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FamilySearch indexing: What projects are next?

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

During 2012, FamilySearch saw a huge increase in the amount of indexing that was done, as well as an uptick in the number of indexers. Volunteers were able to complete the 1940 census, which had been sealed by the government for 72 years. Currently, all censuses leading up to 1940 are complete and online. Another census will not be available for nine more years.

So what does FamilySearch do in the meantime?

Michael Judson, manager of Indexing Workforce Development, gave some insight into current projects. Many indexing plans are set for this year and years to come.

Along with numerous other organizations, FamilySearch is working on three major campaigns. The first is the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project. The goal is to make it possible for everyone who has immigrant ancestors to discover and learn about those ancestors' stories online.

Another campaign is the Italian Ancestors Community Project. This is a massive effort, perhaps even more massive than the 1940 census, to index and publish Italian civil registrations such as births, marriages and deaths. This campaign will continue for a number of years.

FamilySearch is also working in Latin American countries, where indexing is not as well known as it is in the United States. Brazil and Mexico are two countries being assisted in indexing now, and other Latin American countries will soon follow.

The Granite Mountain Records Vault, an archive and vault owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contains 2 million rolls of microfilm which have not been indexed. These rolls contain billions of names. In addition to the contents of the vault, other new records are being gathered at the rate of about 35 million images per month. Each image contains one or more names.

Although FamilySearch continues to work on publishing those images, currently they are not searchable online. Judson pointed out three key needs that must be met in order to index all the films and images and eventually make those images searchable online.

The first and probably most important need is indexers, who will always be needed. The more indexers, the sooner all the images and films will be transcribed and searchable online.

"Anyone who is willing to invest a little effort and time can be good at indexing," Judson said. "FamilySearch works hard to make it possible for everyone and anyone to find their ancestors. As long as there are more records, we will try hard to acquire those records and get them published to make them available for others. The technology and tools are there; we just need more hands and time."

Judson said more arbitrators are needed as well. Arbitration is a crucial step in the process. After the images get indexed by two different volunteers, the system compares the data. If different, an arbitrator gets involved and decides which set of data is the right one.

"Since arbitrators have more indexing experience, they greatly help to raise the quality of the indexing world," said Judson.

And raising the quality of indexing work is the third need.

"Some people take on indexing as if they were in a race, but for the sake of quality and making sure the records can be searched and found, it's important to take the time and not tackle anything that is above their skill levels," Judson said.

Technological tools such as Facebook, FamilySearch's website and emailed newsletters are a big help to those who index. These tools contain tips and training materials, as well as recent updates. An indexing app for smartphones can also come in handy. Judson said FamilySearch will use the technology to improve user experiences and expand the system's capabilities.

When asked what indexing may look like 10 years down the road, Judson is hopeful the process will be easier and more accessible.

"I see indexing becoming more accurate, more personal, by having people be able to choose what they index and more interactive, with people being able to find their ancestors," said Judson. "I also hope people will be able to index from anywhere at any time on any platform. And soon, indexing will become more international. We have indexing going on right now in Africa, Europe and the Middle East."

Indexing is a great way to serve others and make it possible for people to discover their family history.

"Unless you have found an ancestor, you don't realize what an emotional feeling it can bring," Judson said. "Every time an indexer finds a name, they make that emotional connection possible."

Kylie Lewis is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and does other feature articles. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.

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