Saturday, December 3, 2016

Now Indexing: Something Root-Worthy

With the holiday season upon us, I thought it best to honor my commitment to do volunteer indexing at FamilySearch early this month. Of course, the temptation is always to seek the easiest batches to index—or at least, the ones that would be easiest on my eyes—but there's no way of knowing, once you select a batch, whether your wish will be granted.

I had noticed, in one of the Canadian blogs I follow, that there were some interesting data sets coming on board for our neighbors to the north, so I gave it a thought to visit the indexing choices for Canadian records, but unfortunately my good thoughts needed to remain just that: thoughts. There were only two choices—old passenger lists in what was sure to be impossible-to-read handwriting, and a document collection in French. These were not the types of records through which I could set my fingers dancing on the keyboard.

With that good intention nipped so early I followed, at heart at least, our Irish immigrant ancestors' pathway and moved from perusing Canadian offerings down to Chicago. There, I found a possibility and set to work.

My selected record set for this month was a section of Cook County death records during the years 1949 through 1958. Since my batch was filled with duplicate files, it took no time at all to dispatch that set. Before I had barely gotten rolling, I was ready for seconds.

The second set didn't go as swimmingly as the first set. In fact, many in this second batch were coroner's reports. In other words, cases like Chicago River drowning victims—almost every field in the document was filled out "unknown" except for the approximate date of death and estimation of age—and murder victims filled the batch. Needless to say, despite the many "unknowns," I still got sidetracked. Bright shiny syndrome. For me, not for them...

There are some times when the indexing process goes so smoothly that, in my holiday cheer and general mood of gratitude, I want to keep at it and give back lots. After all, I certainly appreciate the many others who have gone before me and made all this digitization of research documents possible and all. Then, other times remind me that I would feel more comfortable if I were sinking in a mud hole of quicksand, surrounded by alligators.

Part of that sinking feeling may be owing to the unpredictability of government documents. Even in the same jurisdiction, over a span of time, fields on a document may be changed. The way civil service employees fill out those forms may not be standardized. The circumstances surrounding the event requiring civil registration may include extenuating circumstances which don't fit nicely into a preconceived format.

Then, too, though my eyes stayed glued to that screen on the right—the constant instruction companion for each field in the process—sometimes the instructions don't even seem to fit the circumstances. In the case of this month's indexing project, it wasn't until I got to the second batch—and, of course, had already submitted the first one—that I realized I had marked one field wrong. For the entire batch. There goes the accuracy rating.

And why the instructions on blank or non-applicable fields sometimes say to use a tab to leave the field blank, and other times to use control-B for the same reason seems confusing. It would be nice to have things like that standardized so the volunteer doesn't have to remain glued to the instructions. If all blank fields could be marked in the same way, it would help in memorizing the procedure. And I'm all for speed...after accuracy, of course.

Despite all that frustration, while it does help me become a kinder, gentler consumer of freely-offered genealogy resources—at least in engendering compassion for those invisible volunteers before me who bungled indexing my ancestors' records—I still think the process is worth the effort. Collectively, over the past ten years of crowdsourcing the indexing process, FamilySearch has shepherded the efforts of a million volunteers, worldwide, to make available many of the records we can now access with the mere click of a mouse.

I certainly don't mind struggling for a few minutes each month to help out a cause like that. In fact, for my minuscule part in the process, I'm quite proud to have done so. And in revisiting my efforts every month, I hope as a genealogical researcher, you will be inspired to give back in your own way, as well.

Above: Vienna marketplace in Winter, 1925 watercolor and gouache on paper by Austrian artist, Emmerich Kirall (1875-1939); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I like doing obits there and I did enjoy the U of MN work records. I am always reluctant to try a new area. I can give back something and do it late at Family Search is a perfect match for me:)

    1. Yes, giving back is part of what makes our world go round, isn't it?! Seems like indexers do find their favorites, when it comes to types of records to work on.


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