Going Beyond the Index

I read an interesting article recently about the proper way to source an index in a genealogy program, specifically, Family Tree Maker, which is the software I use. The author makes the point that an index should not be the final source but merely a stopgap measure to obtaining the documents that can properly be listed as a source.  Got it? The index is not enough.  And I know from experience why!

It’s a wonderful moment for the family historian when s/he discovers information about an elusive ancestor and it doesn’t matter at that particular moment if the discovery is only an index. It still ranks right up there as one of those “Eureka!” moments.

Such was the case when researching my ancestors pictured above, Edward C. Jones and Gertrude Jones. (The photograph of the large oval “bubble glass” portrait is compliments of my mother’s cousin who has the original. There seemed to be no proper way to photograph it.)

One day (pre-2004) while idly typing names and location into a search engine just to see what came up I found their names together in the list of hits. Contained on an abstracted cemetery page here was not only the name of the cemetery where they are buried but their years of birth and death. “Eureka!” (The first of several.)

The reason I know the date to be pre-2004 is because in February of that year I flew with my daughter to pick up her fiance at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS to take him to be fitted for his wedding tux. This is significant because when we left the mall in Mobile, AL (the nearest one to have the necessary formal shop) we drove around a corner and – you guessed it – right past the church and cemetery where our ancestors are buried. Of course we did a U-turn! I was driving! 🙂

Unfortunately we were not staying in Mobile long enough for me to do proper research, not that chaperoning an engaged couple would give me much time for that anyway, but we left before I could look for death certificates or anything else of importance. Happening upon the cemetery was enough of a “Eureka!” event that trip.

After arriving at home I began researching the census abstracts to determine if my ancestors lived in that exact area. Turns out that they did! Not only that, but the name of that exact Methodist church is on the name of their daughter’s marriage license. (More of that in a future post.) Edward and Gertrude also had a 100-year-old granddaughter alive at that time with a memory as sharp as tacks. She never knew her grandparents but she did know some of her aunts and uncles and since this little lady was the original family historian she was able to confirm that the graves I visited did indeed belong to her grandparents, my great-great grandparents.

Fast forward a year to the time that Ancestry.com notified me that there was a match located in the Alabama Deaths, 1908-59 for each of these two individuals. This particular file is an index of death certificates, not an abstract that carries the particulars. For awhile I had it listed as the source for date of death on my family tree for Edward and Gertrude and was content with that. Since I had been able to identify their parents’ names through other means I was not interested in spending the money for the actual death certificates. But curiosity eventually got the better of me and I ordered them.

I was so excited when they arrived just a few weeks later! But when I opened them I had a very anti-Eureka! moment. Neither death certificate was for an ancestor of mine. What are the odds that there would be another Edward Jones and Gertrude Jones dying in Mobile, Alabama during the same years as my ancestors of the same name?! I’m not sure but it happened.

On the surface it seems as though it was money wasted but I try not to look at it that way. By going beyond the index and ordering the actual documents I discovered that I was sourcing faulty information. Only by going the next step did I make that discovery. I will eventually need to make that trip to Mobile to see if I can locate the proper certificates.

This Edward Jones and Gertrude Jones both died gruesome deaths. He by drowning and she by gunshot! If either of these individuals are in your family tree (not only are these not related to me they also weren’t related to each other) contact me and I’ll mail you the certified copy.

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About pitman6

I love genealogy! I also love helping others trace their genealogy. I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of Mayflower Descendants, and a volunteer researcher with the Hamilton County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society.
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One Response to Going Beyond the Index

  1. Donna Becker says:

    You’re so right about going directly to the source documents if they’re available. I do use all types of online resources to get the relationships roughed out. But as my budget allows I continue to gather source documents that provide more direct evidence. In several instances, the source documents were actually incorrect, which brings its own form of humor, doesn’t it? But the more evidence that’s assembled, the more likely it is that I can make a solid determination of fact.
    So thanks for exploring this topic.
    I discovered your blog through GeneaBloggers, and will be happily following along!

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