October’s “Straight Talk about the State of Indexing” article apparently touched on some topics that are on readers’ minds, so we decided to write an addendum. In the spirit of the first article, this one makes no attempt to sugar-coat the challenges of indexing, but it also asks: “Does indexing have to be perfect to make it perfectly worthwhile?” If your answer is a resounding “NO!” then you’re ready for more straight talk.
Is English-language Indexing Ending or Slowing Down?
English indexing work is not going away or slowing down. If you hear rumors to the contrary, please squash them immediately! FamilySearch clearly needs extra help with non-English indexing, but there are still millions upon millions of English-language records waiting to be indexed, not to mention likely other hundreds of millions that FamilySearch hasn’t yet acquired. At the current rate, astounding as it is, English language indexers will be needed for decades to come.
What is changing is the amount of really easy English-language records available to index. It’s just not reasonable to expect that all genealogically important records will be typewritten on neat, identical forms. Most of the work to do requires the ability to read handwritten records, sometimes in free-form paragraphs.
FamilySearch desperately needs people who will invest a little effort to learn how to figure out how to read these records. It gets easier the longer you work at it. And it’s fun! It’s like a good puzzle or mystery, and the satisfaction you get from figuring it out is an incredible feeling. If you can’t figure something out on your own, make it even more fun by inviting your friends or family to help. Here’s another place you can turn for help in learning to read confusing handwriting.
Beginners Need Help!
Fifty percent of new indexers never make it past their fifth batch. Forty percent never make it past their third batch. The reasons why they drop out are myriad—the handwriting is too hard, the rules are too complicated, the program is confusing, and so on. The solutions to these unfortunate problems are equally diverse, but one stands head and shoulders above all the rest: new indexers who get help and encouragement during their first few batches from an experienced indexer are far more likely to continue indexing.
If you have introduced a friend to indexing, are a stake indexing director, or a group administrator, please don’t leave them to figure things out on their own. Yes, the indexing process should be simpler, and someday it will be, but even now it’s not rocket science. When someone who has figured it out takes the time to help new volunteers past the first few challenging batches, they gain the knowledge and confidence it takes to weather other indexing challenges later on. You wouldn’t give your child a single push on his or her first bicycle ride and expect him or her to be able to stay upright thereafter. Indexers are no different. Please, don’t let go of that metaphorical bike seat until you know they have the ability to keep going without crashing!
Many More Volunteers Are Needed—Especially from Outside the United States
As of this writing, more than 200,000 volunteers from the United States participated in indexing or arbitrating in 2015. That’s down somewhat from 2014, but it still dwarfs the next highest country of Brazil, with just over 10,000 total volunteers. Peru is next at just under 10,000, with Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Philippines, Guatemala, Venezuela, Honduras, and Australia rounding out the Top 10. In short, the rest of the world combined doesn’t begin to approach the number of volunteers found in the U.S.
This is part of the reason why people in non-English-speaking countries have trouble finding their ancestors or why they don’t get very many, if any, record hints. This has to change. FamilySearch has started a significant effort to encourage Americans who are fluent in a second language to begin using those skills to index in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or French, but that won’t be enough. Native speakers of non-English languages living in the U.S. and in all other countries of the world are needed to accept the challenge to help index and arbitrate the records from their countries. And if projects aren’t available for a given country, look for other projects in the same language. Please lend a hand to others wherever records are available and needed.
That’s all the straight talk there is for now. If you have a subject you’d like a little more straight talk commentary about, send us your thoughts at email@example.com.