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Every Trick in the Book

old index book

October 31, 2018

I am not sure if I should admit this―especially since I work in a library―but sometimes I read the last page of a book to see how it ends. Maybe I started that habit because I am a genealogist. One of the first places I look in a genealogy book is the back to see if it has an index. An index provides an alphabetical list of names or subjects and where to find them in the book. It really makes using a book so much easier.

Genealogists use indexes all the time. The Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, also called the Filby index, aids researchers who are looking for passenger lists. The Periodical Source Index (PERSI) is the largest index of genealogy and local history publications. You can search PERSI in Findmypast (in-library use only). Biography and Genealogy Master Index, an online resource, allows you to determine where to find biographical information on an ancestor. Databases such as HeritageQuest Online contain collections of indexes, some with the original images attached.  

What if you only looked at an index and stopped there? You would only get a preview of the information available. The creator of an index only selects certain information to include in the index, so by ending your search with the index, you are limiting the amount of information you can find. When you find your ancestor’s name in an index, follow the trail to the original record. Clues can usually be found in the front or back of a book or by reading a database description.

The original record may be located at a courthouse, archive, or historical society. A digitized copy of the document may also exist online. Seeking original records provides depth to your genealogical research. I was able to find parents’ names recorded on death certificates, a birthplace given on naturalization papers, and distant relatives’ names listed in probate records.

Now you know every trick in the book! What have you uncovered using an index? 

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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