More Top Tips For New Keyers

Last week we posted some of our top tips for new keyers. Be sure to read those here. Today we have a few more for you. I’ll get things started.


From Crista – The dictionaries (drop down lists) are there just to give you suggestions. Using them might help you understand what you are seeing. You don’t HAVE to select something from that list. Key what you see.

From Ann – You can change the brightness or contrast. The paper can be dark in many images.

From Jessica – There is a learning curve working with the software over time and getting used to the functionality.

(Note:  Don’t give up too quickly!  We know there is a bit of a learning curve with the software.  And, for some of you, there may be a big learning curve with the handwriting and the languages and the forms. Hang in there.  Keep trying. These people deserve to be remembered. You can do it.)

From Ann – Count the number of lines that need to be entered. I count the number of entries per page that will need to be entered. When I am finished with that page, my total entries should match that total. Then I can move on to the next image.


Let’s hear from some of our new keyers. Your fresh perspective is appreciated. What tips can you offer your fellow newbies (and some of us who might be a little more stuck in our ways)?

Until next time – Happy Keying!

Information and Links

Join the fray by commenting, tracking what others have to say, or linking to it from your blog.

Other Posts

Write a Comment

Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think. Some basic HTML is allowed for formatting.

Reader Comments

I’ve been working on the New Zealand directory. It is typewritten and fairly easy to read. But, there are places that are so faint they can be missed. So I use the contrast button. I place the box under the name and fiddle with the light and dark until I find the answer, or realize it’s impossible. Either way, it helps. Now I put it under any name or number, or anything I don’t understand because of visual clarity. I went from being an ‘okay’ keyer, to excellent! It really helps! The other thing is the Wiki and the blog notes. These folks have worked hard at this and they can point you in the right direction. I read everything, twice. Then I key. jh

I have been working on the French holocaust records. With lists of names, the birth locations can be tricky because most of them don’t show up in the drop down dictionary. It helps if you look down the page to find similar looking words. Then see if they seem to match your mystery location.

I am working on the 1798 Penn Tax records and we key the first two columns of names. The handwriting can vary wildly.
1- try changing the size- sometimes going big is easier to read… smoetimes going smaller makes it clearer
2- check the other colums and the column of names in adjacent properties.. sometimes the name will be there and clear as a bell…
3-take a minute and read the doc befor you start…just keying can get awfully boring, and you will find some real gems if you take the time to read the will also get better at reading the handwriting
4- Don’t worry about the scores or ratings.. just do your best.
5-Don’t give up…just take a break. I have had some EASY docs take HOURS (awful handwriting, spelling from the 3rd century, contrast/image issues…you know the ones…you finish typing and the whole page is pink!!) and some take just a few minutes. Just don’t give up.

Any chance you can add Widow to the Prefix drop down list?

The Immigration and naturalization index cards contain cards headed Manpower Pools and also cards headed Maps (info on delivering maps to various states etc) but there are no names in these records at all only a ref number and a date. Is this useful work?


yes, since the cards are indexed by subject.

You will still want to account for all of the line items.

1) Its easy to get immersed in the effort. Take regular breaks. Stretch your fingers and arms. Shake ’em out.

2) And…. for those of us who do a lot of touch typing – double check those numbers. I find most of my re-typing at review happens when I’ve miskeyed 8/9s or 6/7s.

I have keyed over 150 records, but I don’t know whether I am doing it correctly as I’ve not yet had any of them reviewed. How long does this usually take, and should I stop keying until I receive feedback?

It gets confusing trying to figure out how to access the various Wiki, or the Ancestry discussions or blogs. There’s the “keying tool” and the “dashboard” and the “project page” and what all. And they don’t all have links from one to another. (It’s near impossible to find one Wiki page from another.) I’ve asked enough questions on the Wiki pages, though, that I get regular emails from the ones I’m “watching”. So I can get back to them easily by clicking the link in the email.

@Marsha, That depends on which records you are keying. Some projects have no backlog, and others have 10,000 or more sets waiting to be reviewed.

Best advice is to read the instructions at least a few times over, check the project page, and the discussion pages for updates and clarifications. And be sure to ask about any questions you have.

Ann’s suggestion re counting the number lines to be entered is a good one I’ve caught myself leaving out a line a number of times by doing that.

Another thing that should always be done is to go back after you complete keying an image and compare the data in the image to that you keyed into the index template. I have caught many errors by doing that.

