Saturday, April 11, 2020

Now Indexing:
More New York Naturalization Records

I'm back at digital volunteer work today. I'm still hoping that someday, I'll be sitting at my usual online indexing tasks and will finally get the chance to add a record of my own ancestor to the searchable collection at After all, my more recent immigrant ancestors came to this country through the port of New York City—and they couldn't have taken all their secrets with them when they passed to their grave. I'm seeking the paper trail they left behind.

Thus, every two weeks, you'll find me at my computer, chipping away at the various naturalization record projects still needing indexing at Indexing is an organized program to convert pictures of documents into computer-searchable files. That's what makes genealogical pursuit a breeze now, compared to the days before computers: go to a genealogy website, type in a name (and perhaps a bit more detail) and click a button to be served up a long list of every scanned record which could possibly contain information on your ancestor.

Compare that with the "good old days" when researchers sent their snail-mail-delivered written requests to targeted county clerks across the country—along with a check to pay for services—in hopes of locating the birth, marriage, or death certificate for that one missing ancestor's verification. Of course, back then, chances were strong that said clerk might respond—after months since dispatching that letter—with an answer that there was no record of any such person.

Now, satisfaction can be instantaneous—if, that is, such a record has been digitized and indexed so that the computer search can be completed. All to say, if no one has done the work of translating the picture of that document into text which a computer can recognize—a.k.a. "indexed"—that handy search function cannot be performed.

Thus, an army of volunteers from around the world is regularly going through the process of doing that translation service. Anyone who is willing to volunteer their time to do so, and willing to learn via a few project instructions, can serve as an indexer. The work is "batched" into small chunks of records which can be typed into a pre-set form in about ten minutes or less. Once you get the hang of doing one batch of records, you can either submit the batch and call it quits for the day, or opt to continue with another ten-minute batch. Or two. Or more.

Easy, right? That's why so many people have volunteered to do indexing—thankfully. Indexers are people from all ages and all walks of life: private individuals, genealogical societies—even extended families, working together in a private group. But even with as many willing hands as have participated in the process over the years, there are far more records still being added to the collection than volunteers can keep up with, hence the need, always, for more volunteers. 

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