Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Index Your Ancestors' Documents!

If you're lucky enough to have more than a few pages of documents inherited from your ancestors' lives, my number one tip is: Index them!

Otherwise, future generations won't know who's mentioned where--and they might not take the time to read all the way through.

With an index, they can look up individuals quickly and easily. And for family history researchers, the index gives us extra help seeing connections between people, events, dates. See my sample format for indexing here.

I have three sets of documents that have been passed down in the family:
  1. Farkas Family Tree reports and minutes. My mother's family accumulated 500 pages of meeting minutes from the 30 years of the Farkas Family Tree, a family association that began in 1933. I scanned 'em all, read 'em all, and then prepared an index listing every person mentioned. It took a while, but above you can see the results. Mr. & Mrs. B, the first family members listed in the index, were only at one meeting, June 1946. Others in that family were mentioned numerous times, as shown in this index. Who could resist looking up their parents' or grandparents' or first cousins' names? That's the allure and advantage of an index.
  2. Father-in-law Edgar J. Wood's diaries. For decades, Edgar Wood kept a brief diary with 1-3 sentences per day. I indexed every family and friend mentioned in the diaries, including names that were unfamiliar. Eventually, cross-referencing the entries led me and my husband to be able to identify cousins and pinpoint the exact relationships between most of the folks named. Without indexing, we wouldn't have connected the dots between people discussed in multiple entries
  3. Letters to Mom during the 1930s/40s. I have transcribed these dozens of letters and will index these soon. Preparing a time line based on the index will help me follow friends and relatives during the years after Mom (Daisy Schwartz) graduated high school and before she married Dad (Harry Burk).
I know I groan when I see a collection of documents on Family Search or Ancestry that is NOT indexed. With an index, I can do a quick search. It's the same with our family documents. I want those who come after me to dip into these documents, so now they're indexed, with a bit of explanation about who's who. Plus it helps me to be able to quickly look up someone as I research that part of the family.


  1. What a wonderful idea - thanks for posting. Found you through Pinterest!!

  2. I've made indexes for some of the Images of America books on towns and counties. Makes it so easy to locate a photo or information.

  3. Thanks for your comments, ladies! Mary, indexing the town/county books is a really great idea. Will check into that for the publications featuring hubby's family in particular.

  4. Although I'm not doing indexing at the moment (I have family letters that I could do one day), reading your article has motivated me during the last few days to put order in some of my genealogy computer files, add title spines to my binders, sort and purge my file folders and add source citations to my documents. Thanks for the inspiration, Marian!

    1. Yvonne, you're very lucky to have family letters to index. And about putting title spines on binders, I love my label maker! Happy sorting.

  5. Indexing makes so much sense. Wish I had done it over the years as it feels like an overwhelming task now. I have SO many photos & documents...and no one interested in carrying on the family history.

  6. Marian, I too found you on Pinterest. Your idea, once read, seems like a "duh!" moment. Thank you for this wonderful, impressive addition to organizing our precious finds.