Get ready for the Worldwide Indexing Event October 20-22!
Family History research can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Indexing creates a digital, searchable record of an older historical record, and is like tying a ribbon to that needle in the haystack, allowing it to be found with ease.
The Worldwide Indexing Event October 20-22 is a great time to give back to the family history community.
I once heard an indexer explain what motivated him. He was indexing records for children in an asylum.
They were called “inmates.”
He had this visual image of a child behind prison bars, unable to find his or her family. Even if someone knew to look for these children, finding the right record source would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. He realized that every name he indexed was like tying a ribbon to one of these needles.
By donating a bit of time to type old records into computer fields and make them searchable online, we help family find their kin. Images are great, but indexes make searching the images or scans much faster and simpler. How many people will patiently flip through images, like the one below, hoping to see a family name? Diehard researchers will do this but indexing opens family history work to the masses because it simplifies the task.
I’ve been indexing some birth records and I came to one page where a lot of the given names were missing.
I saw one set of children was listed as “Twins” but the male twin was unnamed.
I went to MyHeritage and looked up the female twin, “Helga M. Carlson,” in the census.
There is no male twin for Helga in the census record so I assume the male twin died. If you went off the census records alone, you wouldn’t know the story of this family included this lost child.
Most people use censuses because they give us a glimpse of the family. But if a child dies before their first census, the family picture we assemble from the census is unwittingly incomplete. Indexing other primary records helps people more thoroughly create a portrait of their families.
When we’re indexing, if the records are hard to read (pictured above), we can either select a new project or use the “Project Helps” for clues to guide us. In the batch above, I couldn’t read the writing even after I’d adjusted the contrast and brightness, so I sent this batch back.
In selecting a project, my rules of thumb are:
1) Can I see the writing?
2) Can I read the writing?
3) Can I make educated guesses?
If I can see and read the writing, I scan the whole page to get an idea how the record taker wrote certain letters, so I can make educated guesses where the handwriting slurs. Anything we index will be reviewed by another indexer so we’re not the final arbiter of the spelling of a name, which gives me some peace of mind.
I was doing a batch of records from Michigan (below) and couldn’t decipher the residences. (And I have family from Michigan and know a lot of the place names there.) I could make out “Twp” for Township so I Googled “Townships in Michigan” and found a Wikipedia article with a list of townships. I went to the C’s and then the M’s and found the townships I needed: “Chocolay” and “Michigamme.”
To join the Worldwide Indexing Event, go to FamilySearch.org and you can look for an Indexing Project by Country
One popular project is the Freedmen’s Bureau Project. These are records of “freedmen, slaves, refugees, and others” being assisted by the US Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after the U.S. Civil War. These will be some of the first records ever created for some African Americans and is a vital project to help families find their ancestors.
If you want to get better at searching online records, join the indexing effort. You’ll experience the flip side of the problem and will gain new insights into how to search for an ancestor. Best in your research!