Why Is Joan Smiling? Why Is Ingrid Frowning?

June 11, 2015  - by 

Meet Joan.

Joan lives in the United States. She has seven complete generations in her family tree and many other branches that extend even further. Lucky for her, most of her ancestors come from English-speaking countries. As a result, she has documented sources for most of her direct lines, and last week she found two new individuals to submit for temple work! She’s having a hard time keeping up with it all. Needless to say, Joan is really happy.

Now meet Ingrid.

Ingrid lives in Germany. Her family tree includes her parents and three of her four grandparents. No one seems to know anything about her paternal grandmother. Ingrid has never received a record hint for anyone in her family tree and can’t find anything new on any of her lines. She wants to serve her ancestors in the temple, but she is at a dead end. Ingrid is pretty discouraged.

Sadly, Ingrid is not alone. Last week, Francesca, who lives in Italy, tried searching for her ancestors as well. So did Maria, who lives in Honduras; Hiroko, from Japan; and brothers Jose and Pablo, from Mexico. All got the same result.

What’s Going on Here?

Of the more than 3.5 billion searchable records on FamilySearch.org, more than 90 percent are from English-speaking countries. To put that in perspective, searchable records in English outnumber the combined total of searchable records in all other languages 20 to 1.

Does Joan need more searchable records in her language? Sure she does. There are plenty more to be discovered and many more things to learn about her family. But compared to Ingrid, and Francesca, and Hiroko, and the others, Joan is living in the lap of luxury. Is this fair? Absolutely not. Can anything be done about it? Most definitely!

A Call to Arms (and Hands and Fingers!)

Indexed records are the key to helping people find their ancestors so they can take their names to the temple. “Find, Take, Teach”—the call from Church leaders at the recent RootsTech family history conference—starts with finding our ancestors, and the best way to do that is through searching, record hints, and descendancy research, all of which require indexed records.

FamilySearch indexing is launching a concerted effort aimed at narrowing the gap between the number of searchable records in English and those available in all other languages. Every volunteer and potential volunteer out there who is already fluent in a second language is needed to help index records in that language. Especially needed are volunteers who are comfortable working in French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The efforts of the faithful indexers from these countries must be joined by willing volunteers from the English-speaking world in order to move this effort forward at an acceptable pace.

To be very clear, FamilySearch is requesting help in the following priority order:

  1. From fluent, native speakers of non-English languages living either in their native country or in an English-speaking country.
  2. From those who have extensive training in a non-English language, such as returned missionaries.
  3. From English speakers who are willing to learn how to index specific types of non-English records.

New Training for Those Who Speak Only English

FamilySearch has been careful in the past to encourage volunteers to work only in their native language, or in a language in which they have been specifically trained to index. That hasn’t changed, but we’ve found that English speakers can learn to index accurately in another language without actually becoming fluent in that language. And they have loved the challenge!

A very successful Italian indexing training initiative in the United States, conducted over the past 3 years, has more than doubled the worldwide number of individuals working on Italian records as well as the pace of Italian record publication. We believe the expansion of this effort to other languages will yield similar results for French, Portuguese, and Spanish, and then beyond as well.

New training guides and videos are available to help willing volunteers learn how to index specific types of records in these languages. Special training will be provided to stake indexing directors to extend training to all interested volunteers. Contact your stake indexing director, or visit FamilySearch.org/indexing to learn more.

We urge you to accept the challenge, and join thousands of others as we work together to fill this critical need. Visit FamilySearch.org/indexing to learn more about how you can help put a smile on Ingrid’s face!

Leave a Reply

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


  1. Will they match up indexers who don’t speak the language with people who are fluent so any errors can be caught? Is there a way to indicate that we aren’t fluent but are willing to try? Might be a good idea to have each record indexed by at least one person who is fluent.

    1. Agreed! I’m learning to speak Spanish and can identify general information… and I want to help… but I’m not perfect!

  2. I love this article and would really like to help although I have no other speaking language than English. I am a senior and a bit slow learning on some things, but would really like to help. Do I need to learn the entire language or just some words that would assist in indexing?

