04 March 2012

FamilySearch Indexing: Pay it forward

FamilySearch Indexing screen for World War I registration card
Recently, the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG) announced it had partnered with FamilySearch to index the Boston Passenger Lists 1820-1891. MSOG members and others interested in the project are welcome to volunteer to index these original ship records.

Indexing is easy to do. But instead of me saying that, take a test drive for yourself at FamilySearch Indexing.

When you sign up to become a FamilySearch Indexer, you'll be asked to download the software program to your computer, log in or create an account, then download a batch. Records are downloaded in batches of 1-30, so you won’t be overwhelmed. Each batch should take you less than 30 minutes to complete.

If you choose to be part of the MSOG project (for intermediate indexers), you select Group or Society in the pull-down Local Support Level menu of your profile, then MSOG. That way, you’ll have access to the Boston Passenger List project.

Since I’m a newbie to indexing, I selected the beginner level to find appropriate projects for me. And oh the projects! Although I don’t know anyone who died in Texas 1890-1976, I started with those records because they were listed “highest priority.” After that, I checked out some World War I draft registrations from Connecticut, Volunteers for the War of 1812 (1812-1815), Prince Edward Island baptisms 1721-1885, and the Boston Passenger Lists.

When you download a batch, you’ll notice the screen is divided into three parts: the scanned record on the top half, data entry functions on the bottom left, and help screen (project instructions, field help) on bottom right. Not all information on the record will be indexed, nor will all records within a batch contain the same information. When you’re finished with your batch, you’ll be asked to double-check your data before uploading it.

Many records are handwritten, not typed, depending on the time period. Therefore, you may not be able to decipher everyone’s handwriting (even with the handwriting help screen). Is that E really an L? Is Daniel really a female? (Yes, the record said so.) That's why there are two indexers per record and an arbitrator will compare data that disagree. In one case, I thought “James” was “Samuel” but once the arbitrator flagged the name and I looked at the original record again, clearly I was wrong.

If you have questions about your batch or the project in general, visit the FamilySearch Indexing resource guide pages, which include FAQs, tutorials, and support.

Once a project is complete, the index and images are uploaded to the free and fabulous FamilySearch web site


If you need extra incentive, you can set a personal goal and keep track of how many points you’ve accumulated. You receive at least one point for each record, with more difficult records earning up to 10 points each. Over the weekend I indexed 128 names and accumulated 226 points. Challenge your friends, relatives, and genealogy groups to participate in the FamilySearch Indexing projects. The more volunteers, the faster we'll all have access to these genealogy records.

And who knows? Maybe you'll be lucky and find your ancestor among the Boston Passenger Lists while you're indexing them. That's what I'm hoping for!

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