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!