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Using and Compiling Indexes

"Judy Webster, a keen family historian, has compiled and published many indexes. She was also employed by Queensland State Archives to help with guidelines and data entry/checking for their indexing projects. On this page she shares practical tips based on her own experience."

These 'rules' for using indexes have been selected from a list reported to be from the 'Genealogy Week' section of Antique Week and attributed to James L. Hansen of the State Hist. Soc. of WI, USA.

To that list I would add:

Here are just a few of the many indexing errors I've seen:

Recommended reading:  Freeman, Harry. 'How to Use an Index', in Descent vol.20 no.4, Dec 1990, pp.160-164 (Society of Australian Genealogists).

Interpreting handwritten sources

If you're using (or indexing) handwritten sources, take extra care. Even those who have had years of experience should not be complacent. It helps if you aware of a few potential traps. In some handwriting, certain letters are indistinguishable. See the examples above.

Read the entire page and other pages around it. Does a similarly shaped letter appear in a word that you recognise? Eg: if you're not sure whether a letter is uppercase M or N or W, can you find 'Married' or 'Widow' in the same handwriting?

If you can only decipher part of a word, online crossword solvers may produce a list of possible words. (I saw that tip on Findmypast but the article has since disappeared.)

If you decide upon an interpretation that's not a surname you've heard before, check a capital city telephone directory to see whether there are any entries for that spelling.

Recommended reading:

Basic rules of indexing (but some indexes did it the wrong way)

Indexing Tips

Recommended reading - a preliminary list

I frequently receive requests for advice on indexing methodology. The following publications are recommended, and are available in many major libraries (especially University or State Libraries), or via interlibrary loan.

Indexes:  Good and Bad Features

My thanks to those who sent comments (summarised below) on the essential features of a good index. Almost everyone complained about indexes that fail to include adequate explanatory notes or source references.

Essential features of a good index

Other comments from various people:

Problems encountered while indexing:

Publishing

Before you publish, find out about copyright laws.

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is obtained by applying to the Australian ISBN Agency. Legal Deposit laws state that you are legally obliged to deposit a copy of your publication with certain libraries (based on where the item is published). Usually it is the National Library of Australia, plus the State Library (and maybe others) in your State.

If you publish your index on digital media:

Other Suggestions

My other genealogy sites have additional advice and names.

Search this site  (do NOT use apostrophes; read search results page carefully)

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