The Joy of Indexing

What has been described by one member of my ward at church as “the most rewarding church service” he’s ever given–including his mission–and has miraculously given another friend at church a discovery about her own family history?  The LDS Church has had its indexing web site up for a while now, but I didn’t try it until last week, after my bishop challenged ward members to get involved.  It’s amazing and I encourage everybody to try it and help.  You don’t even have to be Mormon–anybody can do this, and it really is fun!

Go to and click on “volunteer” on the right side.  You’ll get some easy directions and then you start “indexing,” which means that you’re part of a worldwide effort to digitize old census, marriage, and other vital records so they’ll be preserved forever and be available for anyone to access instantly online.  When you sign up, a scanned copy of one such record will appear on your screen, and your job is simply to read the old record and type the information into the fields provided on the screen. 

I’ve found my history-loving and puzzle-solving interests piqued by this great opportunity.  (And, yes, someone in my ward did get sent–despite the physical odds being millions to one against it–a page with one of her own ancestors on it.)  As I read these pages, I find myself not only trying to decode some pretty bad handwriting and wrapping my head around some odd names, but also trying to figure out some life stories.  Sometimes I’m just impressed by what these records teach us about life a hundred years ago. 

Here’s a more detailed introduction from an Ensign article a couple of years ago.  And here’s a fun little article about it from this month’s New Era magazine. 

Here’s a screen shot of a page I was working on this afternoon, from the 1920 census in the county of Spartanburg, South Carolina:



You can see the fields on the bottom third of the screen where you enter the information from the picture of the record in the top two thirds.  Here’s the biggest thing I noticed as I did this page:

  • Margaret Emory was living with two daughters and a granddaughter.  Margaret was a widow, as was her 31-year-old daughter Betty–presumably little Dora’s mother.  What was life like for these four women, living together, two of whom had lost husbands? 
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