Indexing: don’t stop now!

Keep it going!

The entire genealogical community can give itself a great big collective pat on the back — or, in honor of the Olympics, a collective laurel leaf of victory.

As of yesterday, 2 August 2012, only four short months after the release of the 1940 U.S. census, it was clear that the crowdsourced effort to create a comprehensive index to the 132 million names recorded in that census was reaching its goal.

Logging in to the 1940 census indexing project left would-be indexers staring at the list of projects needing indexers in bemusement — there were none, not one, nada, zip, zilch, for English speakers for the 1940 U.S. census.1 And the tally stood at 99.98% complete.

Oh, there’s more to be done, for sure, to get the final index for every jurisdiction online. Arbitration isn’t finished, and the data processing has some work left. But the crowdsourced indexing — it’s done.

And not only did the indexing get done, quickly, for free, by volunteers, the results show that it was done well — not perfectly, of course, but solidly. Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings did a series of comparisons of the indexing results from the 1940 census project and from and found that the crowdsourced effort had an error rate about half that of the competing commercially-produced index.2 And a similar comparison by Ancestry Insider also showed good solid indexing — better than the commercial index — by the crowdsource volunteers.3

And not only did the indexing get done well, but just one month ago — on 2 July — more than 46,000 indexers around the world staged a one-day marathon that racked up more than 10 million indexed and arbitrated names in a 24-hour period.4 Not all of those were the U.S. census of course — but many of them, perhaps even most of them, were part of this effort.

Wow. Just plain wow.

So… what do we do for an encore?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to quit. I’ve actually enjoyed starting off my day with an indexing batch, and doing one last batch before signing off the computer at bedtime.

Why? First off, indexing is fun. Unlike my apparently-never-ending search through every record type known to mankind for the parents of my second great grandfather George Washington Cottrell, doing an indexing batch is quick and gives me the immediate gratification of knowing that I did something useful and productive.

Second, indexing is a good way to pay the genealogical community back for all the help I’ve gotten from others in locating records of importance to my family (absent, of course, any record of said parents of my second great grandfather).

Third, by choosing which set of records I want to work on, I can personally contribute to progress in getting an index for the records I use most often (such as the Kentucky and Texas records that should, but haven’t yet begun to, help locate said parents of my second great grandfather).

There are a lot more records waiting to be indexed at FamilySearch. The next big project for us red-white-and-blue types is the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Community Project including passenger lists from some of the smaller port cities and court records of naturalizations.

If immigration doesn’t float your boat, there’s much, much more. There are land allotment records in Oklahoma. Catholic Church records in Chicago. County marriage records in Tennessee and Texas. And World War I draft registrations in New Jersey. Just to name a few.

And if you’re not in the U.S., that’s no reason not to index. There’s a wide variety of international records just waiting for your special skills. Indexing projects range from Argentine parish registers and Bahamian civil registration records to Swedish church books and Venezuelan parish registers, and just about everything in between.

So how ’bout it? Let’s keep it going, shall we? Just because we’re done with the 1940 census, that’s no reason to quit now.


  1. There were a few pages left, in Spanish, for the 1940 census in Puerto Rico as of yesterday.
  2. See Randy Seaver, 1940 U.S. Census Index Comparisons, “Post 1: Methodology,” posted 16 Jul 2012, “Post 2: Carringer in California,” posted 16 Jul 2012, “Post 3: Seaver in California, Part 1,” posted 17 Jul 2012, “Post 4: Seaver in California, Part 2,” posted 17 Jul 2012, “Post 5: Seaver in California, Part 3,” posted 19 Jul 2012, “Post 6: McKnew in California,” posted 20 Jul 2012, and “1940 U.S. Census Comparisons – Summary and Conclusions,” posted 23 Jul 2012 Genea-Musings ( : accessed 2 Aug 2012).
  3. Versus FamilySearch Indexing Quality,” Ancestry Insider, posted 31 Jul 2012 ( : accessed 2 Aug 2012).
  4. Jen Anderson, “FamilySearch Indexers Leave a Legacy in a Record Setting Event,” FamilySearch Blog, posted 5 Jul 2012 ( : accessed 2 Aug 2012).
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5 Responses to Indexing: don’t stop now!

  1. Beth says:

    You used all the reasons that cause me to index! It’s great to be able to do something for others without having to get dressed. Your list is well stated. My hidden passion is also my second great grandfather, only his name is Lot Wright and he may have been born in Pennsylvania about 1811 – or that’s when his space ship landed…

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      What is it with these second great grandfathers, Beth? I’m beginning to think the spaceship theory makes the most sense!!

    • Debi Ham says:

      Beth – I’ve seen the name “Lot Wright” on some legal documents for some of my ancestors (can’t remember offhand if it was on my Ohio people or my South Carolina people but I could check it out later if you’d like). I want to say he was a J.P. or lawyer; something along those lines. I don’t know how common a name it is, but if you’d like me to follow up further let me know. You can email me at

  2. Emily Garber says:

    And don’t forget that there are other organization-sponsored indexing projects that can use volunteer help. Many local societies have projects. If one’s local genealogy group does not have an indexing project, look online to see if there are any in your other research areas.

    Before jumping on board with the FamilySearch 1940 U.S. Census project I did several stints indexing for ItalianGen which specializes in New York City records – a wonderful resource! After a short rest, I’ll probably contact John Marino again and tell him I’m ready to take on another set of records.

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