How to Index
By Dale E. Lee


  • What is Indexing?
  • Why is it important?
  • Getting Started.
  • Find a project.
  • Find a batch.
  • Read the Project Instructions.
  • Extract the record(s).
  • Utilize what you’ve learned.


What is Indexing?

OK. I admit the term Indexing is probably a misnomer. Maybe they should have called it Digitizing. But the reason they called it Indexing was to allow the document to be digitized and then entered into a computer database as text and afterward to build an Index on it.

Computer indexes use the same concept as normal library card and or other indexes do. They make it much quicker to find the information you’re looking for. Indexes do not contain all of the information. They contain just enough to find the location of the information you are looking for. Once you know the location, you can go pick it up and study it.

For example, a normal library card index has a numbering system called the Dewey Decimal System. It is nothing more than a numerical system that categorizes books into specific groups of numbers. When looking for a particular kind of book, such as deep-sea diving, it allows you to know where the books on deep sea diving will be located in the library. The Book Title can be searched for in the index, and the card will contain the Dewey Decimal Number pointing to the location in the Library. You can then go to the location in the library by using the labels placed on the shelves that indicate the general location of books of that kind and search for the specific number of the book itself after locating the label.

This is much the way a computer uses database indexes. It creates an index based on a unique number or text string and associates it with information in the database. When a query is made looking for the information, it can quickly and efficiently look up the information and display back the item or similar items found based on the index.

When you digitize information from hand-written or type-written documents, you allow the computer to add the data to the database and to build an index on it to help others when searching for it. The data is not very helpful if you can’t query on it. You may have millions of records to go through to find the one you are interested in unless an index is built to speed up the process.

Why is it important?

Indexing is important because billions of records have been created over time which have not yet been put into a computer. Within my lifetime we have gone from being required in some cases to physically go to the location to see the records, to where now, most record repositories are willing to allow their records to be digitized, searched, and indexed. This saves them time, money and space.

I recently heard a story of someone that was looking for an ancestor for many years (50 if I remember correctly). Then one day, the ancestor’s record popped in a database search and they had exactly what they were looking for all that time. Why? Someone had finally digitized and indexed the record for them.

Many people either appreciate the fact that others have donated time to the indexing effort or wish they would so they can continue their research. Records are being indexed every day and millions of records have already been added to databases worldwide.

Getting Started

Many different databases are adding records daily, including,, GenealogyBank,, etc. Of these, is free for researchers and invites them to volunteer with the indexing effort. By helping index, you help many others find their ancestors. I will be discussing how to contribute to building the FamilySearch database. There are millions of records which have been microfilmed and are now being digitized (which in this sense is simply taking a digital picture of a microfilm page), and which need to be indexed.

You can create an account with FamilySearch for free by going to and creating an account. This allows you to build your own Family Tree for free and contribute to the Indexing effort. Once you sign on, look for a menu item called Indexing. If you click on Indexing, you will see a drop-down list that includes an Overview. I suggest you go through the Overview and the Guided Tour to familiarize yourself with the indexing program.

Find a Project

When you are ready to start indexing, you can click on Find a Project and look for a project you want to help with. Projects are continuously starting and finishing. Once a project has been completed, it is no longer available for indexing. Choose a region of the world where you feel most comfortable based on the skills you have. For example, if you know German, you may feel comfortable extracting German records. The Find a Project menu item will display the projects available for a particular geographic area of the world. However, be careful that you don’t take a project that is at a level higher than your capabilities. Even if you know German, you’ll probably want to start at a beginner or intermediate level, as older records use older hand-writing and are far more difficult to extract.

Find a batch

Once you pick a Project for a particular area of the world, click on Start Indexing Now. If you were already working on another project and want to continue to index on that same project, you can go to Web Indexing instead of Find a Project.

