Crowdsourcing. I love it. I use it all the time. Do you? This morning I spent quite a bit of time on Ravelry looking up free knitting patterns for cowls using Ravelry's fabulous database - largely constructed by all the wonderfully generous knitters in the world who are on Ravelry.
I thought I would give back some of the love but in another of my favourite areas - genealogy. And so today I signed up to become an indexer on the Family Search website in anticipation of the Worldwide Indexing event on July 20 and 21. Yes that's today here in Australia but we're waiting for the rest of the world to catch up ;)
When I told my husband I was indexing, he made the remark "Whatever that is...." and so I felt the need to explain to him and anyone else who doesn't understand the concept. When I signed up to index today, I was lucky enough to be given a batch of records from the Hobart Public Cemetery in Tasmania. The batch was for September 1946. A new batch I've just downloaded is for 1941.
Why do we need to index? Well, if you were looking for a burial record for an ancestor, it would be a bit disheartening to be presented with the registers for a particular cemetery and to have to go through them page by page looking for your ancestor. You might not know when they died or if they were even buried at this particular cemetery. Indexing the records in the register gives researchers an access point for discovering more information about their forebears.
It's really important to remember that the records we use as family history researchers were not designed with us in mind. The undertaker completing the register is doing his or her work in a linear or chronological fashion e.g. Today I buried Mrs Smith in Plot 6724 and Miss Jones in Plot 6725 in the Catholic Section and then Baby Davis in Plot 5719 in the Anglican section. Frankly I don't know much about undertaking (and it's probably worth my while finding out a bit more) but I hope you see what I mean. So, the indexer's task is to enter data into the pertinent fields - e.g. Surname, First Name - which creates a database for researchers to search.
Obviously the biggest challenge facing researchers is handwriting. If you're employed to dig graves, elegant handwriting may not be your forte. The records that I have been indexing are mostly typed though so this hasn't been such a bother. There was one handwritten one though and I really tried hard to decipher it without much success. That's where a knowledge of the local area comes in handy so you can recognize place names. Thankfully I was in Tasmania a fortnight ago so it is a real joy to see the names of some of the places that we visited. Family Search has also set up some really helpful Handwriting Resource Help Pages.
I have to say that Family Search have gone out of their way to make the process as easy as possible with helpful video tutorials and lots of FAQ online so really, you could almost say it is a doddle.
So please would you consider becoming an indexer on Family Search? It doesn't take much time and it's always nice to do something for someone else isn't it ? Even if they never know you did it for them. Together we can all achieve so much just by doing a little bit. And who knows, you may just find that "missing" ancestor or break down that brick-wall.
And if you want to have a sense of how many others are out there indexing over the next couple of days you can join DearMyrtle's GeneaSleepover Hangout on Air which promises to supply 24 hours non-stop Gene News, information, interviews and demos. What a blast. I love sleepovers don't you?