Skillbuilding: Using Indexes
- Newsletter of the BCG
Anita Anderson Lustenberger, "Using Indexes,"
OnBoard 3 (September 1997): 24.
Question: When is a source not a source? Answer: When it
is an index.
In the last issue of OnBoard (May 1997) this column discussed
analyzing and reviewing published sources and suggested
two questions a researcher should ask: What is the purpose
of this work? and How well is that purpose fulfilled? There
are many works whose purpose is to be an index to other
works; as such, they fill the intended purpose quite well.
However, problems arise when an index is quoted as though
it were a source.
“But it was my source,” you say. “It’s
where I found my information.” Not so. It is the place
you found the clue that should lead you to the source. The
following examples illustrate the point.
When the soundex to a census yields a family configuration
that fits your other data, don’t cite the soundex
card. Go to the census page itself, verify that the soundex
extractor interpreted the handwriting correctly, study the
information and columns not included on the soundex card,
and scan the neighbors. Your eventual citation will be the
census itself, e.g.:
1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Buchanan Co.,
Va., Sand Lake magisterial dist., enumeration dist. 16,
sheet 45, dwelling 35, family 35.
INTERNATIONAL GENEALOGICAL INDEX [IGI]
As its name states, the IGI is an index. It is not a citable
source. The citation would be to the source of the information
that was entered into the IGI. Broadly, entries in the IGI
come from (1) extraction projects from films of original
records; and (2) group sheets and family research submissions
that may, but often do not, contain source information.
When a clue is found in the IGI, the real source must be
If the source is an extraction from an original record,
you must look at the film yourself to see if you agree with
the interpretation of the handwriting and of the record.
You often will be rewarded with additional detail such as
ages, names of parents, and names of witnesses that are
not included in the IGI entry. After checking the original,
you may then cite:
Wethersfield [Conn.] First Congregational Church Records,
1694–1738, Roger Welles’ Copy,” 132;
Family History Library [FHL] microfilm 1,1014,196.
If the reference is to a family group sheet or individual
submission, you must note the “batch number”
cited for the index entry. Use this number to locate the
film containing a photograph of the submission, then note
the source of the information on that sheet.
If the submitter cites an original record, get the film
of that record, confirm the information, and cite the original
as your source. If the citation is to another derivative
work, go there to see if it cites the original. (It may
have no citations at all!)
The object is to find that original source and then to confirm
the information provided in the IGI and the submitted data.
If origins cannot be determined and the information seems
logical and probable, you might then cite the best secondary
source—in proper form. Do not cite “IGI.”
All too often the citation on the submission by a patron
or a proxy is “Rec’d by corresp. from relative”
or else the line is left blank. It is shocking how many
of the “facts” people copy from the IGI fall
into this category. Again, try to confirm the information
using original sources. If the data seem very probable,
you may have to say that you found the information in an
index database, and then explain the unsuccessful efforts
you made to find the original record. For example:
A family group sheet for Isaac and Mary deposited in the
Family Group Record Archives, Family History Library, Salt
Lake City (no. 1,273,709) cites the date as 6 August 1650,
but the date is not in Farmington’s vital records
or either of the two sources listed on the family group
TORREY’S NEW ENGLAND MARRIAGES
In New England, a very popular index to records is Clarence
Almon Torrey’s “New England Marriages Prior
to 1700.” This index is a manuscript. The original
is at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston
but is available nationwide on microfilm (NEHGS Ms 142;
FHL Microfilm 929,494).
An index to this index was published by Genealogical Publishing
Company (Baltimore, 1985). Do not cite this index. Using
its clues, go to the microfilm and find Torrey’s handwritten
entry for the marriage. To the side of the names of the
couple and their marriage and/or birth dates, Torrey has
listed all the references he found.
Most of Torrey’s sources are secondary ones—town
histories, genealogies, and even other indexes and directories.
This means you must go to those sources and try to deduce
the original sources from which their data are extracted.
Other geographical areas have their own local, highly regarded
indexes. There are published guides to religious records,
military collections, passenger lists, and bounty land files.
They are all just indexes. The essential determination to
be made is: What is the purpose of this work? If the purpose
is to be an index, use it as an index. Do not misuse it
by treating it as a source.
Anita Anderson Lustenberger,
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