With the release of the 1940 census images this past week I thought I’d do my part and help with indexing. I had done some indexing several years ago for Ancestry.com’s World Archives Project and thought I’d try indexing again. This time, though, I needed to use FamilySearch Indexing, as they are doing it as a public project and Ancestry is using paid indexers.
One thing I quickly learned is how nice the FamilySearch indexing system is compared to Ancestry’s. The first nice feature is that FamilySearch has a Mac client. It is written in Java, which make it easy to port to different platforms. It is even available for Linux.
The next feature is highlighting. The indexing tool has a pretty good highlighting system, which is a big help on things like census forms. When you start a page you go to View->Adjust Highlights and then move the red border so it surrounds the entry area from the four corners. You can then align any stray columns. Then as you go through the form the indexer highlights the field you are on. This makes it easier as you look back and forth from the entry area to the document. You can also pick the color of the highlight. I wish the colors they give were brighter, but it works well enough. A final nice part of the highlighting is that it moves the form for you to keep what you are keying in view. No need to scroll the document when you get to the bottom of the window.
FamilySearch also does field completion better. When starting a new form you will need to type most fields from scratch the first time, e.g. “Pennsylvania”. Whenever you need to type the state again after that, though, you just type a “P” and Pennsylvania gets filled in for you. If you have another place with a P in the column, such as “Poland” it will autofill with the last one you typed, and you can get the one you want by typing a few more characters. Also, it autofills the surname from the previous line before you even type, saving keystrokes since you are often keying families. The field completion for the WAP involves a choice list that drops down where you type the number for the entry. That means watching a list that rapidly changes while you type and then having to move your fingers up to the numbers row to pick the entry. I can type numbers with the right fingers but always found this inconvenient.
The arbitration capabilities are much fuller in FamilySearch indexing. With the WAP someone arbitrates differences and you get a score based on the results, but you never learn what you got wrong. This makes it hard to learn from your mistakes and it doesn’t let you correct arbitration mistakes.
With FamilySearch Indexing, you can go to the Arbitration Results tab and see your agreement percentage like with WAP. You can then click on the Review Batches button, though, and see how you did. It lists the agreement score for each batch and then lets you walk through each issue to see what you entered and what the arbitrator decided. This has helped me learn from my mistakes, as I’ve seen the correct way to interpret the handwriting. It also keeps me mindful of careless mistakes I might make. I also find, though, that sometimes the arbitrator is wrong. In this case you can flag the entry for review, which I have done. I haven’t been through the whole process yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the review process works out. I’m getting to the point, though, where most of the arbitrator corrections are wrong, so I think I’m learning.
I do wish they would add one feature to the arbitration review request function, though, and that is the ability to write a short message explaining why my answer was correct. I’m guessing the reviewer is supposed to look with a fresh site of unbiased eyes, though. As I get my corrections reviewed I’ll see what I think of all this.
I’m just doing the 1940 census for now, but FamilySearch has a much larger selection of projects than the WAP, which makes it more likely that you will find a project that will interest you. I’d like to say I’m completely altruistic, but in practice I mainly work on projects that will benefit me. Earlier when I keyed for the WAP it was for Pennsylvania naturalization records, hoping to find my great grandparents. In the end I didn’t find them, but I was happy enough to help on the project. With the 1940 census, I’d like to use the indexes to help find some people that I haven’t been able to track down through city directories and stevemorse.org so I’m working on the states where I have relatives.
As I write this the WAP has 20 projects, none of which are currently relevant to my tree. There are some good ones, like the ones for Jews in Poland during WW II, but they just aren’t my interest. I just counted the FamilySearch projects though and got around 108. If there wasn’t a census going on, I see at least three project in my areas of research that I could work on: Pennsylvania County Marriages, record books from Radom, Poland, and Ohio County marriages.
Another plus for FamilySearch Indexing is that you are doing it for a charity. I don’t begrudge Ancestry.com for charging for their service, because they provide lots of useful documents to search, but I always felt a little funny keying for them for free, even though they do at least make the index available to everyone for free. I take that as a marketing tool, however, and am not too impressed. FamilySearch is providing the whole documents for free, something I’m much happier to donate my time for.
I now wish I had looked into FamilySearch Indexing more a few years ago. At the time I was mainly using Ancestry.com for everything and thought of FamilySearch as a poor cousin. I have since learned that while Ancestry.com is still stronger for US records, FamilySearch has a lot of records that Ancestry doesn’t, especially overseas. I’m getting more impressed with FamilySearch the more I use it, especially so now that I’m using their excellent indexing program.