Saturday, November 21, 2020

Instead of Indexing, Trying Something New


Usually, I try to spend one Saturday a month "giving back," as I call it, for all the helpful genealogical resources which volunteers have shared online over the years. We often forget, now that we benefit from subscription services to aid our family history quests, that for many years, it was only thanks to volunteer efforts that we could find many of the records to piece together our family's story.

Now, besides volunteering for my local genealogical society, I try to focus some of that "giving back" time through what is likely the largest volunteer genealogical organization in the world: the people behind the website we know as That's where you'll generally find me doing that monthly project called indexing.

Today, however, when I went on the FamilySearch website to index records, I spotted this button on the landing page:

I decided to check it out. After all, I do have a weakness for rabbit trails, and this one looked intriguing—not to mention, my latest foray into Polish geography already had me warmed up for this exercise. With Google Maps and Wikipedia, I was ready to tackle anything!

When I clicked the button labeled "Try It," unlike Alice in her adventures chasing the White Rabbit, I didn't shrink to microscopic size, nor grow to gargantuan heights. In fact, my adventure was quite tame and even predictable.

The first page that tentative click led me to was a list of simple instructions, explaining that I would be shown a "user-entered place" from the FamilySearch family tree. Along with that would be some examples of related lifetime events which might also contain that same place name. My mission was to identify which of several standard place names might represent the name listed in that user's part of the universal family tree. Decision made, click the choice and move to the next in a short series of entries needing verification.

To start the process, I could exercise the option to select a location to work on, mainly by country. I opted for the tame route today, and selected United States for my choice. It's been a rough research week in Poland, and I just needed to stay closer to home for this maiden volunteer voyage.

Jumping into the program itself, it was clear some of the examples came from headings on census pages—you know, the type which lists not only the city of Toledo, for instance, but the specific ward in the city. Some entries mentioned lesser-known places—like Pigeon Roost, Kentucky. A quick search via Google led me to the Wikipedia page for Clay County, Kentucky, where a subheading under the Communities section showed a listing of historic place names used in previous census enumerations—including Pigeonroost, spelled all in one word, solving the puzzle for that one entry. Easy.

All told, I think the batch of place names to verify included about ten. I was done with the set in no time, even including detours to double check place names via Google and Wikipedia. Hopefully, FamilySearch will keep offering these quick and easy volunteer options, giving willing volunteers bite-sized pieces to dispatch in a matter of moments. And the genealogical community will find ways to fit in these easy-to-complete tasks in their own personal "giving back" profile.


Images above: First, the "Try Me" button from the home page at; below, John Tenniel's illustration of "Drink Me" in the Lewis Carroll children's story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.



  1. I think it is wonderful you do this.

    1. Thank you, Miss Merry. Just wanting to help out in whatever small way I can. Would love it if you would give it a try, as well!

  2. The standardized place names are the current ones, not the historical ones found in records. That is misleading, especially in Eastern Europe where even the countries changed over time. Who recognizes the current placename as relating to one's family back then??

    1. That's a good point you mention! However, as this was my first visit to that particular volunteer opportunity, I have yet to see how such instances will be handled.

      For this first visit, I selected "United States" for my record set, and the options served up to me were all from census records in the 1900s. The only one not a current place name was the Pigeonroost example I mentioned, which was still easily located via Wikipedia, and was an option provided by FamilySearch in agreement, so hopefully they will be sensitive to place names from the concurrent time frame. I'm sure they will adapt as needed as the program is rolled out and more people volunteer to participate.

  3. Thanks for sharing all of your genealogy adventures.
    I tried this standardizing place names once and stopped quickly. I think the Family Search location field needs to get a lot more sophisticated before I am willing to change the location on a stranger's Family Search page. Kay the Gardener noted in the comment above the problem that Family Search wants the current, not historical, location. Often the current location is not where the records are - example, all the county boundary changes in Pennsylvania. I was blithely changing a location to what Family Search wanted for "standardization" when I stopped and went back to the record. Family Search did not "like" the location on the record. I had no knowledge of the location or the family so I put the original location back. This volunteer opportunity has to be used with great caution.

    1. Janet, thanks for drawing out that illustration a bit further. This could indeed create problems. Hopefully, FamilySearch will assess the unintended implications and revise their approach.


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