Key As Seen

As I promised last Monday, I’ll do my best to keep today’s quality post brief.  Today’s discussion revolves around the over-riding rule of keying.  It comes up over and over in discussion with arbitrators – and, as I do more arbitration myself, I can see why.  I have become convinced that if we would all follow this rule we could elminate at least half of the arbitration required to move these records along.  The rule?

Key As Seen


As genealogists we often must interpret records.  And, when doing research we often have the context to do so.  When keying records, not only do we not have the context of the full family history behind us, we also have the obligation to be true to the original record.  We are creating an index – a finding aid.  Nothing more.  We are not creating a complete transcription.  We are not creating a “more accurate” (whatever that might be) interpretation of the record.  We are creating an index and maintaining the integrity of the original record.


When the first name is listed as Wm or Jno or Kath – Key As Seen.

When the place of birth is listed as Lancs and you just know what that stands for – Key As Seen.

When a suffix of Jun is listed, no matter how much you want to expand it – Key As Seen.

When the rank is listed as Sergt or Lieut (or even worse, Leiut) – Key As Seen.

When the birth year is listed as 72 and you just know it’s 1872 because that is the time period of the records you are keying – Key As Seen.

Get the idea?

There are only a VERY few exceptions to the key as seen rule and they are (almost always) called out in the field helps.  The two I am aware of that are consistent are these:

1.  We key months out in full.

2.  We do NOT key periods wherever they may appear (but be sure to maintain the spaces) whether in initials in a given name or abbreviations in places or business names.

There are other rules that sometimes get broken.  But, I have found that at least half of what I am arbitrating are discrepancies that would be resolved if everyone followed this one, simple rule.

Until next time – Happy Keying!

Added 3 Dec 2010:  Follow up post – Key as Seen:  Revisited.

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Your message was phrased so perfectly, I wanted to cry with pleasure. You hit the nail on the head with your second paragraph, we need to remember that our role is to key, not be genealogists. Your description should be included with the General Keying Instructions. It should be included in each and every project, then any exceptions could be listed after it.
Please keep this one handy, I think you will need to remind us every now and again.
Thank you – thank you – thank you.

Christa, we have a collision between this blog post and what the Keying standards actually state with regard to years:

“When the birth year is listed as 72 and you just know it’s 1872 because that is the time period of the records you are keying – Key As Seen.”

Keying standards:
“Years should be entered as 4-digit years when possible. If the year on the image is only 2 digits please try to determine what century the event occurred in. ”

One or the other needs to be brought into alignment with Ancestry Policy.

We just had a discussion on the boards last night about ‘keying as seen’ regarding locations.

On the older projects (Original naturalizations, British Postals to name two) we are to separate locations with a semi-colon. We were only told to start keying as seen when Anna’s blog came out July 29th

We were only told July 29th to start keying locations as seen with the new projects going forward. So the older projects would still use the older rule as using semi-colon for a seperator for locations.

I have a problem with ‘key as seen’ on the California Railway records. Some occupations are listed as RH4man or simply 4man.I know that stands for foreman. The field for occupation will not let me type a number. What do I do?

Denis, I haven’t bothered to look it up but I recall that awhile back we were told that in the case of “4man” on the California RR records we can key “foreman,” but that is the one of the few exceptions.

Sandi Thanks for that quick answer. You’r a star. Was 4man the first text shorthand, that is now in common usage on mobile phones? I wonder.

Very helpful to new keyers. Thank you. I agree with Paul though, as I have been extending the year wherever possible as first instructed in the keying standards. Can someone tell me if I key info like ‘of a place name’ and if so where? I have been putting it in the suffix but am not convinced this is right or if it is even required at all, although as a genealogist I would like to see it.

Christa, the Keying Standards appear to contradict what you say about maintaining the spaces in places or business names:

Unless the Field Help states otherwise locations should be keyed as seen. Abbreviations that appear with punctuation would be keyed without the punctuation and no spaces. For example, “G.B.” would be keyed as “GB”.

There are quite a few other general exceptions.

