When you’re researching a family, indexes may help you to find the exact record you need. But it can be worthwhile to browse the whole book.
Here are some things I learned from browsing the whole book:
- I’ve found records of my ancestors that I didn’t find in the index, either because the name was spelled differently in the record, or because the indexer made a mistake.
- My ancestors were mentioned as the owners of neighboring property in many deeds that were only indexed by the buyer and seller. This allowed me to trace the property over time even if some transfers went unrecorded.
- Knowing the neighbors helps me separate same-named people.
- It helped me to get to know the handwriting and boilerplate sentences which made it easier to transcribe my ancestors’ records.
- It helped me to understand the community my ancestor was a member of, and to know who the record creators in his community might be (doctors, ministers, aldermen, mayors).
- Browsing the whole books allows me to understand what was normal, and to recognize unusual references in my ancestors’ records that deserved a second look.
- The front matter of the book sometimes gives me a better understanding of why and by whom the record was created, which helps me to understand the value of the record I found as evidence.