, I don’t think I know how to do that, I encourage you to at least read about it and try it to see if you like it.

A few things that I have learned from doing this since 2005:

  • It takes a while to get more proficient at using the software, understanding the instructions, understanding how to download a batch, and so on. So the first few batches you do might take longer than you would like them to. Give it some time before you decide if you’d like to participate or not.
  • Since I have been doing the indexing with FamilySearch, I have become a lot better at reading old handwriting. If you find that you read a lot of old documents, there is nothing like transcribing and indexing to really make you see and understand that old script.
  • Working on a project like this can be a great way to challenge yourself. The program has a feature that allows you to set goals and keep track of how many names/records you’ve indexed. Setting a weekly, monthly or yearly goal is a lot of fun, if you are that kind of person. I enjoy seeing my numbers.
  • When you are using the FamilySearch Records (the portion of the site where you can actually see the digitized records) and you see that camera icon (meaning there are actual pictures of the documents) and then you see “Browse Images” or a number of records available, that tells you if the project has been handled by the indexing program. Often, I find the records I’d like to use have not been indexed yet. By giving up 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes of my day, I can advance a project that will eventually get posted to the Records section and this makes me feel like I’ve helped out other researchers. Goodness knows they’ve helped me!

    Dang, those records haven't been indexed yet!
    Dang, those records haven’t been indexed yet!

FamilySearch is not the only project out there. Some other projects to examine are:

If you are like me and sometimes like to stay in your jammies, AND you like helping out other researchers. Give an online volunteer project a try!

Census Hurdles – Searching Tips and Tricks

2013-10-07 03.46.42 pmAfter our tour through some of my favorite census hurdles, let me sum up with some of my corresponding tricks for dealing with them.

Language Barriers
Think in terms of thick accents and how the names may have sounded.

SOLUTION: Create a list of all possible spellings of your name to use when searching.

While you may know exactly how your ancestor’s name was spelled, the census takers and indexers did not. They did the best they could.

SOLUTION: Keep an open mind about how names were spelled in both the census and the census index.

Indexing Errors
Hard-to-read handwriting & typos

SOLUTION:  Learn about old handwriting. Read a lot of old handwriting. Look at tutorials, articles and examples on old handwriting. Be sure to make “corrections” at Ancestry.com using the “add alternate information” link.

Quality of Information Given
How do we know who gave the information and how accurate it is? We don’t.

SOLUTION:  Take every bit of information from the census as a clue, not the truth. Always, always, always corroborate census data with other research. Back up your findings with birth, marriage, death, land records and other research.

Microfilming Errors
Did all of the pages get microfilmed?

SOLUTION:  Pay attention to the page numbers in the upper corners of the census records. If there are missing pages, you can write to the National Archives for missing pages.

Are the images readable?

SOLUTION:  Not much can be done here. You may have some luck with putting the image into a photo editing software and adjusting the brightness and contrast. Also looking at the images in the negative can be helpful.

Some other things you can do to make your census research more successful:

  • Use indexes but do not rely solely on them, as we’ve seen, there are errors.
  • Make a list of spelling variations. Write down every way you can think of that the surname could be written. Write down every way you find it indexed.
  • Read the census line by line for a given district if you are sure they should be there and you can’t find them in the index.
  • Learn about old-style handwriting. You can learn a lot about this by volunteering your time as an indexer through FamilySearch Indexing.
  • Corroborate census info with other research.
  • Don’t give up. Just because you don’t find them in an index doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Get creative with your searches.

I hope this series has given some ideas of what our ancestors, census takers, indexers, microfilmers, and researchers have to deal with during each step of the process. Between when the census taker stepped foot on our ancestors’ doors to these census indexes and images displaying on our computer screens many potential mistakes could have been made. Keep in mind the reasons, try to imagine the situation, and be creative in searching and you will have more success using census records.


Census Hurdles – Indexing Errors

We’ve all seen it. You’re looking at the index on a commercial website and you just can’t find that name you are looking for. But there are a few that are close in other regards. Maybe the first name is correct but the last name is not even close. Maybe the last name is completely butchered but the names of everyone in the household match up to what you are expecting. And then you click to see the actual census image and there they are, the last name as plain as day to you. Why then, was it indexed so poorly?

For example, unable to find William Avery, I stumbled upon this index entry:

2013-10-07 12.56.32 pm 2013-10-07 12.57.03 pm

It very clearly says “Avery” to me, but then again, I KNOW the name I’m looking for. Thankfully Anestry.com allows you to “add alternate information” that shows up when searching. Through collaboration, some of those incorrect index entries can be corrected.

Indexers aren’t always from the same geographic area as the records they are indexing. They may not even be from the same country. We’ve all heard that sometimes these indexing projects are farmed out of the country for cheaper labor. I don’t know for sure, I haven’t looked into it myself, but I know that even indexing records from a different part of the United States can be a challenge! (I’ve done it through FamilySearch Indexing and am much more comfortable indexing Ohio records than I am Georgia records.)

2013-10-07 01.29.05 pm
A sample of a section in Ancestry.com’s wiki on how to read old handwriting.

Aside from lacking familiarity with an areas surnames, there’s the problem of bad handwriting, old script-style handwriting, archaic letter formations, and the like. Good indexers have to try to understand old, swirly, twirly script, they have to become detectives and handwriting analysis experts. Most of the time, they simply do the best they can. There is the human factor to indexing. No one is perfect. Even the best make mistakes.

I am an active indexer for FamilySearch Indexing as well as working on indexing projects for my local area, and have come to have a completely new understanding for what it takes to be an indexer. It has allowed me to have some compassion for those who have so kindly and graciously indexed records for my benefit. I understand why ‘f’ and ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘g’ or ‘a’ and ‘o’ get confused sometimes. Let’s not forget to be grateful for the speed with which records get indexed these days and the wide accessibility of them. (Almost gone are the days of reeling microfilm page by page by page.)

When you see those errors, think about me (and the thousands of volunteers like me), indexing your ancestors’ records to the best of my ability.