Straight Talk about the State of Indexing

September 30, 2015  - by 

We need to talk. Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble or anything. We just need to discuss some things about indexing that are changing—things that may be hard to swallow. Some of this you have probably guessed, but some of it may be new. Either way, get comfortable, and let’s chat. I’ll start with the easy stuff.

Easy English Projects Are Getting Harder to Find

This is no surprise to you if you’ve tried to find one of those favorite census or obituary projects lately. We are victims of our own success. The big, easy English collections that were once plentiful are now mostly indexed and published for researchers on Congratulations are in order! But, there’s a downside to these amazing accomplishments as well.

The remaining easy English record collections still out there are few in number and aren’t always the kind people like to index. Passenger ship lists, marriage records, military records, and such contain a wealth of valuable genealogical information but are rarely volunteers’ first choice. I liken the situation to putting broccoli and macaroni and cheese in front of a child. Nine times out of ten the child is going to choose the macaroni and cheese.

If you can’t find what you really want to work on, will you give one of the less popular projects a try to see if you can acquire a taste for the other records as well? I promise, it’s good for you—and it makes a huge difference for researchers. It will also help to preserve the few beginner projects for the actual beginner indexers.

Now for an important challenge.

The Greatest Need: Non-English Indexing

If you want to accomplish the most good with your indexing efforts, it’s simple: learn how to index records in a non-English language.

I know that sounds daunting (and maybe a little foolhardy), but do you realize there are 20 times more searchable records in English on than in all other languages combined? Imagine trying search after search and coming up empty-handed every time. That’s basically what you get if you live in Mexico, or France, or Japan, or Russia, or any other country where English is not the predominant language.

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.

To make it easier, FamilySearch is setting up large beginner projects in several languages. Our focus for the time being is on French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish records (with German being a likely addition in the near future). As we set up these projects, we are also preparing illustrated guides and videos to teach English-speaking indexers, and new indexers who already speak the project language, how to index that specific project. For example, we show what the important words are in that language, such as “father,” “mother,” “child,” “birth month,” and so on, and where on the record all this information can be found

So far we’ve had great success with this approach in Italian, and we expect the same result in the other languages. To get more information and to see some of these guides, click here.

Of course we still recommend that arbitrators work only in their native language. And as we ramp up the indexing work in these languages, the need for arbitration will increase accordingly. If you are an experienced indexer in a non-English language, or a stake indexing director or group administrator working with non-English indexers, consider training yourself or your indexers to arbitrate in those languages.

Now, let’s talk about another tough subject.

Old Indexing Program versus New Indexing Program

What can I say? Yes, we’ve been talking about a new indexing program for nearly two years. And, yes, it has been in development for even longer than that. Clearly there were miscalculations about the complexity of the task, the amount of time it would require, and even how it would be received by our beta testers. We have learned, and we have gotten smarter. A limited number of volunteers are now doing actual indexing work in a greatly improved version of the program. But we still have a long way to go to make sure it is ready to support the large number of volunteers and variety of work.

Meanwhile, the current indexing program is what we have to use. It has been a mostly steady workhorse for eight years, and we expect it will continue to serve us well for at least another year. The transition to the new program will be gradual and will occur in phases. We’ll be sure to keep you informed as progress continues.

In the meantime, please keep using the current program. We have heard some stake indexing directors and group administrators are no longer teaching people how to use the current program because they are waiting for the new one. Please do not wait! Keep training people so they can be fully up to speed and engaged in indexing when the time comes to make the switch.

There you have it. Thanks for taking the time to listen. And thanks for your continued efforts to make the world’s records searchable for others. You are making a difference!

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  1. Arbitrators should not have the last say about any thing because these can’t even read or follow the Instructions them self Family Search needs to do a better job when it comes to picking people to become Arbitrators

  2. I like doing the less popular ones. My only problem is the lousy handwriting. It can get quite frustrating at times.


  3. German is my first language, but can’t find records near Augsburg, Germany. Can I
    help indexing? Whom do I contact?

    1. Barbara, as soon as it is available for tablets, or a release date is posted it will be on the blog for sure, so keep checking back and we will keep you informed!

  4. I would like to suggest a rest on the pull date if a batch has been worked on in the last few days. I have worked on some difficult Italian records several of which were being steadily worked on but not completed when they were pulled. I think it would be encouraging especially to persons just learning a language if the due date were reset when the batch is incomplete but saved with new information having been added. I would suggest an automatic 3 day extension to the due date if new work has been saved during the last 3 days before the due date. Thanks for considering!

  5. Having recently indexed and arbitrated batches from Warwickshire parish records was dismayed to see the arbitrator changed. Aston manor to Aston. I would like to point out Aston manor was an area in Birmingham until 1911. I am dismayed that all these changes get through, it clearly states Aston manor on the records, also I live in the area. Puts me off indexing or arbitrating.

    Three years ago I got so much help in my research, thanks to the indexing program that I decided to do my part especially because I have foreign language skills.
    was the stress put on quantity instead of quality.
    Having worked in the extraction program, from my point of view, QUALITY is more important than QUANTITY. I don’t care how much my neighbor is doing. I do what I can with the other responsibilities that I have.
    Arbitration and point system. MISTAKES?
    Who cares if I read it Margueritte and the other person read Marguerite or Marguarite or I read Elisabeth and you read Elizabeth. Those are not mistakes just small variances which do not defeat the purpose of indexing…
    Who cares if I wrote the baptism date as 3 Feb 1706 which is the doc. date and the other person calculated the day of yesterday which is 2 Feb 1706. I followed the rule which says DO NOT CALCULATE THE DATE. The arbitrator is the one who did not follow the rule. That baptism can still be found by the researcher and tied up to the image and the researcher can find the entry and decide if I am right or the arbitrator is right.
    But if I write SAMBSON instead of LAMBSON or vice versa, that is a most important variance which defeats the whole purpose of indexing..
    After 60 years experience in French research, and studying many undecipherable documents including many notarial illegible records, I am often unable to decide if a surname is
    PAUL or SUAU
    In all my years of experience with French names, and after much study of the writing of that clerk and much research on Internet, I am UNABLE to decide on the correct spelling of these names. We are told to write what is there but we do not know WHAT IS THERE. One letter may resemble another. My suggestion is that we be allowed to use the word “or” and that the alternate spelling be ALWAYS ACCEPTED by the arbitrator or that we be allowed to make TWO ENTRIES under the two spellings.
    If there is doubt, better to accept the two spellings and give a better chance to the researcher to find the information that they are researching.
    I am an 84 years old computer dummy but somewhat of a French genealogist with 60 years experience…

    1. If I am no sure what the name is, I go to Google and type the last name in there . lots of times the name will come up and you can feel confident that that is the correct spelling,