Indexing Obituaries FAQ


(NOTE: As of May 1, 2014, this article has been updated to match the new obituary project instructions. Click here for more details.)

Most of us have only been indexing obituaries for a few months now, but we’ve seen amazing progress when it comes to understanding how to index these quirky records. There are still some questions that come up, so we’re here to answer the most common ones.

1. Are obituary indexing projects okay for beginning indexers?

Yes! While this project is quirky and unique, new and beginning indexers can enjoy obituaries too. Start with these five basic steps and imagine each obituary as a puzzle needing to be solved.

2. The arbitrators keep giving different answers. How do I know which one is right?

Use the arbitrators’ answers as a learning opportunity. Most arbitrators are very experienced indexers, and they play an important role, but they are still volunteers just like the rest of us, and they have been known to make mistakes now and then like the rest of us. When arbitrators give different answers from batch to batch or when you believe the arbitrator is wrong, review the project instructions again to find the correct answer, and keep indexing according to the instructions.If needed, call your local indexing director, group administrator, or FamilySearch Support for help.

3. Arbitrators: What should I do if the two indexers typed the names in a different order, skipped names, or added names?

As an arbitrator, you need to know about record matching. This first step in arbitration is absolutely necessary with these obituary batches before you resolve differences between key A and key B. Record matching lets you line up the names so you can arbitrate them correctly. Get started with this quick video. Then try out a guided demonstration.

4. How should I index “survived by son, Timothy (Linda) Bennett”?


Note: Use the context of the document to know if the relationship of the couple might be less traditional than husband and wife. When in doubt, use a gender-neutral relationship term such as Child-In-law or Relative.

5. How should I index step-parents, great-grandchildren, or foster children?

Remove the descriptive words, and find the closest matching relationships on the list. For example, index a step-father as Father. Index a great-granddaughter as Granddaughter. Index a foster child as Child. If there is not a close matching relationship, then index the individual as an Relative or Nonrelative. For more examples, check out pages 30 and 31 of the in-depth guide.

6. What if the death date is given for a relative of the deceased? For example, “She was preceded in death by her husband, George, who died on 12 September 1973.”

Index those individuals (George, in the example) the same as other relatives. The Record Type field will be indexed as “Other.” Do not index the relative’s death date.

7. Should I index a pallbearer as a relative or nonrelative, and should I index “Pallbearer” as a title?

Unless a specific relationship is stated in the obituary, pallbearers should be indexed as nonrelatives. Do not assume they are relatives even if they have the same last name. “Pallbearer” would not be indexed as a title or term. Refer to the lookup list for help in knowing which titles and terms to include.

8. How should I index parents in the Relationship to Deceased field?

It depends on the obituary and how the names were recorded. If you can determine the gender of the parents, index them as Father and Mother. Otherwise, index them as Parent and Parent.Do not assume the gender of the parents based only on their given names or the order in which the names appear. Look for context clues such as a maiden name in parentheses or specific mentions of “mother,” “father,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

9. Two images in my batch are for the same person. How should I index them? 








These documents were found as images 1 and 2 in a batch of five images. They happen to refer to the same person, but they are not duplicate images, a continuation of the same obituary, or found on the same image in the batch. They are unique documents on separate images, so index them independently. Do not transfer information from one image or the other.

10. How should I index a maiden name?

First, you have to find context in the obituary to help determine if a name is a maiden name. Try not to assume. If you can determine that a name is a maiden name, index it in the Surname field in front of the married name.Situations where you can identify a maiden name include:

  • Use of phrases such as “formerly known as,” “born as,” or “nee,” for example, “Helena Bredin, nee Lang.”
  • A name in parentheses that does not appear to be a nickname or the name of a spouse, for example, “Lydia (Bixby) Christiansen.”
  • The woman’s middle name matches the surname of her parents, for example, “Sarah Muncie Thompson was born to Joseph and Esther Muncie.”

Situations where you cannot identify a maiden name include:

  • The woman’s middle name does not match the name of her parents, for example, “Beverly Anne Christiansen, the only child of Gustav and Laura Swenson.”)
    • Note: We do not transfer surnames from person to person, even from parent to child.
  • No names are in parentheses, for example, “Carmen Ann Howell Lewis” or “LaVerne Fowler Bascot.”

Don’t forget to review the instructions and training materials; they answer even more questions.

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