From the WAP Keying Standards:

How should dates be entered?

If the date appears as 04 on the record the date should be entered as 4

Enter the full gender name from the list of suggested entries (male, female, unknown)

Marital Status
If known, enter the full marital status name from the list of suggested entries (married, single, widowed, divorced, never married)

How do I key the age?

When the age is in months, always key it in the format of months over 12. For example, if 8 months is recorded on the image enter 8/12.
When the age is recorded in years, simply enter the number.
If the age is listed in days that total less then a month, such as 13 days, enter 0.
Additionally, if the age is recorded in a format such as 6 y 3 m 2 d just key the year. In this example you can simply enter 6.
If the entry states, Minor should that be entered?

No, only numbers should be entered in the Age field.

Is it okay to type all in CAPS?

Proper capitalization should be used when entering data from the images. The first letter of proper nouns (names of people and places) should be capitalized and the remainder of the name should be entered in lower case letters.

(I’m including this one because if the name is written in all caps on the image this implies we are supposed to change it to have proper capitalization.)

And one which may confuse new keyers if they are indeed supposed to key these as seen rather than take from the dropdoen list:

How do I key words that are not names, dates or locations?

It’s best to use the list of suggested entries as you enter data from these fields. For fields such as the cause of death and occupation it will be best to rely on the list of suggested entries that will appear as you begin to key the data.

Also one that is the subject of some discussion on the message boards at the moment, although I don’t think it is mentioned in the general keying standards (only in the Wiki version) – an ampersand (&) should be replaced with the word “and”.

When you write “We do not key periods”, do you mean what in England we would call “full stops”? We don’t use the word ‘period’ in a grammatical context.

Project specific instructions are sometimes different than the general instructions and thus would take priority over the general instructions on a given project.

However, regarding dates… For the Appointment of US Postmasters, it very specifically says to key as seen. Some of the dates are two digit, some are four. It is obvious what they should be, but they are still keyed as written, even if the one on either side of a two digit one is a four digit one.

Thanks, Crista, for your helpful advice. Of course, it would have been helpful if some of this could be emphasized in the individual projects. I have been guilty of interpreting placenames and county names in the UK Apprentice records, by selecting from the dropdown menus. e.g. Co. Hertford as Hertfordshire. It’s very much against the grain to perpetuate spelling ‘errors’ when correct values are in the dropdown lists. How is that helping with the indexing of the data?
I will of course take advice from you.


thank you for clarifying the standards.

Kate, thank you for listing all the exeptions, of which some are general keying rules, some are project specific.

crista, so then if i understand this what you gave us . then i’ve slowed the process down some because i’ve allowed the computer to take the lieut out to the whole word. and others like names , and i’ve well not gone through the instructions every day that i key. yes now i ll do better.

I have a question regarding punctuation. What do I do with regard to the use of the apostrophe within Irish names such as O’Reilly. Whenever I key them into a name (as written) they show up as unknown. The same applies to the use of accented letters (from the dropdown) in European names.

As an English person I have a further question regarding “periods”, I have always understood this to be American for “full stop”, is this always the case or, in a keying context, does this apply to all punctuation marks?

Elisabeth, those exceptions that I posted up were all taken from the general keying standards, none of them were from rules for specific projects. (Though of course any of them could be over-ridden by the rules for a particular project)

I’m new and more confused. If we should “Key As Seen” but instructions say to use auto for instantace. Record says Capt wne we key in Capt we get choices of 1(in red drop menue) and result is Captain then do we use the (1) for full word or do just just Do capt? there should be stead fast rules for when you use the drop down menu and when u Key As Seen. Same with year dates. My question is is there a stead fast rule or so we use or own judgement?

When keying a page that has no date on it but you have already keyed the previous pages in sequence and you know the date, does this mean we can’t carry that date over to that next page, do we need to leave the date space blank?

Christa, I wish that there was one person from your group that controlled the standards for keying.

It seems like we get different standards every other month and depending on who you talk to that day may state a different standard.

