Tens of millions of records are now available to genealogists. Many of these records are available online and even millions more are available only on microfilm. Unfortunately, many of these records have never been indexed.
How can you find information that is available to you? The task is not easy today. However, a project organized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will produce millions of indexed records within the next few years. In fact, the Church's vision is to provide computerized indexes to millions of rolls of microfilmed records held in the Granite Mountain Vault near Salt Lake City.
The indexing project is simple in concept: volunteers extract family history information from digital images of historical documents to create searchable indexes that assist everyone in finding their ancestors. The complexity arises only when one begins to consider the size of this project: thousands of volunteers indexing millions of records.
The volunteers involved include Mormons and non-Mormons alike. In fact, perhaps you would like to volunteer right now. You can perform indexing within 30 minutes after reading these words. The process is easy and your efforts may help thousands of genealogists. Your efforts may even help in your own research efforts. All you need is a Windows or Macintosh computer, an Internet connection and a bit of available time.
The indexing process is simple. First, you sign up as a volunteer. The process asks for your name, mailing address and e-mail address. There is no obligation and you will not receive "spam-like" e-mail messages as a result. You may contribute as much or as little time as you wish; there is no long-term obligation. You do not have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in order to participate.
Next, you download a bit of software that is then installed on your computer. The installation process is simple; follow the on-screen instructions. The software is available for Macintosh OS X version 10.4.5 or later operating system (with either a G4 or an Intel processor) or for Windows XP Home or Professional as well as for Windows Vista. With either Windows or Macintosh, you will need 512 megabytes or more of memory. A broadband (cable, DSL, satellite or fiber optic) connection is recommended.
Once the software is installed, you connect to the www.FamilySearchIndexing web site, download a page of original records and then use the software to create an index. The process is actually very easy; almost no computer expertise is required. If you already know how to surf the web, you can probably learn to index records within a very few minutes. The process is similar, although not identical. Online tutorials and built-in HELP files also are available to explain the details. Projects are divided into small sections such as one page of a census enumeration or one page of a marriage record book.
The image to be indexed will be stored in your computer. The image probably was scanned from a reel of microfilm. Readability will vary although most of the images I have seen are quite readable. As you enter data that see on your screen, the software will guide you through each data field to be extracted. For instance, birth records will typically ask for the parents' names, as well the name of the child, the date and place of birth and other bits of information. Extraction of tax records may ask for a dollar amount as well as date, the name(s) of the taxpayer(s) and more. In each case, you do not need to know ahead of time which bits of data are to be indexed; the software will automatically guide you through each record.
To see a typical screen display of an indexing project in operation, look at http://www.familysearchindexing.org/en/support/training/Indexing_L3_June2006/images/indexpage-fieldhelp.gif. You will note the original image is displayed in the upper part of the computer screen while the new information is entered in the lower part of the screen. There is never a need to print any records on your own printer.
You do not need to be connected to the Internet all the time. You can log on, download a page, and then log off. You then index the page at your convenience. At some future time, you will need to connect to the Internet again and send your results to the FamilySearchIndexing servers. Many people are indexing records while riding commuter trains, on airline trips, or otherwise utilizing what would have been "wasted time."
As an indexer, you will also be prompted for information in order to save time. The first time you enter a word or name, you will need to type the entire word. On later entries, your entries will be compared to data you entered previously. For instance, if the original record says "Ireland," as you type the first few letters of that country's name, then remainder of the word will automatically be filled in. If you choose to accept the word, you click the name. The result can save a lot of keystrokes and therefore speed up the indexing process dramatically.
Of course, if the word is something other than "Ireland," you can enter the complete, new name. The same process works for surnames; if you have already entered the name "Eastman" once, you do not need to re-enter the entire name again and again.
Indexing a complete page typically requires 30 to 60 minutes. You can perform all that in one sitting or else break it up into multiple sessions as fits your available time. Once completed, you click on "Submit a Batch" and all your new data is then transferred to the FamilySearchIndexing servers and (optionally) a new page is downloaded to your computer. If you do not complete indexing of a page within a few days, due to vacations, illness, or some other interruption, the same page is assigned to another indexer. No records will ever be skipped.
Each page is actually indexed twice, once by you and once by some other volunteer whom you likely will never meet. Once both of you have sent your information back to the FamilySearchIndexing servers, the two results are compared electronically. If your data exactly matches the data extracted by the other volunteer, the information is then permanently stored and will become available at a future date as an index, visible to all. If any bit of your data disagrees with that of the other volunteer indexer, the individual record(s) that disagree are then sent to an "arbitrator," a highly-experienced indexer who specializes in difficult-to-read records. He or she then makes a determination as to which indexer is correct, if any. In fact, he or she could even enter a third entry, if necessary. The results of the arbitrator are accepted as final. The arbitrator might enter the information as [unreadable] or [illegible] as appropriate.
The process is simple and any efforts you can offer can help hundreds, perhaps thousands, of future genealogists. I cannot think of a better way to volunteer a bit of your time.
A list of all the current indexing projects may be found at http://www.familysearchindexing.org/fsi-admin/navctrl.jsf?pname=currentProjects. Future projects already planned are listed at http://www.familysearchindexing.org/fsi-admin/navctrl.jsf?pname=upcomingProjects.
To volunteer, go online to www.familysearchindexing.org. Fill out and submit the form. You will soon receive an e-mail from FamilySearch Indexing that will get you started. To learn more about the process, click on the "help” tab at the top of the screen and view the tutorial.