What Indexes Can Let Us ByPass

When I began my genealogical research in the early 1980s, the number of indexes to records was far fewer than it is today. The increase in indexes is generally helpful to the researcher and there is no doubt that the increase in indexes has made the location of items significantly easier.  This is not a post wishing for the “good old days of genealogical research” when fewer records were indexed.

No longer does one have to spend hours reading some records page by page in an attempt to find a specific individual.

The duplicate copies of the church book for Wiesens, Ostfriesland, Germany are indexed on Ancestry.com. I can type a name in the search box  and find an index entry for the record (assuming the name is spelled the way I think it is). That’s an entirely different process from how I searched those records on microfilm twenty years ago. I had to read the records page by page. I saw how the records were organized. I saw how the handwriting changed over time. I saw what a typical record looked like.  I saw how the records changed over time. Yes it took more time to find the people of interest.

But my understanding of the records was enhanced. My ability to utilize the records and understand them were enhanced

In those days when fewer records were indexed, locating individuals required a good understanding of how the originals were created, maintained, and organized. Entering a name in a box to search was not an option. That knowledge of the records made manual searches more effective because to be successful researchers had to have an idea of where in the records to look.  Those skills are still necessary today when the records we wish to use are not indexed or the individual we are trying to find is not in the inexed

Those manual search techniques are still necessary. Sometimes our reliance on indexes can make us lazy and sometimes our reliance on indexes to records we are unfamiliar with can cause us to use records without fully understanding them.

It can be  good exercise to ask yourself:

How would I find someone in this record if there was no index?

If you have no idea–that might be an opportunity to learn.



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