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 FamilySearch.org. 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 FamilySearch.org 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!