CEO Corner: Farewell to the 1940 US Census Indexing Project. What’s Next?

Dennis Brimhall

The 1940 U. S. Census Community Project has given us all an opportunity to link arms with thousands of other family history buffs, as well as civic and social organizations (more than 150,000 volunteers in all), to make this valuable record collection freely available to everyone.

The recent success of the “Five Million Record Challenge,” held this past July 1, demonstrated just how popular and engaging indexing is becoming. On that single day, over 46,000 volunteers took part in indexing more than double the original goal for a total of more than 10.3 million records in 24-hours.

“Apparently we set the goal too low,” said Mike Judson, FamilySearch manager for indexing volunteer development. “We continue to be amazed by the number of compassionate volunteers donating their time so others can trace their family history. Their enthusiasm for indexing historic genealogical records to make them searchable online is astounding and incredibly gratifying.”

In a recent speech given by David Ferriero, archivist for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Ferriero recently said, "...A name index did not exist for the 1940 census, so NARA joined the 1940 Census Community Project. The project is led by FamilySearch and sponsored by major genealogy organizations. Over 200,000 volunteers are creating a name index for the 1940 census using indexing software provided by FamilySearch. It was anticipated that volunteers would take almost seven months to index the census, but the project is now expected to be completed two to three months ahead of schedule at the end of the summer. This is a perfect example of the power of crowdsourcing – a resource that NARA plans to leverage through our Citizen Archivist community with future projects…"

From start to end, indexing the entire 1940 US Census collection was completed in an amazing 4 months. More than 132 million names make up this valuable census index. No one in their wildest dreams thought it could be done in so short a time. This is indeed, a perfect example of the enormous power of crowdsourcing, as David Ferriero mentioned. A great feeling of gratitude goes out to all who took part in this remarkable effort.

Consultants, indexing directors, family history center directors, and local historical and genealogical society leaders are naturally interested in maintaining the enthusiasm of their indexing volunteers. In light of this desire, FamilySearch is pleased to announce that a new major record collection is now available for indexing. It is the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project. This important record collection will surely further engage and invigorate indexers and arbitrators throughout North America.

Since the U.S. is largely a nation of immigrant families, the records in this collection of Immigration and Naturalization records are a foundational element of American research. Many millions of these records are currently available as images in FamilySearch, but they now must be indexed in order to make them easier to use. As with the 1940 U.S. Federal Census, FamilySearch will seek support from Church members as well as genealogical societies and the general public to accomplish this next goal. Six individual projects that make up part of this collection have already been posted online. Each is listed with the designation “U.S. (Community Project).”

FamilySearch is also launching large-scale national and regional projects from other parts of the world and in multiple languages. For example, the recent historic partnership with the National Archives of Italy allows FamilySearch to index millions of Italian civil registration (birth, marriage, and death) records. Thousands of volunteers (Italian speaking as well as others who can learn simple Italian phrases) are needed to meet this challenge. Similar plans are being developed for Latin America. In some cases, groups within the U. S. and Canada will be invited to assist with these large international projects.

We invite all to come join us and be a part of this remarkable effort to index historical records from around the world. They are a priceless resource for all who are interested in discovering their family’s history and heritage.

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