Quick tip – Is that an every-name index?

Not all indexes include everybody in the record.

Examples of indexes that miss people are:

  • Indexes of baptisms, that include the child and parents but not the witnesses
  • Indexes of deeds, that only index the grantor but not the grantee, or list both the grantor and grantee, but not the neighbors mentioned in the record
  • Indexes of wills, that only include the first testator, but not the spouse.
card catalog

Credits: Pete Birkinshaw, Flickr (CC-BY)

Why indexes may be incomplete

Indexing is time-consuming, and there’s far more unindexed material out there than indexed material. When an index is created, the creator has to choose between in-depth indexing or transcription of a few records, or shallower indexing of a lot of records. With so many records still to do, many indexers choose the latter.

Especially when some names are easier to pick out then others, indexers may choose to limit themselves. Some notarial records will underline the names of the main parties, for example, but not the names of beneficiaries, witnesses, or neighbors mentioned in the record.

Strategies for working with indexes

The first thing to do when working with an index is to understand what is indexed:

  • If there’s an introduction, manual, or help text, read that first to understand how and why the index was created, the extent of the records that it indexes, and which persons are included in the index.
  • Study finding aids or other guides to understand the source and the types of roles mentioned in those records.
  • Look at a few index entries and compare them to the originals. Is everyone included? Is the index limited to certain types of roles only?

The second strategy is to expand your search to your person of interest’s family, associates, and neighbors:

  • Your ancestor’s spouse may be indexed as the testator in a will
  • Their uncles or godmother may be indexed as the testator in a will where they leave a bequest to your ancestor.
  • Their neighbors may be indexed in deed records, that mention your ancestor as their neighbor.
  • Their siblings may be indexed as parents in baptismal records where your ancestor appears as the witness.

Hattip: Suze Zijlstra, whose Twitter comment about the missing names in the Dutch East India Company index inspired this blog post.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG® is a board-certified genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 30 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

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