Several project have in the past, I’m pretty sure, ruled that ‘widow’ is not a valid prefix and should not be keyed. I wonder if that is still the case. I bet Paul knows!

When I’m doing a project with handwritten records, I like to read the whole document first, just to get a feel for the person’s handwriting. You’d be surprised how many times “Al” can look like an “H”, or “ui” can look like a “w”.

I know on the perth valuations it is not a prefix, but on others it (tax and rent) it is.

I’ve not heard about any recent rule changes with regards to that prefix.

It would be helpful to be able to extend the size of a column to more easily review long entries; for instance, on the NY Naturalization forms, if there are multiple children, it is difficult to review the whole field. Any suggestions?

Never mind my previous post–it is possible to expand the field as needed–it hadn’t worked the first time I tried.

I am working on the Erie County Census images. I find that spelling isn’t quite an exact science with some of the census takers. There is alot of phonetics on some of the pages. And names of people and places are spelled differently today than then. So just key what you see and let the spelling variances go.

I also use the contrast on the light pages because sometimes it “sees” the depression the pen stroke made even if the ink is not visible.

Naturalization/Immigration cards…example of date: 1923ws. Is the ‘ws’ included on date? What is the significance of ‘ws’? In addition, titles are listed, however, no names. I have blanked those, but am wondering if that is incorrect…please advise. Yes, I’m new – L

@Linda: “ws” are the original typist’s initials and should be ignored. I believe this is covered in the wiki for the Naturalization project, so check there to make sure this advice is correct.

Having some French in my background, I’ve been favoring working on the French (Ain region) Holocaust records lately. One problem I was having is location names… they can be difficult to read, contain a lot of hyphens & many of them don’t come down on the drop-down boxes. My solution has been to pull up Google maps from the Ain region in a separate window. Now, if I don’t recognize a place or I’m not sure about spelling, I can search it on Google maps & suggestions will come up that help me clarify if I’m putting in an accurate location or not. Problem solved!

Bacic to keying is “Key as seen” even if it looks wrong or is not how you would spell something, key what you see only do not try to change the spelling.

Start to ask questions and keep asking. Read the help files, read the wiki and source out the relevant boards for help.

All questions to any project are relevant so ASK if unsure.

If the information for a field is only partly visible or legible mark that field illegible, Do not use “wild cards” for the missing characters. (I had suggested that we use _ to denote an undecipherable character as used by other organisations but this has not been accepted.)

I know it would, in some cases, take quite a bit of time but…it really would be helpful to know what is being keyed in incorrectly per project. I read over, several times, what the project is about and all the keying info pertaining to it. I do ask lots of questions…but I still have an accuracy rating of “needs improvement”. This is discouraging. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again without improvement…” Thank you all for your help.

I selected Pennsylvania U.S. Direct Tax lists. It then took me to the Wiki page for instructions. How do I get to the actual form to key after reading the instructions?

I’m new at this and have been working on Polish Jews displaced from from Biala Podlaska. Having been raised in a Polish-American household and learned to read and write Polish in grammar school I am able to somewhat decipher and understand most of what’s written on the cards. However, most times what is hand-written isn’t what the questions or columns pertain to. Does someone then go over what’s hand-written and insert those comments later on? I’d hate for some of that information to be overlooked or omitted and lost forever.

How do I know -what- I need to improve? I went from “Exceptional” to “Needs Improvement”; if I don’t know exactly what I’m doing incorrectly, how can I improve?

I don’t think the comments will be indexed post production. Though I do agree that sometimes the comments have good information.


You will want to check the project specific instruction carefully.

I can give you some of the errors that are most brutal.

Missing records: Make sure you check the whole image. A lot of times there’s a 2nd page on the image.

Missing fields: Make sure you’ve accounted for all of the data that there is a field defined for.

Wrong fields… Eg putting the surname in the Given name field.

Key as seen: no expanding abbreviations.

@cindy, You will need to download and install the Keying Tool.

@dana… You can drag the columns wider in keying mode, and in review mode.

The arbitration interface inst as flexible.

I wish I could join in on all this good info, but I cannot even get started. How do I get the window past the header info?

I really would like to join everybody but I’m totally frustrated. I’ve been trying to get help with this simple problem for so long to the point I am about to give up on the whole thing?


drag the bar that separates the image from the keying fields upwards. this will make the image smaller, exposing more of the keying interface.

When there is a city that I can’t quite make out, I enter what I think it is into Google and see what that comes up with.

One mistake people make when indexing foreign language records is to translate the data into English.