In either situation, you will be presented a batch. A batch is a set of documents considered to take a short amount of time to complete. Some batches will have one document, some four or five, and some ten or even more, depending on the level of difficulty in extracting the record. They recognize that if difficult to extract, they don’t want to hold up too many records for the sake of one, so the batch size has been adjusted accordingly.

Read the Project Instructions

When the batch opens up, it will display instructions on how to index the data. Even if you have done indexing before, be sure you understand the instructions for this particular project. Each project has its own set of instructions, and those instructions vary widely. Do not wing it. Instructions can change over time, and different projects have different sets of instructions.

Instructions will show examples of the kinds of records you will be indexing. The picture of the image can be zoomed in and out. If you can’t see it clearly, zoom in and make the letters larger. You can also click and drag the image to shift up and down and sideways. Examples will also be given of where to locate the data to be extracted on the image. The examples point to the individual fields to be extracted by sequence number and tell you what the data is called, and give an example from the image. For example, if field 2 is used in the example as a Given Name, it will state 2. Given Names: Robert, and will indicate where on the image Robert can be found. Robert will then be entered in the data entry form to the left of the image for field 2.

Be sure to follow instructions on how to record missing information. Most of the time this will be entered using a Ctrl+B key and will show up in the entry as < Blank >. But that can vary.

If this particular project has record formats that are similar but not exactly the same in all circumstances, such as when a state changes its method of recording over time, additional examples showing the differences in the format of the records will be presented since a particular batch could have either or both formats assuming it has more than one document to extract.

Extract the record(s)

Each set of documents contains its own set of challenges. You will need to become familiar with the format the information is being recorded in and how it relates to what is being recorded. For example, a Birth certificate will contain different information than a Land Tract record. The headings on the page may indicate information that is common to all of the entries below it. And there is even the possibility that the information is being written free form using no format at all.

When extracting data from a record, one of the most important things to do is whenever you come across a word or a letter that you cannot understand, compare that word or letter to others on the same or different pages. The person writing the information will normally use the same style of handwriting through the whole document, so if you cannot understand if the letter is an “a” or an “e” or an “o”, compare it to the same letter in another place in the document to find similarities. You can often find the same character in a different word that gives away what it is due to the context of the word or sentence.

If you still can’t understand the letter because it doesn’t exist anywhere else on the page, you can get examples of old hand-writing by clicking on the icon showing a pen. Handwriting has changed over time, and the examples they give can help when you can’t determine them. If you are extracting international languages and using an American typewriter, you can get a list of international characters by clicking on the ñ icon.

Do your best and correct when needed. Once you feel comfortable you’ve completed all the records that need to be done in the batch, the indexing program will give you the option to submit your batch. When you click Submit, it will do a simple audit check, and if it passes, the batch will be submitted. If it doesn’t pass, correct whatever the issue is and resubmit it. After submission, it will be compared against another person’s submission and discrepancies will be reviewed by auditors and corrected. When the audit is passed, the information will be released for use on FamilySearch.

FamilySearch will attempt to match the information with existing data in the FamilySearch database. If it finds a match, it will notify the relative working on that particular line that it has a record that MAY be related to them. Once the relative agrees and attaches the document to their relative, it becomes permanent and can be viewed by all others that have access to that ancestor.

Utilize what you’ve learned

The records from each project are similar to each other. So what you learn doing one batch of records is readily translatable to another within the same project. You may want to continue requesting batches from that same project rather than get a batch from a different project. This way you can capitalize on what you learned previously. Going to a different project will require that you get up to speed on the new project’s requirements. It’s up to you.

If you get stuck on a batch because it’s too difficult, return the batch, and someone else will pick it up and finish it. If you run out of time and can’t finish the batch, just exit the batch (Click on Batch, then Go Back to Web Indexing) and sign out, and the next time you return, it will be waiting for you to continue. Don’t wait too long though, the batches do time out so they don’t get hung out to dry forever. If they time out, they’ll be given to someone else to finish off.

Good luck, and thank you in advance for your time and effort to help others find their ancestors!

Seekerz, © 2021

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