Some of the standards you stated are different then what is in the field help.

If the group have decided that these are the standard please update all the field helps and other documents to comply.


Where can you see how many points you’ve accumulated during the November/December challenge?

Please answer! This is the 4th blog post I’ve asked this one without an answer. Thanks.


At present the Points system has not been integrated into the keying tool or on any website I’m aware of.

You will have to ask contact Support. The direct email is:

@Denis: Probably not. Abbreviations and shorthand have been around a good long time.

@Lyn: “of somewhere” is not a suffix. there was a good long debate about that some time ago on the boards. It ended with that decision.

@Wendy: period and fill stop are synonyms. With Period being American usage and Full Stop Being British.

@Geoffrey: Often times what you perceive as a spelling error is not the case. spellings of place names have evolved over the years. and some of our records predate standardization. Our task is t9o preserve the integrity of the original document, not to correct it.

@Liz: Unless there are project specific instructions otherwise, we do not carry information from one image to another. (that is not necessarily the same as one page to another, as some images have multiple pages)

I am also working on reilroad payroll. I had the same problem and found out that if you hit F12 it will allow you to add numbers in the middle. Example – Asst4man

Wendy – a period and a full stop is the same thing.

If you have a given name listed as John A. B. you would key John A B missing out the full stops.


Having spent many hours this morning changing ‘Thomas’ to ‘Thos’, ‘Surrey to ‘Surry’ etc etc, your plea was timely.

Then by accident I downloaded some ‘Alabama Convict Records’ for Keying for which the project specific help states “if year is given as 2 digits, augement the year to 4 digits”! No wonder keyers and arbitrators are having problems. Is there any chance of a consistent approach to all projects on the basics?

Lastly and hopefully stating the obvious, the date ’10-6-39′ can mean 2 different things depending on which side of the ‘pond’ you reside. On my island on the east side, it means ’10 June 39′.

I am reminded of a song my mother used to sing which included a line, “you say tomatoe, I say tomartoe”. Various people are quoted as saying something along the lines of: “We are 2 nations divided by a common language”. Can I make a plea to those setting up the projects, offering advice via the help files, boards and web sites to keep the broad spectrum of international ‘keyers’ in mind.



Christa, thank you for your comment, because I am guilty of keying more than what I do/don’t see. Most of the images I get, with the exception of the last group, are so difficult to read. I use every tool available at times to get an accurate spelling, and maybe that is where I run into trouble. I refuse to settle for a suggested spelling, because typewritten names are often worse than the written, esp early 20th century. What I don’t understand, but I will certainly respect, is why Jhn cannot be keyed in as John–only because when I was working on my family genealogy, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why an ancestor was named Jhn. Most of my early contributions to keying were correcting the names of ancestors! It is difficult to determine if the typewritten letter is a c, z, s, e or o, because of the nature of typewriter keys and ink, back then. I have to project myself as a genealogist of some sort because the people immigrated from Austria-Hungary, Italy, Czekoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Scotland, Ireland, and England–I can’t speed it up when I come across a name that has an i.e., cz, czys, etc. blend–you can’t imagine the torture I go through deciding how a name is spelled, either because of the typewritten name or typewriter’s error. Sometimes I wish all I had to watch out for are days, months, years, etc., but then where would the challenge be? 🙂

And then there is the U.S. Postmasters appointments docs which do not have a drop down that correctly spells “Illinois” so I have to click the button to make it correct. Someone mis-typed for the drop-down because the states are spelled correctly on the images.

This is making my head spin. In the interest of the indexers (who are doing this on their own time, because they care), there must be a standardization of keying rules. I index 4-digit dates (unless it states otherwise it project). I do not index punctuation except for apostrophes in names. I’ve tried various projects and gave up on most of them because of the contradictory information and feedback. Please standardize.

I was hoping that Christa would have amended the blog before this. So I don’t have to say it. But the information on years as stated in the blog is wrong and the keying standards remain in effect.


I saw your email yesterday and I have updated the Keying Standards but the year ruling remains the same – the fallback is to rely on the Field helps. I have also talked to Crista.



