Saturday, December 12, 2015

Never believe the index

I normally don’t post on Saturdays anymore but I was doing some personal research and found something that would make a good point.

I was looking for George Patton in the census and I found him in Ancestry’s index which made me happy.  Here is an image of what was indexed as George Patton.

On this very same page there was a George.  Here is what the word George looks like on the same page by the same enumerator.

Luckily I know who the first entry is, it is George’s stepmother Lydia (Orr) Patton.  So here is the problem.  Lydia and George are very different words so no matter how fuzzy you make this search these two will not be picked up as a possibility for the other unless I searched for the name Patton only.  Let’s say I did search just for the name Patton.  If you were looking for a Lydia Patton would you click on the name George in the index?  Or, if you were looking for someone named George would you click on Lydia?  This is just an example.  Lydia wasn’t in the index at all since she was indexed as George.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that the handwriting is hard to read and it is always easier for someone who is familiar with the names to spot them.  My point is, don’t rely on indexes.  The indexers are human and they make mistakes.  I am still looking for the real George…

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


  1. Seeing the original image of every document we use is critical. Not always possible to be sure, but we should always strive for that.

  2. My experience with the search engine on Ancestry; it searches for both names but not necessarily together. I do not like the algorithm they use, it really needs to be more finite.

  3. I love the City Directories on Ancestry. I've found them very useful. BUT the indexing on some of them is horrible. I've found many pages where columns of people haven't been indexed at all! You have to be prepared to browse through the images page by page if you really want to find someone.