By Robin Finlinson
The vital work of “indexing”—taking information from scanned documents, including ships’ passenger lists, obituaries and country records, and putting it into searchable electronic form in the Family Search database—makes it possible for family historians to easily access details and for temple ordinances to be performed.
Church wide, members are indexing 10 million to 15 million names per month, a yearly average of 5,000 to 6,000 for each ward and branch.
The Galveston 3rd Ward of the Chandler Arizona West Stake is particularly enthusiastic about this work. In 2013, ward members indexed or arbitrated over 250,000 names. In 2014, the number grew to over 400,000.
This year, their goal is to have at least 100 ward members participating regularly and to complete 450,000 names.
“It really has to do with the Spirit of Elijah in the ward,” says Bishop Phil Lewis, adding, “There’s a culture now that’s been created.”
Encouragement comes from the pulpit and Ward Council meetings. Friendly challenges help too.
Sharon Lynn and Janet Burchfield, both admittedly hooked on the activity, attempt to keep up with and surpass Karen Payne.
It’s not about numbers for her, “I just love to do it, and I type fast,” Karen says. She enjoys the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” which often displays documents similar to those she indexes an hour or two each day. It’s also where she heard singer Tim McGraw’s ancestors came to America in the company of Elvis’s; and she and her husband, Ed, also an avid indexer, learned his great-great-great grandfather helped teach the Restored Gospel to Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.
Sister Burchfield occasionally downloads batches to her laptop so she can work offline if need be.
“Yesterday, I did only two batches, but may have helped five families find their ancestors,” she says. “That’s the exciting part.”
She keeps a notebook with a daily running total and interesting stories and facts she happens upon. Some are heart-wrenching; others are fun. She obviously didn’t index the obituary of Lucki, an old elephant that died at the San Diego Zoo, but she chuckled when the document appeared on her screen.
One of the ward’s 13 family history consultants is 15-year-old Chris Braddock, who believes in the blessings promised to those who engage in family history. He challenged the other youth to index at least once a month for a year. Over a dozen of them will soon enjoy a barbecue at the bishop’s house as a reward for doing so.
Stepheny Burchfield, 16, another family history consultant, suggests indexing as a way to get community hours for progress awards and school clubs.
Sheri Allen loves the skills her children learn and her family’s “Look what I just found!” moments. She often googles names to see what else can be discovered about the people and attaches that information to the database.
High Priest group leader Steve Graw says when reading courtroom transcripts from the Oklahoma Land Grant Project in the late 1800s, he felt as though he was there listening to the dramatic testimonies of Native Americans.
In addition to the many devoted indexers among ward members, stake leaders are dedicated to this work as well.
Stake president Kent Johansen usually does at least a few batches per week.
He says, “It would be nice if everyone would catch the vision and contribute a little bit each week consistently—like the honeybees. Then everyone would get the blessings.”
Assistant stake indexing director and ward member, Cathi Lambson, and her indexing star husband, Terry, drew and painted a beehive poster to visually track the ward’s progress. Each wooden bee pinned to the poster represents 2,000 names indexed or arbitrated.
The Galveston 3rd Ward understands that each of those names is of great worth, each represents a child of God.
To start indexing, check with your ward family history consultant or simply go to familysearch.org, find the indexing icon, and follow the directions there.