Straight Talk about Indexing—Part II

January 5, 2016  - by 

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

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  1. I have indexed almost 10,000 items; arbitrated over 46,000. The reason I stopped – I believe Family Search made a special deal with Ancestry to give access to a lot of their indexed records to Ancestry in exchange for having free Ancestry accounts for all LDS members. As non LDS, I was not given that same privilege after many, many hours of my time. Family Search was reaping the rewards of all my work and I got nothing in exchange. I feel like Family Search should have a program where if you index and or arbitrate X number of items you get a free Ancestry account also.

    1. Originally they said the points we get when indexing might be exchangeable in some way with partner sites, but I’ve never seen any definite proposals. This would seem a good use for them.

  2. One of the great difficulties for me has been indexing English records of handwritten foreign names. I am not familiar with the names, and decipheringthem is compounded by the handwriting styles AND the unfamiliar use of diacritics. I had some projects where almost all of of the surnames started with what looked something like a “D'”. I did not do any of those projects the same way. I handled one of those batches making a D followed by the apostrophe. Another batch I did it with the D followed by the the next letter having a diacritic. Not being familiar with the customs of the country makes it difficult to decide how to index such names. One batch was written in such a way that it looked like the D was where a diacritic was supposed to be, and I could not find a D with that kind of diacritic.

    It seems to me that such names would be better indexed by a person familiar with the language if the country those persons are coming from.

    Sincerely yours,
    Brent Forsgren

  3. I would love to have help at times but I feel like I live on an island when comes to indexing. Everyone I ask tells me I know more than they do. I have even called SLC and not gotten help. The first time yes the brother was great; the second time cured me of asking them again. So there I am. I have helped others start and with your newsletter I will make sure they are not abandoned. I have asked to be an arbitrator and nobody in my Stake has a clue how to let me. I was told it is very hard and one makes a lot of mistakes and there it stops. Back to the island. By the way I live in Ogden not on an island. Thanks for your newsletter they help me stay encouraged. I love indexing some days its a reason for living.

  4. Please – institute a quality program for to monitor arbitrators. An arbitrator who reviewed a Peru batch I indexed erased correct information, added information nowhere in the record and added accent marks not on the record! Really? Some quality control is in order!

    1. Agree with you about the arbitration process – I was indexing delayed birth certificates and the form requests child birth name and mothers maiden name as is normal for a birth certificate, but several of mine had been signed with a married name and even though that name was not in the field I was indexing, nor was it asked for, all my info was changed by the arbitrator to show the married names.

      In another instance I was indexing WWII Draft registration notices and the name of the town was Standing Stone and it was on the document several times, once beside the contact persons name, so the arbitrator changed the surname to show the real surname with “Standing” behind it like it was part of the name, which it clearly was not. If the person took the time to read the document, they should notice that “Standing” was part of the town name and not part of the surname. so in that case probably two people indexed it wrong, the 2nd indexer and the arbitrator.

      Indexing Oklahoma school records and the school official who wrote the cards had very poor writing and very poor spelling, so I took the spelling from the way the parent signed the card thinking the parent should know how to spell their name (in most cases) and they were marked wrong because they didn’t match the very Wrong school officials writing.

      I have contacted, but they don’t care. I have been a family genealogist researcher for 35 years and search many records and read much handwriting, and although I may not always get it right, I sure do try to use my brain when researching or indexing. I enjoy indexing, but it is a bit frustrating when you have the right answer and someone changes it to the wrong answer. I really thought it was supposed to be about helping people find their ancestors.

      1. Many indexers and arbitrators seem unaware of the rule that if two or more spellings of a person’s name occur in the same record then you should index them all separated by ‘or’. Sometimes in UK marriage registers the spelling in the signature differs from the spelling the official used, but many indexers still select only one version. If I arbitrate them I enter both.

        1. and I get the two name thing, but there is no way that I can see indexing a child with the married name on a birth certificate is “expected”. It’s not what the document is about nor what a researcher would look for.

          So now I have indexed a SC birth certificate and selected “Baby Boy” as the name and the arbitrator changed it to “Baby”. Why? I have no idea. The example given in the instructions showed “Baby Girl” as an acceptable answer. I think Arbitrators need to be able to give and receive feedback. And they should read the instructions and look at the example before they make their choice.

  5. The handwriting help resources are wonderful for English. I work on Uruguayan Civil Registry records from 1900-1937. The biggest problem is decifering the old style of handwriting in Spanish from this period. I finally made up a simple “handwriting help” chart of both capital and small letters to reduce the number of errors. Please consider having an expert, native in Spanish, work up a chart for older Spanish to put on the website for all to use. Thank you. Norman Wright 323-899-3837 cell, normanwright@sbcglobal. net

    1. I’ve used the chart provided and it is useful part of the time – but not used by all as obvious when distinguishing a Y from an I.

    2. RE Handwriting – I think the handwriting helps are good, but don’t think they show enough examples of “L” and “S” as in the records, these two letters often look alike. Also I found nothing mentioned about the “Long S” which was quite confusing to me when I first started researching many years ago.