Church Members in New Zealand Index 956,000 Genealogical Records During Pandemic Lockdown

4-year-old Koda Hapi Wishnowsky, of the Korongata Ward, helps out with indexing. Hastings, New Zealand, June 2020

With a lot of time on their hands, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hastings, New Zealand got busy helping family history enthusiasts worldwide by indexing over 956,000 genealogical records during the COVID-19 lockdown from 21 March to 23 June this year.

Indexing is a worldwide volunteer transcription effort that makes valuable genealogical records freely searchable online at familysearch.org. Watch a video about indexing here.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in March, Latter-day Saint leaders in Hastings asked local Church member Jerry Edwards for ideas to help others get involved in something constructive during the down-time.

He replied that there was a special indexing project, “New ZealandElectoral Rolls, 1865–1957,” which needed many hands to dig into it. Congregation leaders and volunteer family history consultants were made aware of the project to help spread the word, and the workload.

They started with a goal to index 50,000 names. Then miracles started to happen. Members began talking to each other and posting encouraging messages on ward social media pages. What started with seven indexers quickly turned into 114.

Within the first few days of April they processed 50,000 names. They reset the goal to 100,000 names and reached that in two weeks. By the end of April they had completed 221,000 and at the end of May hit 487,760. The number of individual records indexed at the time of writing is now over 956,000. Inspired by their achievement so far, they have set a new target of one million by the end of June.

Sandy Bates increased his own indexing activity during the lockdown. “I was excited to have time to index daily as opposed to just weekends,” he said.

“It started with my wife and me, but grew to include more members of our family of eight. We discussed the importance of indexing these records. We looked at the dates and realized how long these sons and daughters of God have been waiting to have their saving ordinances done for them in the temple, and will continue to wait if we do not make their records available. There was a spark in everyone’s eyes and an understanding of the importance of the task at hand. We soon realized that including the children in this work invited the spirit of peace and love into our home.”

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Others had similar experiences. One participant, Mere, said: “We have been blessed to have the NZ Electoral Roll project which has been particularly meaningful. I was so rapt when I had the opportunity to add my grandmother’s brother to the database.”

George, another volunteer, said: “I was a novice indexer when I started this project. Having a goal, a ward indexing page on social media, and a wife who is a capable indexer helped a lot. Even with using just two fingers I can now say I know how to index and I love it. Indexing is also a great bonding activity for my wife and me. We love that we are able to give such meaningful service from home.”

“I found myself clapping my hands when I figured out a difficult problem,” says fellow Church member, Ripeka. “It’s a real live thing, it’s personal, it’s spiritual. Also, indexing your own country is more personal. Having the opportunity to index people closer to Nuhaka (Ripeka’s home town), the wairua (spirit) was so strong. It pulls you deeper emotionally and mentally.”

Another indexer, Hirini, added that “indexing has become a joy and I feel the fruits of the spirit and feelings of peace when engaged in this effort. What a joy and blessing it is to be doing the Lord’s work.”

Local Church leader Colin Fifield is over the moon with the participation and the results. “Lives have been transformed, less involved members have committed themselves, and youth have traded Instagram and social media with a few hours of indexing.”

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, family history is an opportunity to be connected with ancestors through research, understanding and service as shown in this video

Learn more about Latter-day Saints, family history, eternal families and temples here.

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