January 8, 2017

Can you read the information above? Two separate marriage licenses and records of marriages are on the sheet. The first couple is  John Johnson and Carrie Leigh who were married June 6, 1881 in King County Washington State. I can read such handwritten documents fairly easily now because for a few years I have been doing a service called “Indexing.” People speaking any language sign up (https://familysearch.org/register/1?lng=en&referrer=FamilySearch%20Indexing%20Client) and review different types of documents on the computer screen from which they pick names, dates, places and other information to fill out forms electronically. I set a goal for the year and the program tells me how many names a day I should index. The pleasure I received on December 29 when I had zero names left to index was really a kick. In fact I did a few more than that on the 30th and 31st because I’m in the habit.


When I first heard of indexing it was called “extraction.” Gary was a world champion extractor, but I didn’t want to try it. I thought it would overload the English teacher I was. But something changed besides retirement. Maybe it was the name change: Extraction sounds like a visit to the dentist. I began with indexing from obituaries printed in newspapers. From English speaking countries I learned about customs and procedures as I found out who died, when and where, born when and where, the spouse, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, siblings, in-laws, and friends—even pets. Usually I learned who the parents of the deceased were, whether divorce(s) had occurred, and some details of occupation, military service, and membership in organizations such as a church.  It was entertaining and fascinating. Well, at least as entertaining as a crossword puzzle or some social media.


After a while I began doing anything that came up. Sometimes it takes a long, long time to do my daily quota because the documents are old, carelessly filled out, damaged, dim or absolutely unserviceable in some ways. If I can’t overcome the problems I can return the batch. However, I am stubborn. I can enlarge the document, brighten it, give it more contrast and move it on the screen to detect the information I need. Various helps are available such as tutoring on old fashioned ways of writing letters where it seems like an M but is really a W etc. Instructions on how to handle omissions or peculiar circumstances are available on “help” and experience teaches how to see “Robert” in all those curlicues the scribe used.


Each document is a story. I record that a 47 year old man marries a girl of 17 and wonder if he was kind to her, whether they were happy. I document the death of child after child under the age of 1 year old, understanding why sometimes the parents didn’t name the baby because infant death was so frequent in that community. I see an 18 year old young man marrying a 15 year old girl with her father’s permission and wonder if she got pregnant or whether such early marriage was the custom. My mother told me that in her Idaho community couples didn’t get married until they “had to.” I wonder at the names in communities. In Louisiana French names prevail. In many states the “color” of the couple is required and/or detailed data of parents filling long forms. In others, the couple, perhaps their ages, the date of marriage, and the person officiating are all the info needed.


This is not an ad for indexers. There is a healthy community out there from prisoners to disabled people to just interested ordinary people like me. Last month, December 2016, indexers across the world did 20,446,228 names. I think indexing is important. For one reason, I received a DNA testing kit from my son and his wife for Christmas. When I get the results, I will be glad to search for names on record, relatives with similar DNA. Maybe I will find someone I have indexed. PMA