I am keying the Pennsylvania U.S. Direct Tax List. In one of the sets the first column had numbers instead of names. For example: Ho 131, 132 etc. I checked to make sure I was in the right column and I was. Do I key the numbers or not?


We are not keying the numbers on that project.

I’ve been frustrated by the fact that often when I download a record the image doesn’t relate to the form that we are to key in, such as the naturalization topic (for one record) pulls up an information regarding the entry of the person into the U.S.


Part of the process is to classify the images we get, they are not really pre-sorted, we get whatever happens to be on the particular microfilm roll.

In the case of the Naturalization indexes, a number of pages will be classed as “cover page”. Select “change” and the appropriate form type.

Be careful when keying older handwritten records. Sometimes, the ink is faded and hard to read. For example, a “b” can look like a “v”, or an “l” can look like an “i” or an “e”; so a name like Arabella might look more like Araveiea. Also, an “h” can look like an “n”, so Sarah might look like Saran. So, if the ink is a little faded, then compare the faded part to a part that isn’t as faded, so that you can distinguish an “h” from an “n”, etc. And turning on the High Contrast or adjusting the Brightness and/or Contrast in Image Options can help too. Also, if you cannot tell what is written on the record, make an educated guess, if you get it wrong it will probably be corrected in Review. But never use a ? when you cannot read a certain letter. Use the drop down list, then replace the ? name with one of the suggestions. If you don’t think any of the suggestions match, then mark it Illegible. And if a field is left blank, only mark it as Blank when the field is required. And it’s okay if you have to mark all fields as Correct. That happens sometimes. Also, it’s a good idea to double check every field on each record before you start the next record.

And once you start an image set, you can always come back to it later to finish it if you need to. At the top of the screen, click on File and click on Close Image Set. It will ask you if you want to close the current image set to work on it later. Click Yes. Then the next time you open the Keying Tool, the image set will be there and you can open it again and start where you left off. You have 1 week and 2 days after the day you download it to complete an image set. For example, if you were to download an image set today (Friday, May 20), it would have a deadline of May 30; but you really only have until the end of the day on Sunday, May 29 to finish the image set. If you don’t finish an image set before the deadline, it will be sent back for someone else to key or review. Also, only image sets which are finished and submitted will count towards your total number of records keyed and/or reviewed.

Re 39.
Sometimes using high contrast loses the fainter parts of the image. Go back to low contrast and increase the magnification. This can make the image more legible.

I am a new user I have found all your comments helpful. I have done a little work on the Perth Valuation records and I also counted the lines, thinking I was doing the right thing. Yet when I actually received a link to the project page I found I actually have to create extra records when there are more than one proprietor named for a property or more than one tennant,each couplings is a new record. Then duplicate enteries are not to be entered. Therefore the actuals number of lines changes depending on the makeup of the records. I guess I could read through the whole list first and determine what is entered as extra records and what is to be ommitted, then match my tally with what I have actually produced.

*Thanks Paul for the list of common keying errors.

*re Wiki help, etc. I too have found this difficult to navigate

* I have recieved my first rating, obviously I wish to improve. I have taken on board all your advice. However is it possible to get some sort of report/list/feedback on the errors for my efforts so far? I have not been able to find this in the help only the Arbitrator instructions.

Thanks to all.


At present it is not possible to get that sort of individual feedback. BUT it is in development, so perhaps sometime in the future.

Arbitrators and reviewers usually don’t know whose sets they’re reviewing. (Sometimes we see one that shows up on a message board)

I tried indexing some holocaust records, and my accuracy dropped almost one third, from excellent to good. I don’t think that I will try to do any more.


Going up or down one category may not actually mean much in terms of percentage points. 92% is exceptional, but 91% will be excellent. Going down a category can mean as little as one point.

Some of the records are very difficult indeed.

A lot of times the difference will be an accent mark, or one or two characters in a name. Other times it will be missing fields, or missing records. Ask questions and we may be able to pin down your mistakes.

I’m doing the African American Newspapers. Sometimes image set has so much data I need to take a break. If I close it will I loose the data entered so far. I’m on record 67 of the first image set.

Kim, it will save your work for you to come back to later.

When keying the New Zealand directories watch out for pages which have a full “city” name in the top left hand corner of the first page of the image. Frequently the does not refer to the place carried over but to the next new place listed. If this is the case, the field for the “city” name of the place carried over should be left blank.

I find the little line guide to be very helpful.

