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It’s Time to Sharpen Our Skills

May 3, 2012

It’s been just one month since the 1940 US census images were released for searching and indexing and already, the 132 million name indexing project is over 25% complete!  That means an incredible number of volunteers, including myself, have been hard at work indexing names and data.  I spent April indexing like crazy, and now that it’s a new month, I decided to take the plunge into arbitrating.

It’s been really interesting this week to see the indexing effort from the arbitrating side.  Each census image with its 40 names comprises one batch.  Each batch is indexed twice and then an arbitrator makes a final decision on any disagreements between the two indexers.  The more accurate the indexers are, the easier it is for the arbitrators, and the sooner we will see the indexes published.  And of course, the more accurate those indexes will be for people trying to find their family members.  (Currently there are searchable indexes for Delaware, Colorado, and Kansas.)

So it’s time to sharpen our skills as both indexers and arbitrators.  There are a number of resources to help us do just that:

  • The 1940 US Census Community Project website has links to the enumerator instructions for the 1940 census.  Find out what they were asked to record in the first place to better understand what you’ll be indexing.
  • Links to FamilySearch courses on how to use census records in your own family research
  • Basic Indexing Guidelines–These are guidelines for every indexing project, not just the census.  Becoming familiar with these will answer many questions that come up during the indexing process, especially for new volunteers.
  • 1940 Census specific instructions and project updates–Familiarity with these is also essential for this project.  As I’ve been arbitrating this week, it’s clear that many indexers out there are not aware of the guidelines and also some of the quirks of this census.
  • If you’re more of a visual learner like me, then this PDF slide presentation on the 1940 Census is even better.  This will walk you through every field that needs to be indexed.  I can read instructions all day, but some things don’t sink in until I actually see them.
  • Here is also a video on how to index the 1940 census:
I will also add in some of my own advice and observations:
  • Another set of eyes is so helpful!  No, don’t grow your own!  If you just can’t decipher something, ask someone else to take a look.  Sometimes they can see what you cannot.  I help A with his indexing, he and DH help me when I get stuck on a name.  When that fails, I do a share batch.  When you are indexing a batch, click on File, then click on Share Batch, and you’ll get a number which you can then give to someone else, enabling them to pull up the images you’re seeing and help you read them.  I’ve done this numerous times and many experienced indexers and arbitrators on both the FamilySearch Indexing facebook page and the Unofficial Share Batch Group for Indexing, also on facebook, have been so incredibly helpful.   Take advantage of their expertise and your own skills will grow!
  • Brush up on your cursive!  The Indexing Resource page has links to several different handwriting tutorials.  Again as an arbitrator, I’ve really been amazed at some of the interpretations of, what to me anyway, is very clear cursive writing.  (We won’t mention some of the very bad to begin with enumerator handwriting I’ve encountered!) I know that teaching cursive is becoming less of a priority in schools as our world becomes more digital.  As a homeschooler, I am making sure my children learn to read and write cursive, if for no other reason than to be able to read historical documents!  My oldest son is doing very well reading the handwriting on the census for the most part, but I suspect many other youth out there are not.  If you’re working with youth on this project, as I know many in the LDS church are, help them out!  The Ancestry Insider blog has a great post with examples of different cursive alphabets that can be printed out and used as a guide when indexing the census.
  • Keep at it!  The more you do, the better you will become.

If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time!  Visit to get going.

Disclaimer: “As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card.

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