5 Things To Know About Indexing

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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Today I’m delving into another common genealogical topic – indexing. It’s one of my favorite ways to do genealogy because a) anyone can do it, even if they are a beginner and b) it’s a great way to spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours helping others.

While there are several different sites where you can do genealogical indexing, like Ancestry, JRI Poland (for Jewish records), Congregational Library & Archives, as well as the United States National Archives, I am going to mostly focus on the indexing that you can do on Family Search. By far, they have the largest amount of collection available currently for people to index. (I’m also going to do a step by step how to on indexing through FamilySearch very soon.)

5 Things To Know About Indexing


1) It’s free to do

If you do indexing through many of the sites above as well as FamilySearch,  while you have to initially sign up on the site, there is generally no cost to do so. Especially on FamilySearch, they’ve made it fairly easy to sign up and start indexing. There are no start-up costs or maintenance fees, so it’s a fun activity that you can do at any time without many if any restrictions.

2) It helps others to do their genealogy

Something that I love about indexing, is the fact that it is a great way to do service. While a lot of people focus on researching their own families, it is fulfilling to also help others discover records about their families. There are many records in genealogy world that are already indexed – whether you are on Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, or another site. But there are plenty more that need to be indexed. (I recently heard that at most about 25% of genealogical records are online. That’s a highly non-conservative number, but even if a quarter of genealogical records are online, most of those are not indexed.)

However, all those records which are indexed were done by people who weren’t necessarily related to the individuals on the document. But now that the documents are indexed, they can be used by other family historians and genealogists.

3) If you’ve ever done data entry, you can do indexing

One issue that I’ve heard come up, again and again, is the worry that a person can’t index because they’ve never done it before or they’ve never dealt with old documents before.

Well, if you can input data from one field into another, you can do indexing. FamilySearch’s program is especially great for beginners in this regard. You can filter the projects you want to work on by how easy the project is. All of the projects are categorized by the experience level needed to complete them.

Beginner is great for people just starting out. Most of the documents/projects are either typed documents or hand-printed documents (not necessarily written in cursive). So you don’t have to worry about dealing with intricate handwriting or hard to read documents.  Intermediate is perfect for people who have a good grasp of indexing and are comfortable with reading older or less legible handwriting (as well as cursive). This is the level that I usually choose to index at, and I find it a happy medium between too easy and too challenging. Lastly, there is Advanced, which are the most difficult indexing projects. These are usually documents that are faded, smudged, have hard handwriting to decipher or are generally older documents. I’ve been indexing documents on and off for almost 10 years and I’ve only done advanced projects once or twice. But if you are really good at reading faded or cursive handwriting, I would recommend looking at those projects as well. Worst case scenario, you can send the project back for someone else to work on.

4) If you can read a foreign language, your skills are needed.

FamilySearch Indexing has projects in a plethora of languages. While many of their projects are in English, they also have projects in Spanish, French, German, Afrikaans, Swedish, Portuguese, and many other languages. So if you are fluent in any of these languages, your skills are even more in demand! Many of the English language projects are quickly indexed (due to most indexers being native English speakers), but often the non-English projects linger due to few indexers being able to read them.

5) It can help you break down brick walls in your own family tree and improve your skills at genealogy research.

This is something that I’ve realized over the years as I’ve done indexing. Dealing with old documents (and being told what information is wanted for the project) has helped me to improve my own skills at genealogy research. For example, I’ve done a fair bit of naturalization papers indexing in the last few months. Before that, I hadn’t really dealt with the immigration aspect of my family tree. Mainly because I had no idea what to look for or where to start looking. But with indexing US naturalization paperwork, I’ve been able to familiarize myself with what the documents look like and what kind of information I can expect to find on them. Same with vital records. Birth, marriage, and death records vary from state to state and sometimes, from county to county. By indexing these records from around the country, I have an idea of what to look for and where.

Plus –  a lot of times, if I hit a brick wall, I’ll take a break from that family tree and do some indexing for a few days or weeks. More often than not, when I return to doing my research (usually a few months down the road), I’ll find information that I couldn’t before because a) indexing different records gave me ideas on new places to search and b) someone had indexed my ancestors’ records while I was doing other projects.

Questions? Comments?

Have any questions or comments about indexing? Fabulous stories of ancestors being found because of indexing projects (or while indexing?) Let me know down below! And if you like what you’ve been seeing here 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 access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!

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