Sunday, January 26, 2014

Indexing Obituaries at FamilySearch

Our church meetings were cancelled today because of the snow.  What to do with 3 hours?  Easy answer:  family history!  I could have worked on my own family history:  I know my ancestors would have appreciated the time, especially considering that I've been away for several weeks and devoted no time to them.  Instead, I decided to donate the time to others by indexing at FamilySearch.  I haven't indexed for a year, maybe more, so beginning with FamilySearch's new project of indexing obituaries took a little time to orient myself.  It's a different experience than indexing census records.

I downloaded a batch using the indexing software already on my computer and began (instead of researching the process first, and then downloading a batch).  As I was figuring out how to proceed I found myself clicking back and forth between screens to read how they wanted it done.

One of the helpful sites was this FamilySearch Blog post, 2014:  The Year of the Obituaries.  The author of the post admits that indexing obituaries can be tricky but she gives a good introduction to the process by sharing some of the most basic and important points to know.  For example,
  • Read the entire obituary before indexing names.
  • Index the deceased person first.
  • Index names in the order they appear in the obituary.
  • Only index names, dates, and locations actually mentioned in the document.
  • Etc.
This post also links to other helpful sites, including examples and a pdf with step-by-step, illustrated instructions.

My first obituary was a little challenging:  the lady had been married twice and three surnames were listed at the beginning of the obituary.  I had to decide how to index those three names.  Arbitration will show me whether I should have done it a different way.  I think indexed 14 names in that obituary.

I notice that most of the indexing projects are intermediate or advanced.  Maybe FamilySearch thought the census records (which were beginner level) were good enough practice for those of us who indexed them to become intermediate indexers.

Indexing obituaries is a very good thing.  It reminded me not to assume or take anything for granted when reading an obituary.  Further research can confirm some of the things we'd like to assume but when reading an obituary, take just what's there.  Additionally, what's there may not always be exactly accurate.  Whenever I've found obituaries for my ancestors I always take them as hints, then research based on the hints.

If you haven't indexed for a while or haven't indexed obituaries yet, I encourage you to give it a try.  It was a great way to spend part of an afternoon.



  1. I think I should do some indexing. I've been thinking about it for a couple of week. I so appreciate all the new material that is available! Even just 3 hours or so a month. Thanks for the information.

  2. I haven't contributed to any indexing at FamilySearch since the 1940 census push. Shame on me. This project looks interesting, so I must give it a shot.


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