Everyone can agree that indexed records make life easier. Instead of having to scroll through image after image to find information about your ancestor, you can use an index of searchable information to quickly find the person you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, indexing errors sometimes make the search process more difficult. Hard-to-read handwriting, damaged records, language barriers, and simple human error mean that no index is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate. If you add the fact that sometimes the original documents had errors in the first place, it’s easy to see how complications seep in. Errors in the records or index can render the index useless for finding certain ancestors and can even cause a researcher to skip over important records.
In the past, if you came across an incorrect index on FamilySearch, there wasn’t much you could do about it besides note down the error and perhaps grumble about it to yourself. That’s all changed now! With the newest update on FamilySearch, you can make corrections to names in the index—with the ability to edit other details in the entries coming soon. By editing the index, you can help other people locate records—and ancestors—they might not have been able to find otherwise.
When to Edit an Index
The purpose of editing an index is to enable other researchers to find their ancestors more effectively. There are two main scenarios where edits could be helpful—when records were indexed incorrectly and when the original records contained incorrect information.
You may find cases where an index does not accurately reflect the information in the original document. This kind of error can be seen in the example of Merry Christmas Jacobson in the 1930 United States census. The index on FamilySearch lists her as Mary Jacobson:
However, a look at the document shows that in the record she was correctly listed as Merry Jacobson. After the recent update, the index entry can now be corrected.
Wrong in the Document
In some cases, the record has been indexed correctly, but the document itself is incorrect. This other kind of error can again be seen with Merry Christmas Jacobson, but this time in the 1940 United States census. This index lists her as Mary C. Jacobson.
This time, when we check the original document, we see that the indexer read the record correctly, as it too says “Mary C. Jacobson.” With our deeper knowledge of Merry and her family though, we know that this name is incorrect. This example is also a case where we can correct the index to reflect the correct spelling of the name.
Note: Not all indexed entries can be edited. The record must have an image available so that you can compare the index entry to the actual record. If you see a page and a camera icon by the record, the camera icon means that an image of the record is available.
How to Edit
The process of editing an index entry is simple. After searching for an ancestor on FamilySearch, look through the search results for a promising record, and click your ancestor’s name. A box will pop up with the indexed information on the left and the record document on the right. For indexes that are editable, you will notice the word Edit next to your ancestor’s name.
When you click the Edit button, a new box opens on the left with the document still displayed on the right. Here you can type the name as you believe it should appear in the index. Choose one of the two reasons for your change from the drop-down menu: Indexed Incorrectly or Wrong in the Document.
Next, zoom in on the record, and click the Highlight the Full Name button. Highlighting the name in the document will help others see which name you are correcting. There is also space to add additional notes you may have. When you are finished, click Save. After you submit your edits, they should be searchable within a few minutes.
Keep in mind that your edits do not override the information already on FamilySearch. Instead, you add new information. The old indexed information remains. Now your change and the original information are both searchable. There could even be several edits to the same record, helping others to find their ancestors more easily. Please edit carefully, however, since multiple edits can also muddy the waters!
Now that you know how editing index entries works, it’s time to give it a try. Go to FamilySearch, and search for your ancestors. When you find incorrect information in the index, take a moment to carefully and thoughtfully make corrections. Your actions can help others have success in finding their ancestors.