Getting the Most Out of Indexes and Hints

Lately, I have been helping several people with their family history. One thing that they have all in common is the same issue I ran into when I first started. They did not take full advantage of the document hint that was given to them when they were researching.

For instance, a man and I had both located a census on his relative. He took it at face value, only looking at the page that, in this instance, Ancestry® had provided. It showed the page of his ancestor and their children. However, when I looked at the same document, I was able to find the wife’s family in the same census record. How? By using the back and forward arrows to look at the other pages in the census.

Most families tended to stay in the same neighborhood if not living together. In this case, they were neighbors. I’ve found where both sides of the family were neighbors up and down the street. Of course, with the inventions of cars, airplanes, and other transports, this won’t be the case for our generations and those that come after us; we move around more often.

Another common mistake is to look at the index only for information rather than looking at the whole record. For instance, take this death record of my great grandmother, Caroline Stitt Logan. The index shows her relevant details, such as her date of birth, date of death, etc.

But, if you click on the document, it shows her cause of death, the informant for the certificate (my great grandfather signed it), where they lived, where her parents were from, and where her burial was.

Another example is of this obituary that came up under Caroline’s name. If you only go by this index, then you would think that it is the obituary for Caroline, but it is not. It is for her father, William.

Click on the obit and look at all the information we have. It lists William’s father’s name and William’s children, with their married names.

The most fascinating records to do this with are passenger lists and immigration paperwork. Not only can the passenger list tell you where your ancestor is going, but it can tell you where they are from and whom they are visiting. Some immigration paperwork will list family names, birth dates, etc. You may even get a picture of the immigrant, depending on the time frame.

Dissect every document you can get your hands on. You never know what you may discover.

But, what if there is no image to click on when you find an index? Look at the film number or the “source information” at the bottom of the index. For instance, here is the index for Elizabeth Hennig.

There is no document to click on and dissect. But, there is “Source Information.”

The source information tells me that the original data can be found in FamilySearch. After pulling up, click on “Search” and then “Records.” Then “Restrict Records By” “Film Number.” Enter the film number found on the Ancestry index. In this case, it is film number 527772. Once there, you click on the link it provides and then the film number from the index.

Click on the magnifying glass next to the record your researching, in this case, the 527772.

It would help if you remembered that humans indexed and scanned these records. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to how they scanned in the images. If you are lucky, they are by date, but sometimes they are scanned in randomly. It would serve you well if you were patient.

Then go back, as have been doing, and look at older records that you may have placed an index hint to and see if you can get more information out of that source. You may be surprised!

Good luck! Let me know if you need assistance.