On the same day we were told to “key as seen,” I received a response from WAP telling me that prefixes and suffixes are always to be capitalized, even if the initial letter is lower case in the original. This too is not “key as seen.”

Christa, I appreciate your comments which do have broad applications and it is important to always reproduce what we see not what we think. Of course, all of the above exceptions are just that. I share with my fellow keyer’s frustrations per always some exceptions but I think it is unlikely to be able to make fast rules which could possibly cover all such diverse projects. This is in your and WAP’s defense.
Having said that my constant frustration with the project is the completely indirect modes of communications. Frankly, the whole blog and board idea here doesn’t work well. It does help to know what one arb or another thinks since they are going to be affecting your score. However, it is not a clear way to get a question answered. And some folks always have an opinion which isn’t always correct and they may not be familiar with the docs you are doing at all.
If you insist on scoring people then you need to have much much better communication. The standards per each project are never well thought out and seem to seldom be done by someone who has keyed more than one or two pages of that project.
I always wonder, over and over, why can’t the arbs comment back to the keyers directly? It would save so much hassle and blog to blog, board to board confusion. They can be completely anonymous and all would go so much smoother for everyone involved. We constantly make mistakes in misreading longhand and a typo here and there but most of what we get dinged for has to do with things mentioned above- all the exceptions.
I know I am not alone in my frustration with the seeming auto-pilot attitude of WAP. You could do a better job of project specific instructions, much better. You could keep them up dated. You could follow the project’s progress as groups of records suddenly change in format and inform us…well, the list could go on and on and I don’t want to sound abbrasive. If we threw back the cutains as in the “Wizard of Oz” would we see one little guy back there pushing the billows and making all the rules????
We just want to do a good job…why else would we dedicate so many hours of our time. Thanks so much…John N

I think the ability for an arbitrator to provide feedback when there are significant issues with a keyers image set would be a positive enhancement to the project. Annonymous, yes. Even something as simple as a form with the most common error types liste that can be checked off and sent on the way. Of course, a spot for ‘other’ with comments would be necessary, but it would save the arbitrators from having to write out exactly what was wrong each time, and it would also prevent keyers from receiving what may be perceived as insulting feedback. Some suggestions from my arbitration experiences: Did not key all records on image. Used incorrect form types. Do not key punctuation. Do not expand abbreviated names. Key dates as seen. The drop down menu is only suggestions, if the name isn’t on it key what you see. Do not enter blank lines. General errors. Feedback doesn’t need to be given for every little thing. We all make some mistakes and typos, it is to be expected. Save the feedback for bigger issues. I arbitrated four sets in a row one day on the California RR records where one keyer neglected to key the occupations. That was about fifty records per set, and from all appearances it was done by the same keyer. That would have been a big hit, especially for someone who doesn’t key a high volume of records.

The feedback to keyer tab could be located somewhere on the arbitration page, we would just select A or B and click off what the problems were.

I’m not a computer genius by any means, but it seems to me something like this shouldn’t be too difficult to put into effect.

This blog was good and needed. I goes back to the subject of be informed before keying. Doing the Buffalo Soldier project, keying as seen is always the rule. Except for expanding the year, records are keyed as seen even if you know the spelling is wrong. It may be right next month. The F7 key fixes the names and ranks that the tool does not accept. I avoid the drop down menu as it will lead in the wrong direction. The biggest problem I have with arbitrating these records is that the keyers don’t research the action place names very well. These records deal with place in the Southwestern part of the US with Spanish names, including land formations and the like, but can be found on a map. They also expand Ft to Fort, or IT to Indian Territory. I find that most don’t read the entire image for names hidden in the remarks or the Record of Event with can contain names of Officers or Enlisted. I do all of this as very positive step toward uniting the WAP Community.

Some of us are from the UK – I guess when you say ‘do not key in periods’ you mean full stops??

@Suzanne: Period and full stop are synonymous. American usage vs British usage.

