Beginner’s Guide to Indexing on FamilySearch

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Welcome to Tenacious Genealogy! I hope everyone is staying healthy and sane during this time. It’s been a busy and strange few months (for everyone, I’m sure), but I wanted to post on a subject that is both near and dear to my heart and something that you can do from the comfort of your own home during a quarantine – indexing records on FamilySearch.

FamilySearch is one of many genealogical and historical sites that allow you to index or transcribe historical records. Because of its connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and other organizations, FamilySearch has one of the largest collection of records available to index. It’s also one of the easiest places (that I’ve found) to be able to sign up and start indexing. I’ve indexed on and off since 2008 (has it really been that long???) and it was something that I enjoyed doing during my free time during college.

Fun Fact: When the 1940 US Federal Census was released in 2012, it was the most quickly indexed federal census (as of then), partially because the National Archives joined with FamilySearch to get the census indexed.

Fun Fact #2: One of my graduate school professors (who also worked at the National Archives around that time) noted that the first state in the 1940 US Federal Census to be fully indexed was…. Utah.

Either way, there are still plenty of records to index on FamilySearch in a variety of languages, so even if English isn’t your native language or you are able to fluently read in another language, you can still find records to index.

Step 1: Sign up for Family Search

FamilySearch is super easy to sign up for. Here are a couple of screenshots to get you started. If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you’ll be asked to put your Membership Record Number in both to verify that you are a member and to access certain collections that FamilySearch has. But beyond that, it’s fairly similar to signing up on other sites – asking for an email address and creating a username and password, etc.

Front page of FamilySearch.org. Young child holding a picture of an ancestor. Green arrow point to 'Create Account' button on upper right hand side of page. FamilySearch Indexing
If you don’t have an account with FamilySearch, you can easily create one by clicking the ‘Create Account’ button in the upper right hand corner.
First screen in creating a free FamilySearch account. Boxes asking for First Name, Last Name, Birth Date, Sex/Gender, and whether or not you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch indexing
First page in creating an account on FamilySearch.org

Step 2: Go to ‘Indexing’ and click on ‘Web Indexing’

Once you have an account with FamilySearch and have logged in, go to the top of the page and find ‘Indexing’. From there, there is a drop-down menu. The second option down is ‘Web Indexing’ and that’s where you’ll want to click.

Top row of functions on FamilySearch page. The word 'Indexing' is highlighted in a yellow box. FamilySearch Indexing
Click on ‘Indexing’ and a drop-down menu will appear. One of the options is ‘Web Indexing’. Click on that.

Step 3: Click on ‘Find Batches’

On the top right-hand side of the ‘Web Indexing’ page, there will be an area showing what batches of records you’ve been working on. If you don’t have any, click on the blue ‘Find Batches’ button which will bring up another screen showing you what batches of record are available for indexing.

Screenshot of the 'Web Indexing' page on FamilySearch. FamilySearch Indexing
Click on the blue button ‘Find Batches’ to find collections of records that need indexing

Step 4: Set your Filters

In the new screen, you will see a number of batches/collections that need to be indexed and/or reviewed. On the left-hand side, you’ll find a few filters to help you screen which types of records you want to work with. The two main filters are ‘difficulty level’ (which I set mine to ‘intermediate’) and ‘language’. If you’re just starting out with indexing records of any kind, I’d recommend ‘Beginning’ as most of those records will be similar and the information in the record is generally typed out as opposed to hand-written. ‘Intermediate’ is good for people who are familiar with historical documents, old handwriting, or have indexed records fairly regularly for a few years. ‘Advanced’ (in my opinion) is for people who are extremely knowledgeable already in the type of document or era that they would be indexing. I’ve tried indexing ‘Advanced’ documents a few times in the past and they tend to be more smudged, faded, or have parts that are in multiple languages (English, French, Latin, etc all in one record). I found they were records that required more focus in order to do correctly.

You can also use the Search bar to look for batches from a certain place or including a certain type. So if I wanted to do records from Michigan, I could search for records only coming from there, or if I wanted to do only naturalization records, I could limit my search to only those types of records. You can also sort the record batches in a variety of ways, including completeness, alphabetical order, and how new the collection is.

Screenshot of indexing batches. FamilySearch Indexing

Step 5: Find a batch to index

Once you’ve settled on the filters that you want to use, choose a batch. If you’re just starting out, definitely choose one that you feel comfortable with. As you gain more experience, you can explore other document types, places, or difficulties. If you choose a batch and then realize that you’re in over your head, that’s fine too. You can always send the batch back and choose another one.

Step 6: Start indexing!

Lastly, start indexing and have fun. Each batch will come with its own set of instructions – following those will help make the indexing easier and more productive. The instructions will also give you links to different examples if you have questions. And while it’s important to do your best while working on these records, don’t get too anxious about being ‘perfect’. One thing I like about FamilySearch and their indexing is that each batch goes through multiple checks, so multiple people are able to review the work that has been done.

Questions? Comments?

Questions or comments about this post? Any tips for other indexers? Let me know in the comments! And if you like what you’ve been seeing on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get freebies such as ‘10 Tips For Starting your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber-only’ items.

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