When I first met my future in-laws, they showered me with gifts and kindnesses in an obvious attempt to let me know I was a welcome addition to the family. The gesture worked, and we instantly bonded. The “honeymoon” with my in-laws continued until our first child was born; then things changed. Suddenly I wasn’t the focus anymore. It was a tough new reality. However, in time, I managed to make the transition to my new situation, and things worked out fine.
From April through July of this year, indexers and arbitrators have had a delightful “honeymoon” with one of the easiest and most exciting record collections to come along in years. The 1940 US Census was the indexing equivalent of being pampered and showered with gifts. It was fun, exciting, and relatively easy. It was the perfect beginner project—modern, familiar, and predictable—and it gave experienced indexers something to work on that was both relaxing and satisfying.
And then it all ended.
A New Reality
So now we get to adjust to a new reality, a reality in which we have to face the fact that we’ve run out of popular US census records (at least until 2022 when the 1950 US Census is released). Now, we get to choose from over 150 current indexing projects, which means transcribing information from a variety of records.
These records have been kept by different government, religious, and legal institutions, each with their own methods record-keeping, and recorders with varying levels of education and wildly varying handwriting. Because of this, records from different collections are going to be as different from one another as they are alike. Indexing these records will take a willingness to adjust, learn new skills, and even suffer some disappointment once in a while when a batch fails to meet our expectations.
For those who assumed the need for indexers ended with the completion of the 1940 US Census project, here’s more news:
There are still thousands of projects waiting to be indexed with literally billions of names waiting to become searchable.
It would be wonderful if all genealogical records were easy and predictable, but that’s not going to be the case. So how do we adjust to this new reality? Here are some suggestions:
- Stick with one project until you get good at it. Every project is unique with new rules to adjust to. Once you have mastered a given project’s quirks, things will go much smoother.
- Choose projects in a familiar language and from a familiar place—the more familiar, the better, and the more accurate your indexing will be.
- Find a friend who will index with you, at least until you get comfortable with the records you’re working on. It helps to have a second set of eyes looking at the handwriting or watching for new indexing rules. And it might make your indexing more fun.
- Return batches that are too challenging. Once in a while, you may get a batch that is beyond your skill set. If that happens, there’s no shame in sending it back for someone else to work on. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and knowing our limitations is always better than guessing.
Whether you index records from the US Immigration and Naturalization Community Project, the Italian Ancestors project, or any of the nearly 200 available indexing projects currently available, what matters is that you continue to do your part so ancestors can be remembered and found. As you index, remember that each name you complete is one more name that someone will be able to find—and one more heartfelt connection that someone is going to make to his or her past.