You habitually pull out your phone while waiting in line at the grocery store. Instead of clicking on your favorite social media icon, you open FamilySearch’s Get Involved app.
After selecting a country where your ancestors are from, a record appears with a highlighted name. You have options to confirm the name, edit it or click “Unsure.” The name appears correct and you confirm it.
The app leads you through a batch of names on records. The names you confirmed are now saved on FamilySearch for you to use in building your family tree — and the task took less than two minutes to complete.
“The point of Get Involved is to allow you to participate in family history in small and simple ways,” said Ty Davies, a FamilySearch portfolio director who oversees the development of records. “It’s about your family history. It’s about your part of the gathering. … This is meant to be more about you and your genealogy.”
On Friday, March 4, FamilySearch announced the Get Involved volunteer experience, which can be accessed in a new mobile app and on FamilySearch.org. A tab at the top of the website titled Get Involved now appears where the Indexing tab used to be.
“But indexing is not going away,” Davies reassured. “It’s becoming part of this Get Involved piece.”
Get Involved had a limited release in Latin America in December — the experience is called Participa in Spanish. More languages are expected in coming months.
Using artificial intelligence in family history
As more and more people worldwide want to connect and find their ancestors, FamilySearch is introducing Get Involved to help people have more personal discoveries in their family history. Reviewing a name on a record that was indexed by handwriting recognition artificial intelligence is one task that can be done with Get Involved.
For decades, FamilySearch has relied on volunteers to help index records. However, the process of indexing — which includes deciphering handwriting and typing in multiple fields — can be tedious, frustrating and time-consuming for some.
To accelerate the availability of records for people worldwide, FamilySearch has been using artificial intelligence to quickly scan handwritten genealogical documents and generate a computer-assisted index of names. Rather than replacing human indexers, this process augments them.
Ian James, technical product manager for FamilySearch, explained, “We want the computers to do what the computers are really good at, so that the people can do the things that only people can do.”
Read more: A look at how computer-assisted indexing is unlocking records on FamilySearch for people worldwide
The artificial intelligence the computer uses is not perfect, and that’s where the people come in. With Get Involved, anyone, anywhere can help correct the mistakes the artificial intelligence makes so more records can be available to build family trees.
Get Involved: a personalized experience
James said the artificial intelligence’s ability to read handwriting also allows for a more personalized experience when reviewing records.
“When the automated records get in the mix, we learn a lot about what is there before it ever gets to the patrons,” he said. “What that means is you can search for things in the record and find them and then go improve those records. And from there, you can turn around and use them in your tree, if it’s somebody you found that is part of your family. …
“You can zero in on places where you might have a roadblock and improve the records in that area to open up your roadblock and be able to move forward.”
For English-speaking users in the United States, Get Involved will initially draw on the U.S. wills and deeds collection — what James described as “a gold mine” for people looking for ancestry in the U.S. during the 1800s. The collection also contains the names of many who were enslaved and will be “a treasure trove” for people who have African-American ancestry.
“It’s one of the richest content sets that we have,” James said. “It’s also one of the sets that does not work with human indexing, so we haven’t been able to bring it to market. The artificial intelligence is allowing us to do that for the first time, and we’re really excited about it.”
Another project, also primarily for users in the United States, is the 1950 U.S. Census Community Project beginning in April. Users will be able to search by state and their surname to find related records to help with. (James and and John Alexander shared more about the Get Involved app and the 1950 census during their RootsTech session.)
For example, James said, “if I have Rosses and Stevensons in Texas, I can go look at just the Rosses and Stevensons in Texas and review those families.”
Get Involved will feature a section titled “Your Impact” that shows how records a user has reviewed or indexed are making a difference.
“Every time you correct a name or you index a record or any other activities we add in the future, anytime you contribute somehow, and then that gets used and attached to the tree, we bring that back to that patron and celebrate it,” James said.
The section will also include the number of names reviewed or indexed by country, showing the influence made in a particular homeland a user might care about.
Participa in Latin America
Participa, the Spanish Get Involved experience, has received positive feedback since its limited release in Latin America in December. Users are reviewing names from an expansive set of automated Catholic Church baptism records.
“The feedback that I’m getting from real users is that it’s addictive and they love it,” said Andrés M. Ortega, FamilySearch Latin America records operation manager. “And this is consistent with people of different ages.”
He pointed to his 14-year-old son as an example. “He loves doing things on his phone. We as a family challenged him to index and we were never successful. He just said ‘It’s too long.’ Now he’s doing a review of names with Participa. …
“Participa, with a simple task, has made him do something that he was not doing before. And the case is, it’s a simple task. It takes a couple seconds.”
Ortega anticipates Participa will continue to attract people who have a desire to do family history but might have been intimated by indexing.
“The thing about Participa that I think is going to be a huge impact for us in Latin America is that it’s not going to compete with indexing. It’s just going to help those that are a little bit afraid of indexing. … And especially for the youth, I think this is one of the key tools,” he said.