I am keying House hold Lists in German which I have no knowledge of. The list I has 9 entries and skips down to the bottom and there are two more entries. they are totalled 9 and 2 . Do I enter the last two. they are not on any example I see.


Yes, key all the names.

Thanks everyone
All the comments posted here are a great help. I am new and downloaded my first set this evening, I did not realize I had a week to do each set. I am only on my first set and am up to number 6 of 7 images in this set. I am doing the America Naturalizations. The first 1 or 2 did were good I have done what was suggested and used brightness or made larger or smaller. I will be coming back often to read all the comments thanks everyone :)

For several years I have tried to find my 2-3 great grandfather Henry Herold. along with the Jacob Hentges family. Married around Galina, Ill. He worked on railroad as supervisor and met my ancestor Mary Sheehan at boardinghouse in Galena Ill.Mary Sheehan Henry Herold b. 1814-9/13/1881

Mary Sheehan b.1824 County Cork died at daughter’s home winona, Mn. Spent most of lie on farm outside Fountain City, Wi. Lost farm and money after death of Henry Herold provides useless information for me and I do have the $$$international version.The GEni libary in Dublin also has library version. I pay for mine and do not plan to continue. Rita

Just began yesterday, hope am doing it well, today is better. Kind of exciting….some family will be able to know more about ancestors.
A bit intimidating but will keep on.

Re: Accuracy Score. It would be really helpful if you could indicate how many of the records I’ve keyed are included in that score. I have keyed 1700 records to date. From the beginning, my accuracy score was “excellent” and I was really making an effort to improve it. Last evening I just plowed through a very difficult name list in the French holocaust records. I spent hours on one page, trying to follow all guidelines and decipher wretched handwriting. When I submitted the batch, and my # of records keyed was updated – I noticed that my accuracy rating was now “Good Job.” I know that the most recent records are not part of the calculation, but I don’t know if the score only includes the first 500 records I keyed [where I know I was doing some thing contrary to guidelines], if it’s right up to date with the batches I submitted prior to this one, etc. So I don’t really know if my efforts to improve are working or not. Thanks.

I have realized I made a mistake in keying. How can retrieve previous pages to correct them?

@j switzer, you can’t, hopefully your mistakes will get caught

So if a single or several letters in a word is illegible, what am I supposed to do? Somewhere I read to use the wild cards, but then elsewhere I’ve read not to. I’m very confused and my accuracy score stinks. Should I just type in the letters of a name that I can read and ignore what I can’t, mark the whole thing as illegible (even though some letters are crystal clear), or put the wild cards in?

In the Holocaust records, especially in the French records, sometimes there are several names in the Prenoms column separated by commas. I am keying them as first name and then middle names. Is that right, or should those be considered aliases?

I’m hoping someone out their can help me. I’m keying for the World Archives Project but,the past few days I’ve had a serious problem but,can’t find any help.Every time I try to key in the names and occupations of the men on the Cal. Railroad project the drop down dictionary over rides everything I’m trying to type in. It puts in what ever it wants! Things were working beautiful for weeks, but,now I’ve hit this snag.Can’t find anyone to help me through this problem.I’m praying someone out their sees this and can assist me in some way. Thank You and God Bless

I so want to help with the Memory Project, but I do not speak any of the languages. I have tried several times but I end up turning the records back in because I am afraid of getting them wrong. These records are so important!! I almost have panic attacks when I try to key them. I have been a long time keyer and arbitrator on other records, but these records are different and I want to key them perfectly, or not at all. fr

Hello Crista,
This is a long post – but it might be useful to someone so here it goes: My adventure with the Ancestry World Archives project.

Thought I would put my thoughts down in the hopes that some of them might make some sense to newcomers.
I started this to see what it was like. I like detail and creative work and thought it would be up my alley. It is definitely up my alley. Most of my work has been on the US Postmasters from 1830 to 1931.

When I first started I was at ‘needs improvement’. So I went back and reread the project notes and comments. I also did more digging around on the site and found lots of good information. Cursive handwriting in this time period is very fascinating, but sometimes not all that easy to read. Some things as simple as Mifs = Miss and the last loop on the base line of an M or other similar letter is not an ‘o’ or an ‘a’, are some of the things that helped me improve.

