Making the Most of an Index

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An index is an index—or is it? Indexes can range from printed lists of alphabetized names to computer databases that allow users to pick and choose from several searchable fields. In her 2006 National Genealogical Society Quarterly article, “Job1 Davidson, Cooper in Baltimore, Maryland, and His Long Lost Descendants in Ohio and Indiana: Using Occupation and Birthplace as Census Finding Aids,”[1] author Helen Hinchliff reveals how she took advantage of what was then a relatively new index feature: the ability to search some censuses using occupation and birthplace. As she demonstrates, breakthroughs can result from creative use of indexes.

Hinchliff knew the parents and grandparents of her subject, Henry3 Davis. Henry was turned over to his maternal aunt after his mother’s death. His father and grandfather were named Davidson, but Henry’s guardian aunt reportedly changed his surname to Davis. Henry was one of five children listed in his aunt’s guardianship petition, so it was clear he had siblings. Hinchliff, however, was unable to find any trace of the other children or their descendants—until the release of federal census indexes that allowed searches on fields other than names.

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