Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Try Indexing Your Family History Materials

Have you tried indexing diaries, letters, and other family history materials inherited from your ancestors? There are four great reasons to index:

  1. You can trace the movements and activities of ancestors through a period of time and notice gaps or changes that may reveal turning points in their lives.
  2. You can compare details in these family documents with official government records and other formal records, to identify discrepancies or confirm info.
  3. You and your relatives (and future researchers) can use the index to look up specific ancestors and turn to the proper place in any set of documents, instead of paging through to search.
  4. You may discover new clues as you index, or by comparing the index with what you already know about your ancestors. Thanks to indexing my father-in-law's diaries, I was able to identify his first cousins in an old family photo! 

In the new edition of my best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, I include the sample index form shown at top, along with instructions for how to create an index. 

If created digitally, the index can be sorted and searched electronically. Entering the year first in the "date" column allows me to sort by year, handy when I'm comparing and contrasting multiple documents or events in family history. Similarly, entering names with surnames first allows sorting in that manner.

Remember to note who created the index and when. Also note where the original materials are located, especially important if you are designating an heir for your genealogy.

Please feel free to adapt my sample form to your own indexing projects. Who knows what you'll find as you read through family history again!


Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, 2d edition is now available in paperback from Amazon.com (US, UK, Canada, and other nations). Or preorder the ebook edition for delivery to your digital device on September 15th. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. In an ideal world, I'd do this (I'm a librarian!), but there's only so much time I can devote right now to my genealogy, so this would be low on my list of priorities.

    At one point I had tried cataloguing all my family documents in specialty software and then in a spreadsheet, but got bogged down pretty quickly.

    Maybe one day!