The Blog

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: Indexing – Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I love working on my genealogy and researching for clients.  I research just about every single day, and some of that research is done online.  Every time I find something helpful, I congratulate myself and celebrate a little.  Too often though, I don’t think how that information was made available for free online.  The answer is that many volunteers all over the genealogical community are offering their time reading old documents and creating indexes to make it easier for me to search.  Many websites offer these volunteer services, such as www.findagrave.com, www.deadfred.com, and www.usgenweb.org.  Untold thousands of hours are contributed by volunteers.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a site that gives all of us a chance to contribute to the online indexing of historical records.  It’s fun, easy to use, and worth every minute of time you can give:  It’s the program spear-headed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) at https://familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing.  This program takes on the herculean job of making an online-searchable database for almost all of the microfilms created and housed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – the genealogist mecca.

Any person (preferably over age 12) can download the simple software, watch a five-minute video on how to index, and get started.  Participants download a “batch” from which to extract information.  Each batch consists of a page or two of a record, such as death certificates, passenger arrival records, and censuses.  The screen will show the record at the top and a set of data-entry fields at the bottom, requesting parts of the record to be filled in.  If you have trouble, the program offers lots of help from handwriting samples to more tutorials, and even hands-on help from a live trained volunteer online or over the phone.  Each batch is reviewed at least three times for accuracy, unlike some earlier indexing projects.  The scale of this project is impressive!

My favorite of the indexing projects right now is the indexing of the 1940 census.  In a joint effort between the LDS Church and the National Archives, each page of the census is becoming every-name searchable.  The images are relatively easy to read and so incredibly valuable to genealogists, historians, and statisticians.  The “greatest generation” of the 1940s is being honored again.  Go to https://familysearch.org/1940census/ to see an interactive map of how much indexing has been completed in each state to date.

My daughters are in high school and middle school respectively, and their school counselors have approved any hours spent in indexing the 1940 census as part of their required Student Service Learning Hours (students in many states must complete 70 – 80 hours of volunteer service to qualify for graduation).  I woke up the other morning to the most wonderful thing:  my girls arguing.  What were they arguing about?  Who got to index first, and who was the best at it.  Made me so proud…

I love to index.  It isn’t something I do for myself or my clients.  Offering an hour or even a few minutes a day just to make some record more accessable to someone doesn’t do a thing for me.  But I get that warm-fuzzy feeling all the same.  I am a busy mom, and I work too, but taking a little time for this little random act of genealogical kindness is certainly a valuable endeavor!

The Truth: But What If I’m Not Sure? (Guest Post)

When creating a memoir or family video, you will inevitably come across bits of information that you want to include, but which you cannot verify. You’ve ascertained all the facts that can be checked. But then you know all kinds of other stories that nobody can authenticate. For instance, there’s a legend in your family that your great grandfather almost won a Nobel Prize. Or you believe your parents were not in love with one another. Can these claims be proved? Not likely.

All you can do is use your best judgement to infer the truth. Here we offer 3 tips for doing that:

1) Include the “inferred truths” in your story. These stories can strengthen your recollections and add meaning which would otherwise be lacking.

For instance, your parents were married in 1930. Most young couples are without solid financial backing when they start out. Your parents, as much as you (and anyone else) knows, didn’t have a “rich uncle” to ease them through these first years. Are you justified in concluding they must have felt the effects of the Depression during their first days together?

You can’t “prove” this, of course. If, as scientists do with their theories, you proceed as if your hypothesis were true–that your parents must have had a lean time of it then–what insight does this assumption give you about decisions they made during those years, or about attitudes they held in their later life together? Interpretations like these, based on reasonable inferences, can make another person’s life more understandable and your portrait more colorful.

2) Attribute your interpretations. Start with phrases like “If that were true, it seems to me that…”, or “We’ve always been told that…” Your interpretation or inference will take its place as a possible truth in the story you are telling. And the reader or listener will be able to distinguish the cold hard facts from the stories that are harder to verify.

3) Avoid cliches. As you allow yourself to arrive at conclusions in this way, be sure to recognize clichés. These are the ill-fitting shortcuts that actually obscure the individuality of your characters. If you find yourself saying, “Everyone in those days was like that,” let the alarm bells go off! You have left the firm ground of inference behind and are tromping into the dangerous swampland of cliché!

Family histories are inherently uncertain. Don’t let that scare you away, or limit your storytelling to the basic facts. Although they are quite different from verifiable truths, your inferred truths have a rightful place in your story. Your readers and listeners will appreciate the effort.

This post was contributed by Denis Ledoux, founder of the Soleil Lifestory Network. Denis is an accomplished ghostwriter who helps clients write memoirs, one story at a time. Denis was selected as one of the top 10 personal history bloggers of 2011 by Dan Curtis. For more information on Denis, including how to get a copy of the free Memory List Question Book, visit www.turningmemories.com.