Imag(in)ing the past.

I’ve recently signed up to become an indexer with  Indexers are an army of (typically) genealogists who, reading from scans of original records, type the information into a database so that the reconrds can become searchable online.

It’s a very efficient system.  The scanned images are divided into batches that you download to your computer with the click of a button.  You are presented with the image at the top of your screen and a form at the bottom (actually, three choices of forms) to enter the data.  Each field has help information, and you really can’t go wrong.

The main difficulty with the tasks is reading the handwriting.  You have an option to leave fields blank or designate them as unreadable.  Each batch is indexed (at least) twice, and discrepancies go to a moderator who has a third look at the data and finalizes the input.

As a beginner indexer, I started with some basic census forms that are fairly straightforward to enter.  I did batches from the New York, Minnesota, and South Dakota censuses from around the turn of the last century.  Once I felt comfortable with these batched rated “Beginner”, I moved on to some Ontario batches, in particular, Marriages (1869-1927) and Deaths (1933-1937).  These were rated “Intermediate”, mainly because the data are spread out over the form, rather than in a straight line per record as in the census.

I found my mind wandering while indexing these important life events. The marriage records were all from 1871.  Why was a 13 year-old girl getting married?  Was this typical at the time?  What about the 60 year-old man marrying a 43 year old woman?  How had that come about?  Or about a Jewish man marrying an Episcopalian girl?  What kind of issues did they face back in 1871?  Because I also had names and locations, names of parents and witnesses, and where the marriage took place, it was easy to weave a little story in my head as I typed in their names, squinting over the handwriting, deciphering numbers and dates.  

Below is a Census record from my personal research files. From the 1911 Census of Canada (Toronto), it shows my great-grandfather Stephen Goddard, his wife Minnie, and their five children.  (They are the first family listed on the page.)  I was able to obtain this because someone indexed these records to make them searchable online.  It is unlikely that I would have taken the time to page through the entire census of Toronto to find them.


The image below is an Ontario Death Record for my great-aunt Barbara who died in January 1911 at age 8, of Diptheria. These records are even more onerous to search be hand because there are only six deaths listed per page, meaning a lot of page turns (or microfilm forwards). 


The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society has partnered with Family Search to index the records from the Toronto Trust Cemeteries here in Toronto.  I hope to be part of that activity as I get a little more experienced with indexing.  Who knows?  I may end up indexing some of my ancestors’ records   I’m thrilled to be part of this worldwide project to make important information available to genealogists and others seeking to learn about and from the past.

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