Saturday, March 3, 2012

Indexing--A Fun and Valuable Service...

Ever since leaving my teaching career, I've been on the hunt for ways to use my time in a creative, fun, and interesting manner. I've really enjoyed being a more dedicated Visiting Teacher (in the LDS church, ladies are assigned other ladies to visit each month and serve if possible,) and it is fun to attend stamping parties once again.

But last week I happened upon a new adventure that I'm enjoying immensely...indexing. The church magazine, The Ensign, had an article all about indexing and what an important service it is. I had heard of it, but had never tried it.

So, what is indexing? Here is a direct quote from the article:
"FamilySearch indexing is the process of reading digitized versions of physical records—such as census, vital, probate, and church records—and typing the information they contain into an online searchable database. Through this work, indexing volunteers make it possible for members [of the LDS Church] and other family history researchers to easily locate their ancestors’ information on the Internet.

Indexing has brought a simplicity and ease to family history work. “In the past if you were looking for relatives, you had to wind through microfilm. When you found a family member you were looking for, you might be able to find connecting names. So you would rewind and wind the microfilm again and again,” says J√≥zsef Szabadkai, an indexer in Hungary.

Today FamilySearch continues to gather historical records from governments and record custodians all over the world. But instead of simply filming the records and making the films available to researchers, FamilySearch employees scan them into the indexing program. Volunteers pull up these images on their computers and type in the information as they see it. In this way, the information is digitized and can be found through the search function on while researchers sit in the comfort of their own homes."

I was intrigued, a fun and interesting service that I can do from home on my computer? (I love anything related to computers!) I wanted to try it. So I went to's indexing page HERE to see what it was all about. There I was met with a page that looks like this:

This photo is a link, so clicking on it will take you directly to the site. All of the other photos in this post are not links. You can click on them to see them full-sized, which I highly recommend to get full understanding of what I'm explaining. =)

This is a page that invites anyone who is interested to join the world of indexing, which, as the article states, is a worldwide project to translate scanned documents into digital information, thereby, overtime, eliminating the need to look at hard-to-read microfiche while working on family history.

Family history is an extremely important work in the LDS Church, as we believe that everyone, even those who have passed on, should have the opportunity for baptism, eternal marriage, and being sealed eternally to their families. Still, even if you are not LDS and don't believe these things, family history is important. Knowing where we come from is important, and genealogy (putting your family tree together) can open doors to finding out more about yourself.

So indexing is a way to make important public information, like birth and death certificates, war records, census records, etc. more available to everyone and anyone looking to work on their family history. This is something anyone can do, even kids (probably about 13 and up.) Again, this is something for anyone, regardless of religion, age, education level, and you only need basic computer skills and a computer on which to work.

On that opening page that I posted above the first thing you are invited to do is a "test run," where the site gives you an old document and asks you questions about it to see if you are able to find the necessary information. It is very easy and the site helps you through the first steps. Then, if you decide to continue, you are led to the page where you download the program to your computer. The download time is very short. I left the icon on my dock (the Apple desktop) so that it is very available whenever I have a few free moments.

Once you click on the icon that appears, you will see this page (my screen shot already shows the projects I'm working on): Click on the image to see full-sized...

At the top it says "Download Batch," which you click on to get your first set of items to index. A batch is a group of documents (usually around 10-20) that you will see in order to start indexing. For instance, right now I'm part of a project where I'm indexing names from Texas death certificates between 1890-1976. This is what I see with the batch I'm working on:

This is a death certificate of a man who died in 1954 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The red circles are mine, because morbidly curious that I am, I find the causes of death very interesting! (Aside from the natural causes, I've seen gunshots, "burned while house caught fire," and "fell while in a drunken state." ) And, of course, the saddest ones are the death certificates of children. I find the death certificates fascinating, because the loss of a loved one affects so many people.