    1. I did many transcriptions of Ukrainian records for years, before Indexing in the current fashion came about. It was sometimes frustrating but I had help from a wonderful lady who’s no longer working for the Church in that capacity. I found it was true that I could do it because I did NOT have to know the language, just certain words that appeared in birth-death-marriage records. I had copies of the document templates, and that was enough. You probably shouldn’t take up a language that uses other than a Romanized-language script unless you’re familiar with it. That would be my only basic suggestion. In other words, a language that uses an alphabet such as English does would work for you even if you can’t speak or write it. You’re looking for specific things in a set-out order, and transcribing those only.

      Now with the Indexing program, I’m doing beginning French records. I studied French most of my young life. I’m a senior too, and the worst of it is making out some of the illegible handwriting. I console myself, ironically, with recognizing that my handwriting is just about as bad as the worst I’ve been transcribing…

      Keep in mind that the beginning level is quite basic. Google has translations of whatever you might need (usually only an odd word or two), and there are Indexing experts ready and willing to walk you through any problems day and night, seven days a week (same phone number: 1-866-406-1830). Try it! You’ll (probably) like it! 😎 I’ve been at it for about three months now and do one batch of 48 records a day in under an hour–sometimes an extra record got squeezed in by the original clerk, making it 49 records per batch. Do what you can, put a question mark for a single letter you can’t make out, an asterisk for more letters than that, and go for it. So far I’ve been transcribing to the best of my ability without the asterisks or question marks, knowing that some things have got to be incorrect ‘cuz they turn out whacky. Someone else will be Indexing the same record and will fix what he/she can. Think of looking at English-speaking census records: they’ve got all kinds of weird transcriptions from time to time. The transcriber is merely doing his/her best, and we’re grateful to find the record regardless. We can ignore the obvious mistakes.

  3. I would love to index in the area my grandfather was from. There are many, many relatives in that area. However, the films are not available on line. I would love to index them because I have been in the archives and have read the Latin records.
    Here are some towns I am looking at:
    Wallhausen, Kreis Kreuznach,
    Kruft, Rheinland-Pfalz,
    Kretz, Rheinland-Pfalz
    Sommerloch, Kreis Kreuznach, all in Rheinland-Pfalz.
    If these films are ever considered I will index them as fast as I can.
    I am very happy with your adding so many collections to FamilySearch. The above mentioned towns are just a few that I need, however, you are doing a great job in adding more and more, just not for my area.
    I am an indexer and I hope to do more. I am now learning to index records from Netherlands. I don’t speak the language but am learning. My first language is German, second English.
    I am involved in “Todesnachrichten for Germans from Russia” and am enjoying it very much.

  4. I am English-speaking and have been using Swedish and Norwegian records to search my ancestors. These records were created and kept by the Lutheran Churches of Sweden and Norway and with study can be deciphered. They are a wonderful source of vital family records in these countries. I have worked on these records for over 40 years, searching them on microfilm. Now they are available online and can be accessed easily. Indexing these would be sooooo helpful in moving this work forward. I have taught a class in Swedish research and have handouts for class members in our ward who need them. You are welcome to this information if it will help. Whenever I can, I choose to index Swedish and Norwegian records. However they are not available to me much of the time. Hopefully they will be soon. Thanks so much for the good work you do. We are so blessed to be living today when this is rapidly becoming available.

  5. I learned to read Spanish language records in the early 80s when the Extraction Program started. I have concentrated these records for the last 5 years. I am sad to say that the arbitration is very sloppy. The small batches are discouraged because if you make one mistake, your percentage goes down. I just did several batches where the person who arbitrated them used the Libro(book) number on the page instead of the page number. Now that’s a small thing but shows that some people do NOT know simple Spanish words. I also have pulled up a dozen batches of “Policia Noticias ” on the Peru records which are not indexable. Surely someone in charge would check the films and get rid of these films. Again, until the foreign language films are arbitrated by “people who know the language” you will not get anyone to stick with the records long enough to learn the new language.

  6. Sometime back you got me into Indexing French, Spanish, Italian and Latin records.

    Not well, I understand.

    Given a printable glossary of the operative words in a language, I believe I might be able to do reasonably good indexing.

    Moglie. Morta. Fille. Enterrada. Nascito. Stato Civile. Vino. Pizza.

