All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Searchable Indexes in the Making

I started indexing a couple of weeks ago, and I love it! Indexing, for those who don’t know, is the process of transcribing the genealogical data that appears on old records that have been filmed and turned into digital images, so that the images are fully searchable on the Internet. I download a batch to index, and I get the images of these old records appearing on my computer. A little form pops up, and a highlighter automatically shows me where on the old record to look for each piece of information it wants me to copy into the fields on the form. It’s actually a fast and easy process.

Back in the Dark Ages of genealogy, I used to read through reel after reel of microfilm, squinting at the faded old writing and hoping I wouldn’t blink or somehow miss the one name I was looking for in page after page. How I longed for an index then! There were all too few, they were in print, and I didn't have access to the books much of the time.

To help me in reading the old records, I took a course on old handwriting to help with deciphering all the different styles of penmanship of clerks and priests and doctors and census takers. That handwriting course is proving the most valuable thing from my past these days.

When you see a word that looks like it has a double f or fs in the middle, lots of times it turns out to be the “long s” of older script writing. When the letter f just doesn’t make sense, I try substituting s and often find that works instead. The lowercase r is a problem too, because there were several forms for making it, and you have to try to find a word that you know contains an r in order to find out which way the scribe was writing. Vowels are always a problem. A scribe might just be sloppy so that it’s hard to tell whether the letter is a or o or u, or e or i. It’s only when you decipher all the consonants that you can guess at the vowels sometimes.

The finished batches get sent back to whomever is in charge of the project, whether the LDS Church or a civic group or private club or governmental agency that is partnering with the LDS Church to do this work. When a project is finished, it is put on the web and offered for free to all researchers. What better use of my spare time can I make? My Facebook farm has been suffering neglect now that I have this other thing that is even more addicting (at least to me). But let the cyber crops suffer neglect. On with indexing!

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