Indexing historical records

22 May

Now that I have recovered from the inevitable post-semester exhaustion, I hope to post more information to this blog.

I have been very fortunate that I have been able to index (transcribe) records for Family Search. As of right now, my statistics there are 2693 names and information transcribed. I started this as a way to give back to the genealogical community. Now, I have also found out that I am learning a lot as well. Below are some projects I have been able to work on and my observations.

1940s Draft cards for the state of Texas for men born before 1897 – For the most part, I have transcribed first name, middle name, last name, town, county, state, birthdate. This became very routine until two occurrences – 1. I got a card with a giant ink blot in the center yet I was able to blow up the image and still see the name of the person under the ink, and 2. I once downloaded a batch that also showed the other side of the card where height, weight, and vital statistics were recorded.

Census records from 1910 – these are the most interesting and also the most difficult records to index. They run the gamut from very neat and easy to read to very sloppy and nearly impossible to read. They also contain many foreign names that are hard to identify (fortunately there is a help box that can help with some names, but doesn’t always help). One interesting finding on a recent census form was comprised entirely of Jewish, Irish, and Black (not all originating in Africa, some from islands) people. I wondered, was this a slum? I know from many history lessons that the Irish were considered lower beings. I’m sure that, unfortunately, Black people were considered lower beings. Were Jewish people also looked at this way? Indexing records make me want to learn so much more about history and what our forefathers had to bear. One other interesting thing is that the record for each person gives, not only the place of birth of the person, but also the place of birth for that person’s parents.

Finally, the most important thing is that indexing reminds me that those who index historical records are human, as were the census takers. What this means to all of us who are involved in genealogical research is, even when you find transcribed information for an individual, be sure to look at the actual record yourself – you may be surprised at what you see there.

Indexing is very addictive as I watch my stats climb. But also, I feel like I’m doing something good for someone who will, in the future, be searching for the ancestors whose names I am transcribing.


Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Census


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5 responses to “Indexing historical records

  1. Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith

    May 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Good for you! Thanks for the insights!

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. Renate

    May 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Mary, thanks for the work that you are doing. I am also signed up as a transcriber for Family Search, but I do most of my work on behalf of, as a keyer for the Ancestry World Archives Project. I love being able to select projects that have the most (personal) meaning for me. So for, the Inward Slave Manifests for the Port of New Orleans has been the project that has touched me the most.

    Keep doing what you do, and perhaps more people will become keyers as a result of reading your post!


    • Mary Chrapliwy

      May 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Renate,
      I’m glad to hear that you’re doing your part too – thank you for what you do. It’s so interesting, isn’t it? While I’m typing in the information I imagine how the people I’m transcribing lived. I feel touched by every record – one of the reasons I am meticulous while transcribing. I also imagine how people will feel someday when they find that relative they’ve been searching for.


  3. Amy Coffin

    May 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I started indexing last year. I did it to keep busy, give back and do my part to make records available. I did not expect a lesson in reading handwriting, but I got one and now it’s easier for me to read handwritten records.

    Earlier this year, I was promoted (for lack of a better word) to arbitrator. Each batch is indexed twice. If there are discrepancies between the two indexers, the batches get sent to an arbitrator who decides which entry is correct or closest. An interesting task, indeed.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and your time.

    • Mary Chrapliwy

      May 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for sharing this with me. I wondered what happened to the records I’ve been indexing after I submit them. I’m happy to hear that they are reviewed again.

      I’ve been getting better and better at reading the handwriting I’ve been transcribing. That has helped me a lot when I look at the census transcriptions of my ancestors. I found one transcription error – My great-great grandfather was named John N. His name was transcribed as John W because there was a light note scrawled across the census page that made the N look like it could be a W to a less experienced eye.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I would love to hear more.


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