    As the Spaniard said to the villian in “Princess Bride,” “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

  7. I would like to know why we don’t have any Mexican records to index ,I have been indexing from south america and U.S.A most of my family is from Mexico and would love to see some Mexican records please. thank you
    Maria Miranda

  8. Half my ancestors were from Norway. I have been extracting and arbitrating Norwegian 1875 Census records for several years, as I have used many Norwegian records in my personal research. I have used Church records in years ago from microfilms for Birth, Christening, engagement, marriage, death, burial, confirmation, innoculations, moving in/out of the parish. I use several norwegian/english dictionaries to help with terms I am not familiar with and also with spelling when the handwriting is bad. I’ve learned a lot as an arbitrator from the native Norwegian extractors. My brick wall is German records. I wish records from Pommern, Prussia, specifically Kreis Cammin Ev. Lutheran records would be available.

    1. Charlotte, whenever new records are added to FamilySearch, it is posted on the blog. Keep checking back to see when the records that you’re looking for are made available!

  9. I see two things here… first of all- those English records were created by English speaking people who were doing genealogy and eager for indexes for those records. They stepped up willingly and went to work creating those indexes. There will be more records in other languages when people of those languages and countries step up and index those records being offered for indexing. Certainly anyone who has a desire to index in other languages (because of the Spirit) should do so- but it feels almost like we are trying to put guilt out there because there are so many more records available in English. Perhaps it’s because there are so many more English speaking people doing genealogy and has been for many more years. As genealogy research becomes more important in other lands, they will create those indexes they need and the records will be more available to them as well. I’ve seen the result of non-French speakers indexing the collection I need (which is available at Ancestry) and the problems caused by not knowing what they are indexing (not knowing a name from a marginal comment for example), and not being familiar with the names enough so that many records are nearly impossible to find while trying to guess how it might have been indexed.
    Second- I think there needs to be some way for people researching in other countries and languages to let FamilySearch Indexing know which records they need more urgently and are waiting to have available to be indexed. I would love to do French Catholic Church records from Quebec (for example) since half my family is from there and I can read and translate them (easily now, after 15 years of practice). Clearly others feel the same, from the comments posted. People yearn for certain collections to be made available for indexing, because they are actively doing family history research. How is the decision made which collections will be indexed when? Is the need of people actively doing research now even considered? Is anyone asking researchers what they want and need next?

    1. It might have been about thirty years ago when I was called to “French Extraction”.
      It was considered an 18-month mission. I stayed seven years. Most of the extractors stayed more than ten.

      We had microfilm and microfilm readers at the Stake Center or the Seminary.

      We printed the info with ball-point pens on what we called IBM cards in a special all-capital alphabet.

      (Someone else, someplace else, punched the real IBM punch-cards. Anybody remember punch-card computers?)

      Before we started, our trainer taught us about a hundred French words and a lot about old-time penmanship with goose-feathers.

      We got an occasional batch in Latin, too.

  10. I se bed a mission in Germany in the late 60’s. I looked at trying to do some German indexing, but got scared away by the handwriting. I knew it once-upon-a-time, but would need some help to feel comfortable with it again. If the time comes that there is some help and help is needed I would be anxious to give it another try.

  11. I cant seem to get a page I can read to index. There doesn’t seem to be a place to search for readable material.

    1. Karen, I’m sure you’ll find a readable batch soon 🙂 some records are printed out, which makes them easier to read.

  12. When I started Indexing three years ago, the first records I got were Spanish census records. I did not know I was not supposed to work in a language in which I was not fluent, and so went ahead, as I can read simple Spanish and have a dictionary. Then I got other things in Spanish. As long as they were printed I was okay. After that French records from Canada turned up. Knowing much more French than Spanish, and having lived in Canada I just went ahead. I even did some Portuguese. Surely to do simple documents one does not have to be fluent in a language other than one’s own? But I will stick to English if that is the rule.

    1. If you have experience indexing in those languages, I’d say there’s no need to stop. There are guidelines, but ultimately, you can do as much as you feel comfortable with.

  13. I dunno. I understand the story and its purpose, but I keep thinking that maybe Ingrid should also start indexing in her language and do her family history the old-fashioned way: with real research. I know some members who are waiting to do their family history until their country’s records are indexed. I am not sure that is appropriate. Also, against not meaning to be offensive, but there almost as many Spanish speaking members of the church as there are English. Is there a disconnect here?

    1. I think the main disconnect is that many Spanish speakers may not have access to the same resources we do. I think it is important to everyone to pitch in as much as they can, but to those of us who have more, let’s give more.