Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Using Indexes (Or is it Indices?)

Question from Val:
Is it okay to use the indexes on Ancestry.com as a source or do you have to have the original document?

First things first, the plural of index is indexes OR indices. Both are considered correct English. The word indices is more commonly used in technical areas such as science and business but either is correct. Now to Val's question. We were just talking about this on the Transitional Genealogists mailing list. This is a mailing list for serious hobbyists wanting to kick their skills up a notch to a more professional level. It is a great mailing list and I learn new things all the time even though I have been doing this for over 20 years. If you are interested, you can sign up HERE.

The answer to the question is, it depends. If you are working on your direct line it would be a good idea to use the index only as a temporary source until you can request the original document. If this is a far off collateral line I wouldn't be as worried about it but I still think it is a good idea. The reason it is important to get the original is that indexes/indices are fraught with spelling and date errors. I use many of the marriage databases on Ancestry.com with the Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935 being one of my favorites. There are no images attached to this particular database so I write to the individual counties to get a copy of the record.

Sometimes the database will record the date the marriage license was obtained and sometimes when the marriage was actually performed. How do you know unless you actually look at the document. Sometimes there are big mistakes with names like Sarah put in as Susan. Many times it is small errors like Whiddon put in as Whidden. In the grand scheme of things that is a minor point but you still want to be as accurate as possible.

A quick bunny trail. If you are looking at a document and your person of interest's name is misspelled, you record that misspelling in your file as an AKA. It is very important to note every different way a name is spelled even if it is different than what you "know" the spelling to be. Samuel Slade married Mrs. Mary Whidden on 27 December 1847 in Marion County, Mississippi. Her name was really Mrs. Mary Whiddon but I recorded the AKA of Mrs. Mary Whidden with the marriage record being the source. My source is listed as:

Marion County, Mississippi, Marriage Book C: 53, Samuel Slade-Mary Whidden, 1847.

Bunny trial #2. When you are looking at females, the titles of Miss and Mrs. are very helpful clues and they should be recorded in the AKA field along with the name. In the above example I can see that Mary was married before she married Samuel to a man named Whidden [Whiddon].

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Short version: if you want to convince anybody else, get the original. ...And your person may be in the actual record even though you don't see him or her in the index.

  2. Another thing you will find if you look at the actual record are names of witnesses which might provide important clues. With marriage records specifically many times the parents are named especially if the bride or groom was underage.