I remember being somewhat overwhelmed and nervous when I first started out. Looking at a whole page of cursive handwriting can startle you at times. But I hung in there and found out that if I just concentrated on ‘letter by letter’ that it wasn’t so overwhelming. I found out that my gut instinct on the interpretation of a letter was usually right. And if it wasn’t – using the ‘?’ in place of a letter or letters would pull up a menu and I could usually find the correct one on the menu and insert that by chosing the number on the menu. That helped a lot.

My work gradually improved to ‘good work’.
Typing ‘what you see’ is perhaps not a normal thing to do. You want to put in what you think are missing or incorrect letters or numbers. It took a while – but I concentrated on typing what you see and finally got the hang of that.
It was a long time before I got comfortable enough to use the shortcuts. The shortcuts are totally amazing! I learned – and my fingers learned – that if the month is June – all I type is the J and then the number 3, etc. Another big shortcut that it took me a while to learn was that the fields automatically capitalize each word in the field. Cutting out having to do the shift key for all caps was I’m sure a time saver and allowed me to make more entries in less time.

Some simple things helped me too. Like – as soon as an image set opens I need to select which form it is by the number and hit enter. If I don’t – then any changes I make I have to remake once I do select the form. Then – if the image is tilted – I hit his combination of keys: F10 – Right arrow – 1 – enter and the image is straightened up. (1 is usually all it takes to straighten up the image. Occasionally I have to enter 2 or more if it is really crooked. By using this sequence of keys I don’t have to look at the F10 window and it seems to load more quickly for me). My 3rd step it is to enlarge – really big! So that the only thing I see is the first line I need to enter and it is on the base where the scroll bar is. As long as the line I am keying is on the base where the scroll bar is I don’t find the need to use the highlights and I keep on track of where I am a lot better. My 4th step is to adjust the contrast if I need to. I never use the automatic brightness. I find I do better if I adjust the brightness and contrast for my eyes.

At first I thought that the database could possibly be made easier. I’m sure the World Archives teams are always working on improving it – but I came to realize how simple it really was and it definitely works. One thing that I finally remembered from past databases that I have worked on is that the combination of ‘shift+tab’ will take you backwards quickly field by field even to the previous row. This is a real timesaver especially when you have gone to the next cell and immediately realize that you made a mistake in the last cell.

I try to proof my work as I go along. Only rarely do I have to go back and reexamine something. For me it just works better that way than to wait and go back. I’ve read where other folks have better luck when they go back later.

My work finally got up to ‘excellent’. Prior to then I would occasionally get discouraged with the grading system . . . but it just takes time sometimes.

I would sometimes make a bit of a game out of the data entry. For example – if only a part of the name or month was showing like the month A – I’d guess whether it was August or April. I found out I was right a lot more than I was wrong. If I was wrong I’d just correct it. Data entry can get boring sometimes.

I believe I slipped back at some point from ‘excellent’ to ‘good work’ . . . so I went back and read the project information again and all the notes. I realized that I had been entering the name of the person if the words ‘re-appointed’ followed their name, and that the team had decided to not do that anymore. So I quit doing it also. I also struggled with some of the ‘buzz words’ of the team. Like Wiki – it took me forever to understand what that meant. It still confuses me sometimes. I also couldn’t seem to ask any questions of the team . . . I kept trying but it kept saying to use the ‘edit’ tab and I didn’t see any ‘edit’ tab. Finally – through the help of the help team – I realized that I had to ‘log in’ in order to see the ‘edit’ tab. I can do image sets without totally logging in (it showed my name at the top of the page so I thought I was logged in) so I thought I was logged in – but I wasn’t. By that time most of my questions had been answered by others.

My work was upgraded to ‘exceptional’. Yea!! That did make me feel good. I’ve slipped a couple of times back down to ‘excellent’ but I sort of knew I would when I was faced with a couple of really hard to read pages. But I keep keying the hard pages as best I could and tried to not think about it affecting my status. I know that is hard to do, but for the big picture you really have to just not concentrate on your grade.
Another thing that I love about the work is that whenever I find a post office or person’s name that wasn’t already in the database – and I would have to select it to make it green – that this probably meant that there were no previous records of that name being in that county or state before. And that families would be able to find ancestors perhaps from my work.

So this has been my journey during the last several months. I believe I started sometime in May of 2011. It is now October of 2011. I am not an arbitrator yet, and I might never be, but that is ok with me. It is a worthwhile project and I feel like I am doing well at it and will keep on going.

It does take perseverance! And making the project fun for yourself. Setting goals for yourself. And keeping up with the projects and the notes. I’m looking forward to when I can try another project. But I want to see the postmasters finished first.