Census Hurdles – Indexing Errors

We’ve all seen it. You’re looking at the index on a commercial website and you just can’t find that name you are looking for. But there are a few that are close in other regards. Maybe the first name is correct but the last name is not even close. Maybe the last name is completely butchered but the names of everyone in the household match up to what you are expecting. And then you click to see the actual census image and there they are, the last name as plain as day to you. Why then, was it indexed so poorly?

For example, unable to find William Avery, I stumbled upon this index entry:

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It very clearly says “Avery” to me, but then again, I KNOW the name I’m looking for. Thankfully Anestry.com allows you to “add alternate information” that shows up when searching. Through collaboration, some of those incorrect index entries can be corrected.

Indexers aren’t always from the same geographic area as the records they are indexing. They may not even be from the same country. We’ve all heard that sometimes these indexing projects are farmed out of the country for cheaper labor. I don’t know for sure, I haven’t looked into it myself, but I know that even indexing records from a different part of the United States can be a challenge! (I’ve done it through FamilySearch Indexing and am much more comfortable indexing Ohio records than I am Georgia records.)

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A sample of a section in Ancestry.com’s wiki on how to read old handwriting.

Aside from lacking familiarity with an areas surnames, there’s the problem of bad handwriting, old script-style handwriting, archaic letter formations, and the like. Good indexers have to try to understand old, swirly, twirly script, they have to become detectives and handwriting analysis experts. Most of the time, they simply do the best they can. There is the human factor to indexing. No one is perfect. Even the best make mistakes.

I am an active indexer for FamilySearch Indexing as well as working on indexing projects for my local area, and have come to have a completely new understanding for what it takes to be an indexer. It has allowed me to have some compassion for those who have so kindly and graciously indexed records for my benefit. I understand why ‘f’ and ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘g’ or ‘a’ and ‘o’ get confused sometimes. Let’s not forget to be grateful for the speed with which records get indexed these days and the wide accessibility of them. (Almost gone are the days of reeling microfilm page by page by page.)

When you see those errors, think about me (and the thousands of volunteers like me), indexing your ancestors’ records to the best of my ability.

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