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.






One response

  1. I have been trying to find two cousins I have. I never met them but I know they were born somewhere on the gulf coast region. I can find where my uncle lived in Baton Rouge for a while and also in Texas but I can find no information out about his daughters. One night on ancestry I checked every state for birth records of these girls and came up empty.I know that they are a little bit older then me so I am assuming they were born between 1940-1955. Maybe it is because it is too recent to show up in a census and I am not sure how old birth records need to be before they show up on ancestry. Do you have any advice for me.

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