I signed up as a FamilySearch Indexing volunteer a few weeks ago to check out the process first hand. Despite past reports of lags in the application process, it was quick and painless for me. I signed up one day and received my acceptance email with user name and password the next. The next step was to download their indexing software which was also quick and easy. This software means that you can download a batch of images to index and then work on them offline. Some professionals reportedly use their airplane trips to transcribe images! You can ask to join a specific indexing project, or just sign up as a general indexer - which is the option I chose.
Once I downloaded the software and logged in, the next step was to click "Download Indexing Batch." The first batch I was given was a page containing about 50 names from the 1900 Federal Census of Illinois. It took me about 20 minutes to transcribe the names. Some may be able to complete this even quicker and some may take longer, especially for those who don't have a lot of experience with the particular record being indexed. The software was slick. The column and line for each item I needed to transcribe was highlighted on the actual image as I went so it was easy to keep from losing my place. New words were automatically capitalized, which saved wear and tear on my shift key, and the tab key made it easy to move from one field to the next without having to touch my mouse. Auto-complete also meant that I only needed to type a letter or two to complete a surname or state name that I had previously used - such as Il for Illinois and Io for Iowa. All of these little touches took a lot of the drudgery out of indexing and made the process actually enjoyable!
When you have a question, specific instructions concerning what to include in each field are featured on the right-hand side of your transcription window, such as using the first three letters of the month for the month field. The only question I had that wasn't specifically answered was what to do with the squiggle the enumerator used in the parent's birthplace field when the place was unknown. I ended up coding it as blank and the arbitrator will probably end up having to make that decision.
Once my batch was complete, I submitted the batch over the Internet to FamilySearch Indexing. Somewhere, another volunteer indexer will also be indexing that exact same batch. If their transcription matches mine 100% then they will be sent to FamilySearch headquarters as a completed entry. If there is a difference on even one field, the two records are sent to an arbitrator who looks at the two transcribed entries along with the original record and makes the final decision on the correct entry.
Overall, the experience was fun and easy! The only difficulties I ran into over 4 batches was the aforementioned squiggle issue, and a question about handwriting. I couldn't decide if a particular letter was an I or a T, and looked for other names with the same letters. Although you are able to look at the preceding page (often necessary for families carried from one page to the next), no other images can be viewed. Can you believe that over two pages not one word began with a capital T? I did find another I, however, which looked the same as my unknown letter and decided that my initial assumption was correct. I would have felt more comfortable, however, being able to check at least another page or two just to be sure.
You receive no free records or other privileges for being a FamilySearch Indexer - just the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to the promotion of genealogy as a body of knowlege, and to the access of important historical records. If you've got some free time and a passion for genealogy, why not try it out for yourself?