3 Confessions of an Arbitrator

December 31, 2015  - by 

First, a not-so-humble confession. I’m a good arbitrator! And I believe most of the arbitrators for FamilySearch indexing can say the same thing. We’re not perfect, but we strive to do our best. We read the indexing instructions. We index batches now and then to keep our skills honed. We can quote the basic indexing guidelines. Along with following the rules, some of us have a few secret habits to confess.

Confession #1

I feel guilt, but I push through that feeling for the good of the researchers.

I struggle having to choose between two good indexed values. I know both indexers did their best, and sometimes neither one is wrong, but in the current indexing program, I must choose between Indexer A and Indexer B whenever they don’t fully agree. This must be done so the record can be published on FamilySearch.org. Even when I believe I made the best choice according to the instructions, I feel bad for the good indexer who I disagreed with.

Confession #2

I need guidance.

I can’t do arbitration in isolation. I don’t know everything. I don’t remember everything. To get arbitration done right, I need help and reminders. I rely on project instructions, the Training Resources page at familysearch.org/indexing/help, local support, other indexers, and FamilySearch Support to get answers as I arbitrate.

Confession #3

I search on Google.

Not long ago, I arbitrated a UK burial record for “The Right Honorable Emily Harriet Countess Stanhope.” This project didn’t have a Titles and Terms field, but I wondered whether Stanhope should be considered a surname or part of a title.

Emily Harriet Stanhope
© National Portrait Gallery, London

I searched on Google. Not only did I discover that she went by the surname of Stanhope, but I also found a picture of her in the National Portrait Gallery of London. Amazing!

I also found that her maiden name was Kerrison, but I didn’t index that name because it wasn’t on the burial document.

It’s okay to use the resources available to you, as long as you strive to stay true to the document.

So, what are your arbitration confessions? Comment below.


Latest posts by Katie Gale (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. When I index the baptisms from the parishes in England, I include the child’s surname. When I check my work the last name has been removed. How are people supposed to find their family members if they don’t have a full name? I have noticed when I am arbitrating that only a few people put in the surname, so I correct it. No surname does not make any sense to me. I am really frustrated – please help!!!

    1. There was a time when I was as much or more concerned than you of similar things, until …

      Because there are parent surnames in the documents you describe, the baby can be linked computer-data-wise with anyone’s search. In other words, a parental surname and a baby’s given name WILL bring up appropriate documents for researcher to find or ferret out. In other words, things can be left implied with the attached information to the document.

      On another note, some arbitrators/indexers say that no one can know for certain, if the surname of the baby (person) is not listed by the baby, that there is a 100% way of truly knowing the surname … either due to being born out of wedlock, grand parents taking in a baby to be baptized after both parents died, taking in an orphan, and a host other things.

      I’m certain that entering a baby name and a surname will bring up possible combinations of the baby’s given name and the parent(s) surname. The rest is left up to me, a genealogy researcher to know or decide, but the record can still be found.

      Remember, whatever digital records catch the eye of researchers, they click to see the actual document (just like indexers and arbitrators see) that was data-indexed. They do need not have every jot and tittle of data indexed to locate the appropriate images of original documents. The computer server of the Church WILL link, with or without surnames entered, to appropriate documents as long as the parental surname is listed.

  2. I too have a problem once in awhile in reading a name and trying to decipher what it really is. I got the”brilliant” idea one evening of going to (family search) to look up a name. I was doing marriage records and I could not read the name of the Brides Mother.I realized that family search has more and more information on it every time I look something up. Well I typed in the Brides fathers name and the state of the project I was working on and the date and guess what? I found his wifes name and it matched the brides mothers name perfectly that I had been working on. All the information matched perfectly. I was working on a marriage license but the information where I found the name i was looking for was on another record, census or other record. Since then I have used family search quite often. It takes a little time but I am at the stage in my indexing and arbitration life where I just want to make sure the information is as correct as I can make it.