Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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What is the first place any genealogist looks when they open a book? The index. Why? Because they hope their ancestor is listed in the index. Genealogists love indexes and so they have created census indexes, marriage indexes, birth indexes, death indexes, obituary indexes, tax indexes, land indexes and book indexes.
The WPA indexed the 1900 and 1920 census and parts of the 1880 and 1910 and 1930 census, using a system called Soundex. Similar sounding names were grouped together in this system. This was supposed to help make up for the poor spelling of the census takers and it does help, but it still has the problem with the first letter being wrong. Karr and Carr will be soundexed as K700 and C700. The WPA used 3x5 cards for the Soundex and that system was used by a lot of others to index also, remember the card file at your library?
Computers have changed indexing, and AIS was one of the first to index the census. AIS hired university students to index and paid them by the page for indexing the census. I have heard a lot of complaints about all the errors in the AIS indexes, but indexing a census is not an easy job. There are a lot of pages which are very hard to read. The writing is hard to read on a lot of pages also. Most of these indexes were printed out in book form and cost a lot. When CDs became popular, a lot of the AIS indexes were copied to CDs, and they are quite a lot cheaper.
One may, also, scan text into the computer using OCR (optical character recognizing) software to read the scanned text and then generating an index. I helped to proofread the Mayflower Descendant CD about 12 years ago. It was interesting to see how poorly the OCR software did in recognizing letters. If a letter "U" or "N" were kind of faint they might show up as two "LL"s (ll), the letter l and the number 1 were confused a lot by the software, but most typewriters used the same key for the letter l and the number 1 also. At that time I think it would have been almost as fast to transcribe the data as to scan and correct the errors. Today OCR is a lot better than it was then and it is still getting better all the time. So far OCR software only works on printed or typed text, handwriting does not work.
The other thing computer indexes have changed is you used to be able to look at the index and see a lot of similar names listed You could check out the variations in spelling. For instance, when you put Neilson in a search box it will not bring up Nielson. Now you néed to put in all the similar spellings to find out if your ancestor is there.
What happens if you cannot find your ancestor in an index when you are sure he or she should be in the index? Well you could always go page by page through what ever was indexed to see if your ancestor was there and maybe missed, or his name was so misspelled you did not think of that variation. I once was looking for my great uncle in the 1920 Minnesota census, and I could not find him in the Soundex. I thought I had tried all the variations of his given name Lawrence. I tried his Danish name Laurits, and Lawrence, and Laurence. It still was not there. I knew his brother John lived next door, so I found John and went to the actual census, and next door was Lorense.
A recent tip in Ancestry Daily News, said they were having trouble finding someone in one of the census indexes, and they sorted using the given name till they found the people they were looking for and the surname was so far off they probably would not have found them using similar sounding names. A lot of the indexes today are nearly complete extractions, so you can sort by several fields and narrow down the search in looking for your ancestor.
Indexing is pretty easy now with all the computer programs around, but most data left to index is handwritten It usually takes a few pages to get used to the handwriting. Even then, a lot of letters are hard to distinguish in old handwriting, H and K, C and E, G and S, F and T, and U, V and N.
One of the best tips is to check to see what the index includes. Does it include everyone, just head of households, or only those with children age 10 or younger? What is included in the index? They could include surnames, given names, age and page numbers. Should you check the actual record or stop at the index? Always check the actual record, indexes can still have errors also.
Some of us may do it all of the time, some may do it some of the time and others don't do it at all.
What are you talking about?", you say. I am talking of something that should and would make our research a lot easier if we did it all of the time. I am talking of DOCUMENTATION of sources. We should all do it and a lot of us don't do it all of the time. I didnt do it all of the time when I first started and I have a lot of facts that I didn't document. I know where they came from but that is not the point. If I want to present some of these so the public can read them I néed to go back and put the documentation in.
How many times have we found information that seems to fit our family but when we look for the documentation there isn't any. That is a big disappointment. We may choose to keep a record of what we find and where we find it, However, we will try to find the person who submitted this and if we do, we may find that they have no proof or documentation for what they stated. This happens on the internet but also in other places, too.
There was a lecture presented at the last FGS conference on source documentation. I had a confilct and went to the other lecture and purchased the tape for the one on source documentation. In a way I am glad that I chose to do it that way. The tape is great and now I have a recorded item of that lecture...my documentation of that. This was presented by Amy Johnson Crow.
She defined documentation as where you find your facts. It can be used by you as you analyze your facts so that you may solve a problem you may have about your ancestor and his/her life. It will help you to evaluate the research of others. She talked especially of source citations. The one thing she kept reiterating was that you "Cite what you see." That is, if your source was a note written at a meeting...that is your source and what you cite. Because it is a note you néed to look further to document this.
Ms Crow gave the components of a citation and said that whenever we use a citation we should include all of these:1
Footnotes, Recommended reading & viewing: