Saturday, September 2, 2017

Now Indexing:
on the New Web-Based Interface!

It's time to head back to my monthly commitment to do some volunteer indexing at I call this paying it forward, but in reality, it's paying back with gratitude for all those nameless volunteers online who've helped me get started with my own family history research, years ago. I always hope that my monthly two cents worth will make a difference for someone else.

I had heard through the blogosphere that something new was up at the FamilySearch indexing site, so I went hunting before I started today's indexing project. Sure enough, there is now a web-based interface for indexing, which is being gradually rolled out through 2017. Instead of having to download a program, resident on your desktop, in order to participate in indexing, you can now go straight to the indexing website, sign in, and voilĂ ! There you are.

The hype is that the web-based program is much easier to learn, and it does seem streamlined and intuitive. Easy, that is, until you start looking at details.

I chose to continue working on U.S. Naturalizations in the courts in Chicago, Illinois, where several of my in-laws took up residence after their long migration from Ireland via Canada. While in this set of batches where I lucked out in that I was served up mostly typewritten documents, I was stymied by a few things.

First of all, right up front, the site offers project instructions. Unlike the desktop-resident program, these instructions are very detailed. The inset contained enough information for me to scroll down several times before reaching the conclusion. In other words, too much information for me to keep in my little pea brain for the duration of an indexing session. Plus, the placement obscured some of the details of the document which I needed to index, thus causing me to close it—and then wonder how to get the thing open again when the next question would inevitably pop up.

Little colored circles with embedded question marks appear at the end of each field to be indexed. If hovered over with your mouse, these provided clues about the specific line's requirements. That is an excellent idea in theory, but in practice, went in the opposite direction from my previous complaint in that they seemed to provide less information than was helpful. I realize you can't please all the people all the time, but I was hoping for a little bit more here.

At one point, I made a mistake in adding a continuation page, because it allowed the indexer the option of adding more information from the card being transcribed. Then, seeing what the continuation page looked like, I realized I had made a poor choice. The problem was: I couldn't find any way to undo the error! I was stuck in the cyber version of voice mail jail, trying every which way to make that page just go away, but no luck. I'm sure an arbitrator will be wondering about that one.

Despite all that, the new web-based program is easy to work with, and the visual composition is much easier on the eyes. There is even the element of fun added: when a finished project is submitted, virtual confetti floats from the top of the screen in celebration!

I'm sure the propensity to grumble about the new and prefer the familiar will eventually ease into a preference for the new way of indexing. The process progresses smoothly and seems—for the most part—to be intuitive. I'll eventually get over the information overload at the start of every session—although something in me resists their suggestion to print up the instructions for further reference.

One thing I do like about the new interface: it allows for people to join groups, or even set up groups. While there are only a few listed at this point, and all seem to be church-based, I envision this being a way for local genealogical societies to encourage their members to pitch in to complete targeted projects of interest to the particular society. Our society worked to get one collection online in the past, using the old indexing system, but I can see how this would work even better to encourage group efforts.

All in all, I believe the new design facilitates ease and speed of process. Hopefully, that will mean more projects get completed sooner, bringing additional records online at an even greater speed. 

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