My name is Amy and I’m an arbitrator for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project.
Ok, you can stop throwing things at your monitor now. (And really, would your mother be happy to hear some of the words that just came out of your mouth?!)
If you’re not familiar with the project, arbitrators are those who referee between the sets of values from the two independent indexers. If Indexer A said the first name was David and Indexer B said the first name was Daniel, the arbitrator has to decide which one was right. (If neither was right, the arbitrator enters what he or she believe is the correct value.)
Since the 1940 census indexing project started, and particularly in the past three weeks, arbitrators have become, at best, persona non grata or, at worst, pariahs of the project.
Indexers can review their batches and see where the arbitrator chose a value other than theirs. This was intended to help indexers see where they’ve made mistakes and to help them be better indexers.
Since nobody knows who the indexers or arbitrators were of any given batch, the indexers don’t know who specifically to complain about. Consequently, indexers complain about arbitrators as a whole.
I gotta tell ya, the past few weeks have not been easy for some of us who are arbitrating the 1940 census.
Let me continue by saying this: There are some bad arbitrators out there. There are some who have not read the updated rules on the FamilySearch wiki, nor the update that appears every time they open the indexing program. There are some who don’t choose “<Blank>” for a 1935 if the person was under 5 years old. (Hello — if they were less than 5, they weren’t even living in 1935!) There are some who expand “R” to “Rural.”
Of course, what bothers people the most is when an arbitrator changes a name (either a person or a place) that the indexer knows is right. Hey, I feel your pain! Been there, done that! I had an arbitrator change my “Broyle” to “Boyle” (there was definitely an R in there) and change “Uhrichsville”, Ohio to “Yrichsville”, Ohio.
But before you go to string up the closest arbitrator by his or her toenails, I’d like for you to think of a few things:
- Arbitrators are human. As such, they will occasionally make mistakes.
- You don’t see how many times the arbitrator chose your value instead of the other indexers. Think about all records with strange names and bad handwriting where the arbitrator said you were right.
- Ask yourself if the different value will really make a difference in someone finding the record. I just explored Broyle/Boyle by doing a search on FamilySearch in the 1930 census. Turns out that searches for John Broyle also gives me results for John Boyle and John Boyles. So even though the arbitrator changed Broyle to Boyle, it should still be discoverable. Similarly, changing that “R” to “Rural” isn’t going to keep anyone from finding that entry.
- If the arbitrator changed the name to something with a wildcard, it is still discoverable. For example, if they changed your “Burns” to “B*ns”, it can still be found by anyone doing a search for Burns, Byrns, Benns, Borns, Bynns, etc.
- FamilySearch keeps all of the indexed values: Index A, Index B, and, if applicable, what the arbitrator entered. They’ve said that they will eventually add a search option to go across all values; however, they have not announced a time table for this.