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Indexing in a Second Language Made Easy

Are you looking for more records to advane your family history research? If you have heritage from another country—and many people do!—chances are that just a few generations back, your ancestors’ genealogical records are in a foreign language. To be more accessible, these records will need to be indexed.  

If you have not considered indexing in a foreign language, you might be surprised; it’s easier than you might think!

Why Index in a Second Language?

One way to learn about where your ancestors came from, both geographically and historically, is to become familiar with the records for the place where they lived. Indexing in another language can also be a handy way to learn or relearn a language.

However, indexing is needed for another reason. More than 60 percent of FamilySearch indexing volunteers are from English-speaking countries. As a result, searchable records in English outnumber the combined total of searchable records in all other languages 10 to 1. Indexing in other languages is needed to help people all over the world find their ancestors!

A street in italy.

What Is Required of Nonnative-Language Indexers?

All you need is a modest amount of free time, a decent amount of experience with indexing, and a willingness to learn basic skills. As you persist, the process becomes faster, the records become more familiar, and the language becomes easier to understand.

4 Steps to Get Started

1. Get acquainted with tools and resources for indexing.

The Indexing Help Center and the FamilySearch Research Wiki have numerous how-to guides, easy-to-follow instructions, instructional videos, common word lists, and handwriting samples. Especially helpful for language indexing is the Language Resources and Handwriting Helps for Languages page.

Every country has a wiki page with linked pages for provinces, location names, and terms you will encounter while indexing. Translated documents on wiki pages for a country, such as this one for Italy, help you learn how to read the records.

2. Choose an indexing project, and view project details.

To find current projects for indexing on, click Indexing at the top of the page, and then, in the drop-down menu, click Web Indexing. Click the blue Find Batches button, and then filter the results by the difficulty level and language of the projects you would like to index.

Indexing projects for Italy.

Choosing something clear and readable is usually best for a first-time language indexer. Preprinted forms are generally easier, but clear, legible handwriting is also a good option. 

3. Read project instructions, view samples, and review field helps.

Once you have selected a project, click the Index button. Before you begin indexing, take the time to look at the project instructions, which are found in a purple pop-up box.

Project instructions give you directions on what to index, what to remember while indexing this project, and general indexing guidelines.

Project instructions box
project instructions on indexing screen

Links in the instructions also lead to handwriting samples, and instructions for characters unique to the language (such as letters with diacritics).

After you close the instructions box, you can reopen it by clicking the icon farthest to the right on the indexing toolbar.

If the project instructions appear in the wrong language, click the Batches tab in the upper left corner; then click Settings and then Language to make the proper changes in the Field Name and Field Help and Project Instructions fields. Then click Apply.

Batch information on indexing screen

In the project instructions, samples of the records you are indexing are also available to guide you as you begin. Look for the “How to Index a Record” links under the What to Index tab.

Field helps are also available to help you. This resource can be found by clicking the purple question marks found throughout the project.

Purple question marks on the indexing page

Continue to refer to the instructions, record samples, and field helps as you work through the project. These resources are the best places to read the specific project instructions you need to complete the project.

4. Know where you can get help with indexing.

A good strategy is to have a handwriting guide, common word lists, and indexing diagrams in front of you as you work. The indexing toolbar has handwriting examples and international characters that you can use as you work. Plan to stay with the same record type through multiple batches.

Handwriting examples with international characters.

A translation program such as Google Translate in a browser window can also help you quickly translate what you can’t read. Additionally, the toolbar at the top of the indexing page will help with handwriting, copying text, and marking fields.

Remember, anything worthwhile takes practice. Ask someone to help with handwriting, review help files, look again at the instructions, and don’t give up too quickly.

Be patient. Things will go slowly at first. Gradually, you will need to check reference materials less and less. Working on the same record type across many batches will become easier.

When you finish and submit a batch, a reviewer with more language ability will review your batches and make corrections if needed.

If you have questions that still cannot be answered through the project instructions or indexing toolbar, head to the FamilySearch Indexing Chat Community. There you will find additional resources as well as the opportunity to post questions to the community board.

A fountain pen writing on paper.

Language Indexing Rewards

Indexing records in another language brings so many benefits! Those indexed records will become searchable for everyone, including yourself. You’ll become a better researcher. You will also help generate record hints, which lead to more sources and more records.

Head on over to today, and become a nonnative-language indexer!

Source: Family Search

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