FamilySearch indexers are nearing the end of their own “Olympic” marathon. Is this the end—or just the beginning of something even bigger?
Let the games begin! After four long years, we finally get to enjoy another exciting version of that international celebration of sport known as the Olympic Games. Few events at the Olympics symbolize human achievement like the marathon. Approximately 26.2 miles in length, the marathon demands exceptional fitness, incredible determination and a willingness to sacrifice personal well being to achieve glory for flag and country.
FamilySearch indexers are nearing the end of their own marathon called the 1940 US Census Community Project. It’s been a challenge, but incredibly, we’ve broken records with every step. Now we’re in the final stretch with the finish line rapidly approaching. Glory awaits, but as every athlete knows, you have to “push through the tape” and cross the finish line before the race is won. If our “race” continues to go as well as it has, indexers and arbitrators will reach the finish within days.
Olympic marathoners end their race on the track inside the main Olympic stadium. When the first runner clears the service tunnel leading from the streets outside the stadium and begins to “kick” toward the finish one-half lap away, thousands of fans erupt in a deafening cheer. It is a spine-tingling moment, charged with emotion. After more than two hours of intense individual effort, suddenly there are tens of thousands to help push weary legs the final 300 meters.
The adrenaline rush in those moments is exhilarating and the race-ending flood of emotions, ranging from relief to amazement to sheer ecstasy, can be overwhelmingly powerful. It’s that same well-deserved feeling we would wish for every 1940 US Census Community Project indexer and arbitrator who has tenaciously stuck with this marathon indexing effort from the starting gun to the finish line.
To you who have given your all to this project and tirelessly pushed through the indexing equivalent of heavy legs, shortness of breath, and doubts about your ability to endure, we can only hope in these final days of the project that you can somehow feel the silent but enthusiastic cheers of the literally tens of millions who are the recipients of your great gift.
The Victor’s Crown
The traditional symbol of Olympic victory is a gold medal, but anciently the symbol was the laurel wreath, woven from the supple branches and leaves of a wild olive tree. The 1940 US Census Community Project represents a major victory. Only the most wildly optimistic individuals would have suggested that the entire census could be indexed and arbitrated in less than 4½ months. But that’s precisely what we, the genealogical community, have done. It’s an achievement without parallel.
Among the project’s myriad astonishing statistics is the number of people who contributed to the creation of the US 1940 Census index. To date that number is hovering near 155,000—enough to make a decent-sized city—and it continues to climb even as we head into the home stretch. The enthusiasm for this project and for indexing in general is such an inspiration!
For all who have participated, from those who arbitrated thousands of names to those who indexed a single batch, we offer the victor’s laurel, a badge you can proudly display to show your part in making history. More celebrating lies ahead, but that can wait until we all cross the finish line together as the last of the full index is published to the world. Stay tuned for more about that in the near future.
The Start of a New Trend?
For now, let’s consider one of the “unintended consequences” of the 1940 US Census Community Project and another comparison to the Olympic marathon. The year was 1972. The setting was Munich, Germany. From the field of more than 70 competitors, a relatively unknown American named Frank Shorter emerged and surprised the world by beating the rest of the field by more than two minutes. His stunning victory was such an inspiration to Americans that it fueled a national running craze that continues to this day.
Great moments in history can inspire generations to take action and accomplish even greater feats. What greater achievements will the memory of the 1940 US Census Community Project inspire? Already it has swept up more participants than any other project of its type in history, but there are billions of additional records still waiting to be indexed. Could the 1940 US Census experience mark the beginning of a new culture of group giving in the genealogical community? We now know what we’re capable of accomplishing—is there any reason we shouldn’t just continue?
If your answer to that question is a resounding, “NO!,” then you’ll be pleased to learn about the US Immigration & Naturalization Community Project. It’s the sequel to the 1940 US Census project and records from this project are already available for indexing (just look for the “US (Community Project)” label).
If you need a rest from the “marathon,” everyone will understand. But if you’re thinking the 1940 US Census was just a good warm up and are wondering just how much more we can accomplish in the future, then get on board and full steam ahead! The race to remember our immigrant ancestors has just begun!