Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Mailbox: Blindly Indexing Records

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I have been indexing immigration records.  I am now questioning the value of these records.  They do not indicate where the immigrant came from.  No relationship is given.  What is the value?  Should we be blindly indexing records or should we be indexing the most valuable records? 

David Wiggins

Dear David,

I assume you are indexing ships’ passenger manifests. The earlier the record, the more sketchy the information.

Even without this information, these records can be extremely valuable in making that all important hop across the pond to your ancestor’s old home. Families, neighbors, and friends often traveled together, making it possible to pick your ancestor out of a sea of badly identified immigrants. Arrival dates and ports can be cross-referenced with published sources (like Allen’s Directory or contemporary newspapers) to learn departure ports. Knowing when, where, and with whom your ancestor left Europe can lead to further records and clues.

Indexing ships’ passenger lists opens these records up like microfilm never could. Previously, one had to search port by port, year by year, and ship arrival by ship arrival to find a potential ancestor. A search that previously might take a lifetime can be performed in indexed records in a fraction of a second.

I applaud your desire to focus your valuable time on indexing valuable records. As you review the list of available projects, I hope you will consider immigration records. In my opinion, an index comprehensive across time and ports is well worth creating.

--The Ancestry Insider


  1. The information you believe is missing may be on pages you aren't transcribing. My experience has been that the ship's name, date, port, etc. will be on one of the first or last pages.

  2. For those who are looking for migration records containing hometown information, as well as birth information and relationships, you may want to consider searching the Immigrant Ancestors Project (IAP) of the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy. We now have over 500,000 people indexed from the emigration records of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands. Emigration records usually contain more details than immigration records, but places of departure may be difficult for researchers to identify. With one large index, it is easier to locate your ancestors. Feel free to visit our site: Student employees add more records every day. It is valuable to index records on both sides of the ocean. Jill Crandell

    1. It would be useful if FSI explained what the resultant searchable database would be useful for. For example I am currently indexing electorial registers: just family and given names - no location information other than you know they are electors in London. I suppose that you could then having found a name make further searchers in the orginal register and other sources?

    2. Nik,
      That's a good suggestion.

      BTW, I don't know about this case, but in some projects some of the information is "indexed" by FamilySearch missionaries. This is done when some of the information is the same for large groups of records rather than single records. They use a special tool for this task. FamilySearch calls it "waypointing" and its primary purpose is to build the image browse hierarchy.

      --The Ancestry Insider


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