Is Arbitration Really Data’s Last Chance? Yes and No.
Some indexers are afraid of arbitrating because they believe, appropriately, that their choices will determine what gets published on FamilySearch.org. Make a mistake and it will be etched in stone forever, right? Well, maybe not.
We all appreciate arbitrators who take their job seriously. But some take it so seriously that the thought of making a mistake that could possibly handicap their fellow genealogists in perpetuity makes them shy away from arbitrating altogether. For such individuals, and at the other extreme, for all those indexers who fairly demand that FamilySearch “stop the presses” every time they find an arbitration error, here are some comforting thoughts.
- All indexing values from both indexers and the arbitrator are preserved in the FamilySearch database. At some future date, if needed, all three could be published side-by-side and made searchable.
- In the future, when FamilySearch publishes its public family tree, patrons will likely have the ability to make corrections or add alternative information, giving more richness to the collection.
- Also likely, in the future will be the ability for patrons to index individual records that they come across in their research, essentially on-the-fly. These researchers will likely be more familiar with the records than the average indexer and will provide a higher-quality index.
- Computers are getting smarter all the time and in some future scenarios it may be possible to “teach” them to read handwriting so accurately that they will surpass the capabilities of both the casual and experienced indexer. This sounds futuristic but may, in reality, be closer than most would guess.
The bottom line: as “final” as arbitration seems, its effect is only permanent for now. This is not an admission that FamilySearch has a lax attitude about quality. We are way too concerned about accuracy to ever stop looking for ways to lead people to a true understanding of their ancestors. After all is said and done, none of this effort matters if people can’t connect with the people who are their actual ancestors.
But we all need to have the proper perspective on the issue. Arbitrators will always need to be concerned about quality. They will always have to make hard calls on which indexer is right and which is not. But they should be able to relax more knowing that FamilySearch has their back. It’s a delicate balance we walk between quality and quantity and there is room for improvement on both fronts.
This post is 6 of 6 in a series of articles that reveal the mysteries of arbitration.