How to Volunteer for Genealogy Indexing

senior woman browsing genealogy records

If you would like to volunteer your time to help other genealogists expand their family trees, family history indexing is an excellent way to make a difference. This project, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), involves transcribing old, hand-written records into text that is searchable online.

What Genealogy Indexers Do

When you search a genealogical database for public records, you are using the work of family history indexers. Old documents, such as birth records, marriage records, and death certificates, were recorded long before the invention of computers. The text in these documents is often in the form of gorgeous, spidery handwriting that can be difficult to read and impossible to search online.

In a little over a decade, an all-volunteer force of indexers has transcribed more than one billion records. Working independently all over the world, the indexers read the old documents and type the handwritten information into an index form. Then, other volunteer indexers review the work to make sure it's correct. Indexers can work on the project when they have time and stop at any point if they get interrupted.

Who Can Index?

Although the indexing project is run by the LDS church, you don't need to belong to the Mormon faith to participate. Anyone with a little extra time, access to the internet, and a desire to help others find their family history can volunteer for the project.

According to the Deseret News, indexers don't necessarily fit a single profile. They can be retired people, teens hoping to help out over the summer, or even busy moms and dads making time to volunteer in the evening. Some people find indexing to be a great (and meaningful) way to relax. Others say it is a great way to give back after utilizing the indexing work of others in their own family history research.

System Requirements for Indexing

You can index using your desktop or laptop computer or on a tablet, but you can't use a phone for the project due to the small screen size. You'll need to use one of the following browsers:

  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Apple Safari
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Edge

How to Volunteer as a Family History Indexer

If you have the time and a compatible web browser, the process is easy:

  1. To get started, you'll need to set up a free account with FamilySearch.org, which is a service of the LDS church. You may already have an account if you use FamilySearch services in your own genealogical research.
  2. After you've signed in, you can choose a project to work on. You can see all the batches being indexed and select the one that appeals to you the most. Search by location or other factors, or browse the available projects. Options may include things like death records, naturalization documents, birth records, and more.
  3. When you see one you want to work on, click "Start Indexing." The system will walk you through the specific instructions for that project. Each project has specific instructions, which are easy to read and follow. Projects can be in various stages of completion, so you may be transcribing records or reviewing others' transcriptions for accuracy.

Types of Indexing Projects

According to FamilySearch.org, there are more than 100 available indexing projects. Some records date back to the 1600s, and others are more modern. Generally, two people work on the same records to reduce the possibility of mistakes. Their work is then reviewed by a third person.

  • Beginning batches - These are great starter batches that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed in the beginning of your indexing work. There are beginning batches for many projects.
  • Intermediate batches - Once you've mastered the beginning batches, you can move up to these. They are a bit more challenging in terms of the handwriting and content.
  • Advanced batches - After you've been indexing for a while, you can keep yourself challenged with more advanced batches featuring more difficult transcription projects.
  • Web projects - Projects with a "WWW" logo next to them are web-based. Almost all projects feature this logo.
  • Foreign languages - If you are fluent in a foreign language, you can utilize your skills transcribing information in Swedish, Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, or many other languages.

Resources to Help

Before you get started, it's always good to review some tutorials. FamilySearch.org has a video about how indexing works. Additionally, the Family History Guide has an excellent text-based tutorial of the entire indexing process.

Connecting Families to Their Ancestors

When you participate in indexing, you are helping connect families to their ancestors. Whether you do this as a way to share your talents with the LDS church or simply because you value family and genealogical research, it can be a rewarding way to volunteer your time.

How to Volunteer for Genealogy Indexing