Thanks for the answer Paul. If ‘of somewhere’ is not a suffix does it get keyed at all and if so where? obviously this coudl be vital info.

It seems to me that if you don’t want keyers to perpetuate their mistakes and waste arbitrator’s time then feedback is essential. It could be general to all keyers or individual as long as it is private and polite. No one wants to be told they are rubbish so helpful tips would be useful.

Perhaps I will start indexing again when these issues are resolved and based on common sense. As is you can spend more time figuring how to key than you can keying.

@lyn (36)

It would be a place of residence on those projects with such a field. Not keyed otherwise.

Thanks Paul.

Is there a way that we could receive a quick e-note when one of our many contributions is arbitrated and we have consistently “interpreted” or entered something wrong?

We want to do it right and can’t always tell!

Thank you Crista, I have only just started keying,and this article answers all the questions I wanted to ask very helpful.

I see, again, many people mentioning the need to be able to have feedback from arbitrators to keyers. I know that, since I’ve been involved with the project, it has been asked for many, many, times; I was told it was asked for long before I joined, as well.
There have been so many helpful suggestions about how to add it into the keying tool, or how to send a form letter anonymously, but I see no hurry in AWAP’s getting this done. No matter how many of us ask, how many times we ask, or how frustrated we get about needing it, we seem to be wasting our time.
I am arbitrating a set right now where one keyer consistently chose the wrong way to do something (well, several somethings), and I want so much to be able to tell him or her:
Don’t expand anything except months (this is project-specific, as many of these rules are), not names, nor ranks, nor placenames.
Pay attention to which date to use.
Ranks above Private and below Lieutenant are NOT Officers.
If it weren’t for those three mistakes, which were made consistently, that keyer was outstanding. If he or she only knew NOT to do those mistakes, the quality of work he or she put out would skyrocket, and it would save arbitrators a bunch of time and frustration.
Again, we are asking, pleading, begging for some form of feedback between arbitrators and keyers – please, please, please! And, did I mention? Please!

I’m keying for the Naturalization project and I’m getting two Declaration of Intention pages on my screen. I can’t seem to get to the one on the right hand side. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?


Well, after some months away due to study, now it’s over was planning on getting back into this , but after reading all 44 comments, and inputting some records, I think it is all too hard, and much too much contentcious ?? an issue to even worry right now. Shame really. Can see both sides but as someone so rightly put it…how about a bit of common sense in all this, it’s hard enough to translate some of the handwriting as it is without stupidity being thrown in for good measure. Good luck.

While keying birth countries for naturalization records, I encountered a lot of confusion. But worked with the leader to make sure I’m keying what you want from keyers. The drop-down menu, which is difficult for naturalization images given the history of European nations, does not include variations for, i.e., Roumania or Jugoslavia. After keying so many thousands of images, this key as you see rule has really been difficult. We have to accurately figure out surnames, and we do key what we see, and hope it’s correct.

I often find it difficult to choose the correct form type as the pages do not seem to fit the listed forms even when I look at the examples- especially with the Militia records i am working on at the moment. It would certainly help if an arbitrator could tell me what it should be.

I find the keying of ranks very odd. Pte is available on the drop down list but pri is interpreted as private. There seems to be no drop down for colour sergeant or S Serg which i assume is staff sergeant. It would be helpful if a better interpretation of rank was defined and in all cases the full rank was keyed.
Also it is quite disconcerting to find in the middle of a signature the comment “his mark”. i assume in this case someone else has added the signature.

I don’t know where I’ll find the answer to this ccause I’m constantly getting lost on this site! I am keying Alabama Reference Name Files and have keyed over 3500 of them. I found a site with questions posted by others concerning this project and ask several questions on it, however now I can’t find the site. I am very concerned because after keying that many files I am still rated “Needs Improvement”. I really see no reason to continue making errors that someone else has to take the time to correct. PLEASE find a way to let me know at least the major errors I’m commiting. I love doing this but am really getting frustrated!! I want to do a really good job – I have over 15000 in my family tree and use this a lot. Thanks for any help you can give me.