Category Archives: Giving back

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!

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: A Time to Give

After hearing amazing stories on the news the other night about people who gave their time and money to local charities, I felt guilty for not doing more – especially in this season. No matter what you celebrate this month, many of our traditional celebrations focus on giving. I have active children and a busy schedule, and wondered how I could give more.

As I was pondering this, I realized how much I was already giving and how many opportunities there are for someone with my genealogical skills and interests. I thought back to the time I served at the local LDS family history center, the lectures I had given pro-bono for local groups, the cemetery indexing and photographing project I had been involved in, time spent talking to new genealogists about their projects and offering advice, and the regular meetings of an online genealogical educational group I help with (http://progenstudy.org/). While I don’t have the ability right now to work in a soup kitchen or help build homes, I still lend my time and expertise voluntarily.

Are you interested in giving back to the genealogical community? Let me tell you about some of my favorite places, and maybe you will find a project that fits your schedule and interests:

  • www.DeadFred.com. This is literally genealogical treasure hunting. When people find old photos or even family bibles that are thrown away or sold at swap meets and antique shops, they “rescue” them and put them up on this site, looking for a home. You can go there to look for your own long-lost relatives or put up some photos you have found.
  • www.USGenWeb.org. This is a hub for state, county, and town sites created and maintained all by volunteers. Contact the site manager of a town or county you are interested in to see if there are projects you can help with. When I did it, I was sent a few pages from an old index to re-type. I re-transcribed them into a word document, sent it back to the site manager, and it became a new online resource for out-of-town researchers.
  • www.FindAGrave.com. A great project for your family, church group, scout troop, or genealogical society. Volunteers photograph headstones and monuments from a cemetery and put them up on this site. You can submit one photo that you already have or hundreds taken by yourself and friends on a sunny afternoon. Check with the local sextant or cemetery manager if you plan to do a whole cemetery to make sure you would not be interfering with any funerals.
  • FamilySearch Indexing. The LDS Church is famous for their microfilm collection and they are organizing an ambitious project to digitize and index these valuable resources. Check out https://www.familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing. There is an online tutorial to teach you how to index, and lots of help along the way.
  • www.worldmemoryproject.org. Ancestry.com and the Holocaust Memorial Museum have partnered to create the world’s largest online resource for information about victims of the Holocaust. Thousands of volunteers worldwide have added 873,000 records that are now searchable. Contributing is free and easy to do for anyone with a computer and a few hours to help.

There are so many more ways to use the talents you have as a genealogist to give back to others and encourage a love of family history, I wish I could name them all here. If you know of a special group or project, or just want to tell about a giving experience that you have had, write us and let us know.

This holiday season, celebrate random acts of genealogical kindness. After all, not every gift can be wrapped with a bow.