Indexes and Printed Records are Genealogy Research Tools…

Indexes and Printed Records are Genealogy Research Tools–searching them first is a genealogy research strategy that will work well for you.  It is a first step only.

Search the indexed, printed records first.  This strategy is a first step! You can check in those libraries where you research frequently.  You can check online–where you will find many abstracted and printed sources–with indexes.  You can check for books that are available for loan.  Or already posted on blogs.

Chart the genealogical data you find–as you go along in your searches.  You can do it manually on family group sheets, maps, excel files, pedigrees or on your computer.  All genealogy programs have the capacity to create charts that are not linked–they can be sorted by name, by date, by place, by other categories.

Next, read the original documents. Use volumes and page numbers from your printed stuff to gain quick access to the documents themselves.  And keep their data separate from the printed versions.  Do not mix them together, nor link them in your files as you go along in your research.  Whether you make  full copies of the documents themselves–and there are many reasons to copy them in full–or if you extract the information by hand or by computer, read the documents.

Chart this new  genealogical data  in the same way.

Evaluate your evidence.  Carefully.  What fits?  What doesn’t fit?  What internal clues lie in the documents that you can follow up?  References to original records that were used by the author of the printed version or history?  Follow these up–there will be references to tax rolls you haven’t yet seen.  Locations for early census records that other genealogists and how-to-guides do not know about.  You will be the first to add these details to your database.

The index, the printed record, the compiled genealogy–is a research tool.  You will never live long enough to work your way through hundreds of rolls of microfilm–and neither will I, if you hire me to do the searching.

Use all the tools available to you.  But check the original documents.  Also read the preface and introduction in each printed book or index.  Is it a work in progress?  Were the index entries computer-input or digitized and edited by someone who speaks the language of the records?  Or who has been trained to read old handwritings?  [Recall that today, your children and grandchildren do not learn cursive writing in school.  And the jump from hand-printed text to digitized (and abbreviated) text has already taken place!]

Documents require research just as your ancestors named in them do.  I personally like to make a physical copy, on paper, of each document so I can study and compare each against other records.  I can write on the document.  I can do the math right on the document.  I can pose questions right on the document.  That is my preference and I create paper files.

I do not merge the documents nor the data as research continues—I keep them separate until all relevant records and their evidence have been examined.  And I recommend this strategy to you as well.  When you separate your evidence for study you get these immediate benefits:

  1. You can spot those persons with the same name who have been combined as if they were one ancestor.  Men can own land in more than one place at the same time, they just can’t be present in more than one place.  And your women can’t have children at the same time in more than one place.
  2. Your genealogy evidence becomes standardized for easy comparison. You can match the evidence from several entries that apply to the same ancestor quickly.  And set aside those that don’t match for additional work.
  3. You can plan the additional searches you need to complete.  When you go to the library or sit at your computer, you will have a research plan to guide your efforts.

You can digitize or scan your printed evidence and original documents onto a disc, or computer hard drive, or flash drive.  Then study them on your computer screen.  Your notes are more efficient when they are attached to the document.   So I recommend that you enter each into your genealogy program separately–do not merge. Yet.  This documentation can be produced when you have a question or when others dispute your conclusions.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  The case for using digital, scanned documents is the computer behind them.  Your computer or other digital device can help you sort, index, match for fit–a faster and easier approach–to accurate and complete pedigrees.

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