Saturday, February 3, 2018

When the Help Isn't Helping:
Trying to Index

Have you ever volunteered for something, hoping to help out, but in the end wondering whether your contribution was helpful?

It's my regular time to participate in indexing online records at the FamilySearch website. I really appreciate the wealth of genealogical documentation presentedfor free!at this website, so I determined a long time ago to do what I could to help out.

Help: that's the rub.

This month, I decided to continue my efforts on the New York naturalizations collection. After all, there is a clearly defined set of documents which are to be included in that process of entering the data from hundred year old (or older) documents.

While that might have seemed to indicate clear-cut instructions, what I faced was less than obvious. For one thing, the collection reaches back to the earliest years of our countrystarting with records from 1792but records handwritten in that first few years do not look anything like the clearly laid out examples provided in the extensive help document.

Observation: when a volunteer isn't provided with clear instructions on what to do in such unusual exceptions, that volunteer is going to make mistakes. Take it from me: I probably blew that entire series of documents. Sorry, FamilySearch. I tried.

So, what do I do when I dismally bomb out on that attempt? Try again, of course. I am a glutton for punishment, evidentlyand game to mess up yet another collection in the process.

Luckily for the arbitrators of my botched batches, I stuck with my same trajectory and attempted a third try at those New York naturalization papers. At least by now, I knew the step-by-step instructions by heart; if only they'd apply to the as-yet unseen batch about to be served up to me, perhaps the third time would become the charm.

I'm not sure attempt number three will be any more helpful than the other miserable attempts at volunteering for this month, but at least the format looked more familiar and the blanks to be filled in had information that I could glean from the originals. That's a start. And I made it through all ten of the documents to be indexed. Encouraging.

The lesson here is that, while we may have good intentions in volunteering, there may come times when we make mistakes. Still, we learn as we go, and it's far better to learn by trying than by not doing anything at all. Eventuallyat least I hope so for FamilySearch's sakeI'll get the hang of this process and make less mistakes. Some day, I may even get through an entire batch without any mistakes. The bottom line is: keep on volunteering. Some helpat least I hope this is sois better than no help at all.

I'll be back at it again next month, hopefully with a more volunteer-friendly record set to work on.


  1. Jacqi,

    Admire you tenacity. I need to be more patient when I index. I pick the easier ones, but need to challenge myself more. Yes "it's far better to learn by trying than by not doing anything at all." I loved this article.

    1. Glad it inspired you, Grant. It really all comes down to being willing to do what you can do. Sometimes we have no idea of the level of difficulty we're about to face until we open up the file itself. One set done in a messy hand can increase the difficulty exponentially. Still, slow and steady on the easier files is just fine--it's the regular, consistent progress made that helps FamilySearch conquer that mountain of material that still needs indexing.

  2. I understand. I recently did some census records:)

    1. Oh, brave soul! Now, there's some challenging handwriting to tackle!


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