How to Add to Online Records: FamilySearch Indexing

FamilySearchHave you ever looked at an 1850 US Census record? The actual handwritten page? Have you wondered where all of that typed translation came from? The act of typing a record’s information into a file associated with the original handwritten record is called digitizing, or indexing.

Indexing is a way to add legible information from vital records, census records, shipping manifests and other records that are handwritten, original, and in questionable legibility at best. It’s a simple process.

This is a fun, easy, quick way to help other genealogical researchers on the fly. You can work for hours, or just take 10 minutes to do a little work. You can even work offline; the FamilySearch indexing system requires each user to download a small program that allows for storage, error checking, and active editing when online or offline. If you are online, you will have the option to upload completed projects, projects that are near their expiration date, or incomplete projects that were too long or too difficult for you. There’s no shame in not finishing any project – after you upload it, someone else will have a chance to finish it instead. Every key stroke helps someone else with his or her family history work.

  1. Go to
  2. Click on “Indexing” at the top of the page.
  3. Click on the green “Test Drive” button if you want to see how it works, or just dive in by clicking on the green “Get Started” button.
  4. Click on “Download Now”
  5. The program will download and you are ready to start choosing records to index.

When you choose records to index, remember that you are a beginner. There are ratings of difficulty for each project. If you speak a different language from English, by all means use it! There are plenty of records in German, for instance.

Once you’ve chosen your records, open one and look carefully. Someone else might have started the work and you’re just finishing their efforts. Also, someone might have started the work badly and you’ll need to correct that before moving on. You can save all of your work to your hard drive, and save all unopened record files as well.

Records, like milk, have a shelf life. In order to keep the work moving forward, each record has about two weeks. This means that any unopened or incomplete record file that you keep on your hard drive will need to be returned by the date that appears on the main page area of each record. Respect these rules by either completing or returning work and you will keep the flow of work steady.

I like to think of each name I transcribe as an individual person. Then, I think about the searchers who may be looking for this evidence. I picture their excitement at finding a record they needed to solve a puzzle or answer a question. Though the system sounds very automated, I find it to be quite personal.

It’s also the ultimate payback to a (mostly) open, pleasant and willing community of researchers who have done the same type of work on records you’ve probably used.

I hope that you will join an ever-growing group of people who help one another out without expectation of credit or reward. It’s a fine way to spend a few minutes a day, adding to the positive information and energy in the world of family history research.