Indexing Plays Vital Role in Family History Work

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 28 October 2013

Forum panelists are Michael Judson, left, moderator; Doug Cooper, Lethbridge Alberta East Stake; Richard Dyer, Vancouver Washington East Stake; Eileen Lima, Lehi Utah East Stake; and Myrna Boam, Kaysville Utah West Stake.

Article Highlights

  • The Church’s Family History Department digitizes records at a rate of some 1.1 million images per day.
  • Indexing is the vital link to make these digitized records available for search online.
  • More volunteers are continually needed in the worldwide effort of indexing.

“Sometimes, when I’m out and about, people will say, ‘All my [family history] work has been done.’ … I say, ‘Well, you know we added a million and one hundred thousand names yesterday. You might want to go back and check to see if there’s anything new.’” —Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, Area Seventy

On any given day at archives in many parts of the world, some 250 camera crews representing the Family History Department of the Church are taking photos of records at the rate of some 1.1 million digital images per day, this to facilitate the work of individuals researching their own ancestral lines.

“But you know, having the pictures doesn’t help very much,” said Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, Area Seventy, managing director of the department, and CEO of FamilySearch International. “We’ve learned that, because we’ve had 2 billion pictures in our archives and it was still hard.”

What the department has had to figure out, he said, is a means of making those images searchable on the Internet, “which, quite honestly, was unfathomable just a few years ago.”

That was when the Family History Department inaugurated indexing, whereby volunteers, working at their own computers, view digital images of records online and transcribe information from them that can be searched digitally to refer back to the image.

“We call it indexing,” said Elder Brimhall, who was the keynote speaker at a forum for stake indexing directors, Church members who are called to oversee the work of indexing volunteers within their own stakes.

Held October 4 in the chapel of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the forum featured three other sessions in addition to Elder Brimhall’s address. They focused on a new and improved indexing tool and website scheduled to be in place by the middle of next year, success stories from indexing directors and priesthood leaders internationally, and a panel discussion on stake priesthood leaders and indexing directors working together.

The forum was streamed live over the Internet, and a recording of it is available online.

Once records have been indexed, the records can be found and the information used to link an individual to one’s own family and, if one is a Latter-day Saint, submitted for temple ordinance work.

“We find, we image, we index, we search, and then we submit,” Elder Brimhall said.

“That’s how it works. Now guess where the weak link is?”

He said it is in doing the indexing because about as many images can be indexed as are being gathered each day. The department hopes to double the number of camera crews doing imaging from 250 to 500 in the next year or so, and that will create a bottleneck in the process.

Hence, the department is constantly trying to recruit more people into the worldwide effort of indexing.

No special skills are required to do indexing, and one does not have to wait for an invitation. The first step is to go to the FamilySearch indexing website.

There, one can register as an indexer and download the software for it. Online tutorials give instruction in the process, which includes selecting a batch of records to download to one’s personal computer, entering the requested information from the records into the corresponding spaces, and submitting the completed batch to the system.

Although there is a shortage of indexers, Elder Brimhall said, “I don’t want you to think we’re not doing great. I mean, just think of that: a million and one hundred thousand new names searchable every day because of indexing.

“Sometimes, when I’m out and about, people will say, ‘All my [family history] work has been done.’ I get that all the time. … I say, ‘Well, you know we added a million and one hundred thousand names yesterday. You might want to go back and check to see if there’s anything new.’”

One of the benefits of indexing, Elder Brimhall said, is that for many people it amounts to their first experience with family history because it is relatively easy.

It should not stop there; rather, Church members should progress to the point that they are finding their own ancestral names for temple work, Elder Brimhall said. But he added that many youth in the Church who have had experience in submitting names for temple work report that they got started through indexing.