Straightening the Indexing Learning Curve

Do you remember 1940? No, not the year, the 1940 US Census Community Project!

Did you help create that high-quality index with over 132 million records? I’ve definitely been searching the records and enjoying the great work we did.

Do you remember the struggles we faced when we first started the project?

No? Hmm.

What if I ask you how to index an “M” in the Marital Status column that has been crossed out and replaced with a “7”? Or how should you index the Residence in the 1935 field for a child under the age of 5?

Oh! That’s right. There were definitely curves and bumps in the road to creating that amazing index.

The same goes for any new indexing project. Consider the Immigration and Naturalization Community Project or the Antenati Italiani Project. We’ve found that it takes about three months of active indexing to straighten out the learning curves.

There’s not one right way to become an expert. You need to find what works for you. Here’s my method:

1. Download a batch.

It sounds obvious, but starting your first batch from a new project can be intimidating. The key for me is to jump right in. I may not know all of the instructions, and I may struggle to read the hieroglyphics, but the key is to start.

2. Read the field helps.

After indexing five records or so (in my first batch), I read the field helps in detail as I move from field to field. Did I mention the great example images that no one should miss? Read everything, and click every link.

Having indexed a few records already, I can watch for instructions that might be different from what I expected, and I can make note of them so I don’t forget to follow the rules. I can also make changes to any of the information that I’ve already indexed, if needed.

Are there any questions that I have that the field helps didn’t answer? I write them down, then look at the project instructions.

3. Read the project instructions.

After indexing another five records or so (in the same batch), I click the Project Information tab and review all of the information there.

I also click the Project Updates link and review anything that’s been posted. Is there a slideshow presentation on how to index the project? I definitely take the time to study that.

As I’m reading and reviewing, I ask myself again, “Are there any instructions that I wasn’t expecting?” I make a note if needed and make any needed changes to the information I’ve already indexed.

Are there any questions that didn’t get answered? I write them down, then ask for help.

4. Ask for help.

It’s not easy to admit that I don’t have all the answers all of the time. (Please don’t tell my family and friends that I said that.) Good thing there are places for me to turn.

I can contact my group administrator, stake indexing director, or FamilySearch Support, or I can post a note on the indexing Facebook page.

It might take some time for the answers to get back to me. In the meantime, I download more batches, index them, and review the instructions again (and again if needed). But I don’t submit the batches. At least not until I get my answers and I can go through the batches again and make any needed changes.

5. Keep indexing.

The more I index a project, the more comfortable I feel. I can check my arbitration results now and then, too. The arbitrators may not be right 100% of the time—they’re great but they’re not perfect. At least they make me think, “Did I really read those instructions correctly? I better double-check to be sure.”This is my approach to learning a new project. What’s your method? Share it in the comments below.

After navigating the learning curve, the fun can really start. I can relax and enjoy the little glimpses I get into history and the lives of those recorded on the documents I’m indexing.

Throughout this whole process, be patient with yourself, other volunteers, and FamilySearch Support. We’re all trying to navigate the learning curves together.

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