A few quick reminders before searching for someone in any online database or set of digitized images.
Familiarize yourself with what the index includes.
- Is it an every name index?
- Are only certain names from each record included?
Is the index complete?
Some online indexes are “in progress.” Fee-based sites may post datasets that are incomplete in order to draw new subscribers. Make certain the database or set of records include the specific areas or time periods in which you have an interest, even if it is incomplete. An index may state that it’s for California between 1800 and 1950, but may only include certain counties and some counties may not have coverage during that entire time frame.
Some indexes are created by using volunteer submissions. Volunteers may submit entries from families in which they have an interest. Consequently not every record may be in the index.
Determine if the original records are completely extant.
The original records from which the index was created may not be completely extant.
Determine how to search the index.
- What search parameters can be used?
- What database fields can be used to search?
- Are keyword searches allowed?
Learn how the records are organized so that manual searches can be conducted.
- Are the individual original records listed geographically?
- Are the individual original records created chronologically?
- Are the individual original records recorded alphabetically?
Know alternate spellings for all names being searched.
- Spelling variations
- Handwriting variations
It’s always best to do some thinking before typing a name in that search box.