Using Internet sources, indexes and compiled records

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Many individuals and families have placed genealogical information on the Internet containing information about and names of deceased ancestors. There may also be published family histories, local histories or pedigrees that provide details about your ancestors. A good research strategy is to begin by seeing if someone else has already compiled information about your ancestor.

Compiled information provides a good starting point for your research and often includes many clues of where to look for new information. You should always corroborate information you find on the Internet or in compiled records by reading and analyzing the original records associated with the information.

This same standard applies when using indexes, whether online, in a database, or in paper format. Indexes are prone to many different types of errors and have limitations. Indexes are a valuable finding aid, but you must remember, they are just that: an aid or tool. Each time information is found in an index, the original record should be located and read.

It is important to know the limitations of each individual index. For example, know exactly how much of the original information is included in the index. Oftentimes an index includes only the information for select fields, such as name, date and place of event. There may be much more information in the original record that could resolve conflicting or unknown information about an ancestor.

When you use an index, know its limitations. Ask yourself these questions:
• How much of the original information is included in the index?
• What was the ability of the indexer to read and transcribe the record?
• Are there any gaps in the original information that the index does not identify?
• Is the index incomplete?
• Could there be errors in the transcriptions?
• How is the index arranged?
• Is information in the index recorded exactly as the original record, or is there a standardization of information, such as names, dates, etc.?

Using compiled records and indexes without following through by reading the original records associated with them, if they are available, can create inaccurate family histories. Then those histories or records are placed on the Internet, or are shared in other ways, perpetuating the inaccuracies. Many of us have great grandfathers who died as children. Have you checked yours lately?

Remember that indexes and compiled records:
• Are just tools. Use original records to make information on families more accurate.
• Are often incomplete.
• Usually contain errors.
• Are to be used with caution.
• Are just the starting point, not the end result of research.