There are many things that the site does to make it easy for indexers. For instance, there are tutorials. which I highly recommend. My accuracy greatly improved after watching one of the tutorials. And, if necessary you can send a batch back unfinished (although they discourage against it.) I will admit that I did do this a couple of times at the beginning. I was given a household census that was extremely difficult to read, even though it was in the Beginner category, and I just didn't feel like I had the skills to do it justice.

So how do you know how accurate you are while indexing? First of all, when you input names, places, and dates, the field you are working in may turn red. This just means that the database doesn't recognize it, it does not mean that what you inputted is wrong. At the end of the batch, when you're ready to submit it back, it goes through a quality check, which gives you a chance to double-check red-highlighted fields. It is important to do this, and not to just assume that you got it right the first time. For instance, I accidentally listed someone's name as Carfield when it should have been Garfield.

Lastly, you can check your accuracy once it has gone through arbitration. Each document is indexed by 2 people, and then a 3rd person, called an arbitrator, compares the 2, finds discrepancies, and is basically the tie-breaker.

This screen shot shows that I have a 97% agreement between the names I've indexed and the arbitration check.

You can also click on the results and see exactly where the discrepancies were, which is a good way to correct future mistakes. This is a list of batches I've already submitted and how accurate I was. As you can see, I started off terribly! 77%! That's like a C+!

But the value of looking over my mistakes is seeing what they were and not repeating them. A lot of them were very basic, because there are certain rules you have to follow. For instance, if you see VA, you have to type out "Virginia." If you see Wm., you have to leave it as is, and not type out William. You are also not supposed to leave a field completely blank. If the document is missing information or a section is unreadable, there are "blank" and "unreadable" icons that you are supposed to click.

The beauty of it is that every single time you click on a new field, there are guidelines off to the right to help you. So when I was on the field of a person's state of birth and saw VA, if I had read the guidelines properly, I would've seen that it said plain as day to type out the entire state.

Pretty cool, huh?

FamilySearch does encourage that you not bite off more than you can chew. They ask that the batches you download be returned within a week. So, although you can download up to 50 batches, I usually download anywhere from 3-5, just so I'm not overwhelmed, because as soon as you feel overwhelmed you don't want to do it anymore.

One great thing about indexing is that it really got me jazzed up to find out more about my own family. I'm lucky, because I am the owner of 2 books that were written about genealogy, one for each grandmother, and my maternal grandfather did a lot of research when he was alive. Still, there are HUGE gaps of information. We know literally nothing about my paternal grandfather and his family tree.

This is a book written by my cousin, Leopoldo, who did years of research into the Amayas, my maternal grandmother's family.

My great-great-great-great grandparents. Don't they look fun?

A book of genealogy on my maternal grandmother's side.
I had an uncle who invented the machine that tied the string on the newspaper. And, the Bunn coffee machines that you see everywhere? That started out as a family company!

A picture of my great-great grandmother Alice (Bunn) Gale. And for a colorful explanation of another relative, read the page opposite the picture, starting at 234. Isn't family history fun?

Some old (original) family photos of my dad's side of the family in our living room. I love that picture in the middle of my great-great grandmother Alice.

Family history is such a great and worthy work. I love knowing about my relatives from days passed that I would never know of if it wasn't for the efforts of those who have done family history. So indexing is a great way to be part of something bigger and better to help others who are doing their research. In the past 3 days I have indexed 246 names. I think that is awesome. It is relaxing, and a lot more productive that playing Words With Friends or Solitaire (I'm not dissing those games, they are a lot of fun and I play them too! =)

In this big world, where we often feel so small, it is quite fulfilling to be a part of something that connects us all. Whenever I start a new batch, I try to stay very focused and go in with a frame of mind that what I'm doing will help someone else, just as the work someone else is doing may help me in the future.

As it says on the indexing home page "Every person matters."

Here is a 5 min video explaining the process once more. I encourage you to see it full-sized, because it really walks you through each step.

Hopefully this post will recruit a few people! It really is a lot of fun getting a glimpse into the past as you do this important work. Happy indexing!

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