Why Indexing Is an Important Part of Family History

April 13, 2020  - by 
Woman indexing from home.

Imagine if you could go to a website, search for an ancestor’s name, and almost immediately learn the person’s birth and death dates, names of family members, country of origin, and more! For some people, this scenario is already a reality. There are 5.8 billion searchable records on FamilySearch.org that can connect people with one or more of their ancestors. Many of these records are findable only because of millions of volunteer hours put in by those doing family history indexing.

Of the many volunteers who help people find their ancestors and learn more about themselves through their past, indexers can be some of the most impactful—and dedicated. In 2019 alone, over 300,000 people volunteered 10.9 million hours to indexing. That’s a lot!

Indexing involves looking at a historical record displayed on a screen and typing important details you see to create an index of the record. Although indexing is a simple task, indexers often dedicate hours of their time to indexing batches of records and learning how to help with more complex or harder-to-read records.

Boy learning how to index at a family history center.

Have you ever found one of your ancestors in a record on FamilySearch.org? If not, don’t give up!

Around the world, there are billions of records that aren’t yet searchable. Indexers continue to work on these records every day, creating indexes that computers can read—all so that the next time you search, your ancestor’s records might be there.

True Stories of Family History Indexing

Ashley R., a 16-year-old living in the United States, shared a personal experience with family history indexing: “It’s so easy to index, and with every name I think there’s probably someone out there looking for it. Indexing taught me that some of the most important things we can do are simple, small things that make a big difference.”

A FamilySearch volunteer who spends much of her time indexing talked about having her attention caught by a person in her tree—he had no wife on record, though he lived in an era where most people were married. One day, she viewed that ancestor’s person page in search of some detail she may have overlooked, something to help her discover this ancestor’s wife.

“I clicked once, scrolled down a little bit, and there was his marriage record!” she exclaimed. “No one else had found it because that collection hadn’t been indexed until recently.”

What surprised the volunteer even more was the realization that the collection where the marriage record came from was one that she, herself, had helped index! “I never dreamed it would benefit me personally,” she said. A few minutes later, she was able to find records mentioning the couple’s first child.

Mother surprised at indexing record found on computer.

The Opportunity to Help

Family history indexing is an incredibly important, selfless act of service that can benefit many. You will probably never meet the people you help, but you are making it possible for them to discover their family—to understand who they are and where they came from. Studies have suggested that family history makes people stronger and more resilient. The records you index make these opportunities available to someone else.

As a volunteer indexer, you decide for yourself what project you would like to work on and how many records you would like to index. Every little bit helps, even if it’s just one or two records at a sitting. Those one or two records could end up being the only records that matter to someone else.

In October 2019, FamilySearch introduced a new feature that allows users to thank indexers for their service. Be on the lookout for this feature when you view records on FamilySearch.org.

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  1. Indexing I don’t understand. I tried 2 weeks ago. I did not get to choose the person I wanted to work with.

    I know my family is huge. And the person it choose for me to index I have not either seen yet or ready to verify yet. I need to be able to choose the person.

  2. Errors do occur on your site. Joseph Wilson Fletcher married Nina Robinson, last child was my Father Carroll Wright Fletcher. Never did they give birth to a Charles Fletcher. Joseph was the child of Nancy Pierce and Thomas Fletcher and he had two half brothers, Alexander and Clarence Fletcher. Nancy Piece married George Johnson…and is buried with him in Esingler Cemetery Monroe co., Iowa, USA. Proof is in the Monroe county records.

  3. One of your “indexers” is a chocolate seal point cat, Mickey. I mostly review now, using a desk-top computer and Mickey likes to tap on the green arrow [and make sure it is there] and if I open the purple question mark, Mickey watches that happen and peers at it as if he is reading. Mickey tries to catch the pointer as it is moved across the screen, but the pointer gets where it is going before Mickey does – so he sits back with a “well, how did that happen?” look.

  4. I have records of both of my ancestors that have never been entered, and could be updated to both families. I have burial places and dates of deaths, plus more.

  5. I have done indexing and will continue, because I know it helps someone find their ancestor. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could have the experience mentioned in this article, to be able to index the record of one of our ancestors! That was on my mind this morning: what if we could not only choose the continent we wish to index records in, but also the state where our ancestors lived. With so many images coming into FS each year, could you work on that improvement?

  6. I love indexing and reviewing and will do it ’til I die, however, the copies need to be better! No amount of “adjusting” will improve it. Many times they’re crooked and I have to bend my neck, now, we can only “return” a batch without the reason why, before we could choose to have the image recopied. It is frustrating when you have to mark a field “unreadable” because the information is there but the copy is so bad you can’t read it. I realize your copying has to be done quickly because of the sheer volume of the records, but, we could index more if the copying can be improved! Thank you and thank you for all THAT you do!

  7. I started indexing regularly since the quarantine and I enjoy it more than I expected! I do see that some people “drop out” in the middle of a batch because they are confused about the number of entries per document. The program shows anything from “1 of 1” to “1 of 6” per document and people don’t know how to delete the extra entries. It would be better if one entry per document was displayed and then you could keep adding more entries yourself at the bottom.

  8. I would like to see video tutorials be more available for indexing records for people who know English but don’t know other languages. I have a request to see such video tutorials that may help me to do records other than English. According to the tools I have, it’s not easy to access any video or instruction to help me do more. I would appreciate whatever you come up with. Thanks!

  9. When we choose to index, we only pick the country we are interested or were one is from as we are familiar with the legal documents. We do not pick the person just the Batch and whatever is in the film. I volunteer to Index and now I can review as well; also, I look into images always looking for a particular doc if happen to have dates and of course when a particular collection is online, it makes it easy to find the doc via film. Attention to detail is very important, the doc must be read, no just the first name that appears or the date. I do volunteer, I am not a church member. I do enjoy finding the “old document” and be able to read it. I know somebody else will have a “moment of joy” when the actually doc. is found, and because is was Index by a volunteer…I would love to have the abilities of make correction once a doc has been index, but index improperly.

    If you work in a particular tree…you pick the family and look for their family members….Index is just a batch with a lot of docs via film….you only get to pick the country and the language or languages you read and write.

  10. Why is it that when I click on the print icon that only the first page prints (even though I have ‘all’ marked?

  11. My ggrandfather John Tille’s dau married John Howland. That would their children be to me? Cousins?