Family historians love an index, especially if it is online. While there is no doubt that indexes are essential tools for doing genealogy, I would like to share with you some important tips to help you make the most the time that you spend checking these lists of names. These tips have been developed over many years of helping family historians and form part of our Finding Families genealogy workshop:

  • Develop the practice of reading the introduction and other notes that form part of the index. These will help you fully understand and interpret the information
  • Always follow through index entries to their original (primary) source to verify that it is your ancestor. You can also check for transcription errors and name variations
  • Be aware of spelling issues. Consider all possible variations in spelling a name including the obvious macdonald/mcdonald but also the possibility people being listed under their middle names, double-barrelled surnames, etc.

I also recommend that you check out Judy Webster’s really helpful website that is full of advice for everyone who uses or creates indexes.I particularly like this tip

  • If you did not find your ancestor in the index, it only means that you haven’t found them in the index! You cannot conclude that it’s not in the record

Another super source of information is Pauline Litton’s Pitfalls and possibilities in family history research available in the Genealogy Centre or visit her website.

What tips do you have for working with indexes?


This article has 2 comments

  1. Great article Chris. I would also recommend that, for online or CD-ROM indexes, people read any ‘help’ pages that are available. These let you know if you can use wildcard searching options, which allow you to search for partial words, abbreviations and variant spellings. They can also help you to decipher unusual entries (e.g. did you know that in the CD-ROM Pioneers index for Victorian births, a birth registration number ending in letter can indicate that the person is a twin?)

  2. To add to my comment above, and to quote from the help file of the Victorian Pioneer Index:

    If the registration number has an ‘R’ at the end, the marriage has probably more than one entry in the index.

    An ‘X’ in the number indicates a re-registration at a later date (the year of re-registration usually follows the X).

    The other letters usually indicate the registration number was erroneously assigned to more than one event (the letters separate individual events).

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