Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Indexes (Indices) – the first place to check but not the last


In the real world, we are pretty used to indexes. Actually we expect to have them and we depend on them – the telephone directory online or in print, databases at work and at home, book indexes, online indexes of back issues of our favorite magazines, and indexes of restaurants, movies and songs on our mobile devices.

Indexes are very useful in genealogy. We see them for vital records, military records, land records and census records (right now the 1940 US Census is being name-indexed) to mention just a few. In this age of digitization, more indexed records are coming online all the time.

Because of our familiarity with indexes in the non-genealogical parts of our lives, we may blithely assume that we have the same expertise with the specialized index tools used in family history research. But here is where a word of caution can help us be more successful in our use of genealogical indexes. In the book, Printed Sources: a guide to published genealogical records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink,   chapter six, “Published Indexes”, Kip Sperry, states: “It is always wise to check the original source…when using indexes and compiled sources.” (p. 203.) And the reason for this caveat is spelled out in the overview to chapter six on p. 191: “No index is completely comprehensive or absolutely correct.” Sperry suggests that a researcher should analyze an index before using it. This analysis includes studying the lay-out and style of the indexer or indexers. This advice saved me from records that were very important to my research on the Cosgrove line, a cohort family of the Carneys.


I know that Julia Mercer Cosgrove was one of the baptismal sponsors for my great, great grandparents’, John Carney/Kearney and Mary Duffy Carney, first child, Patrick William Kearney: 
Since I have found so few records on this couple, I decided to look for Cosgrove family records – maybe Mary Carney was a witness for one of the Cosgrove children or at Julia Mercer’s wedding to Matthew Cosgrove.

I started with the St. Patrick’s Church records in Chicago which are available on FamilySearch.org. St Patrick’s was the church where Patrick William Kearney was baptized. It was also the main Irish church in the area where the Cosgroves lived. To access these records, you start on the first screen of FamilySearch.org. Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand side of the page, until you see “All Record Collections.” Continue scrolling until the last entry: United States. 

When you click on “United States,” you will see a list of the states on the left-hand side of the screen. Click on “Illinois” and the record collections for this state will appear on the right-hand side of the next screen. The third record set is the “Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records, 1833-1925.” When you click on this, a screen pops up with the invitation to “Browse through 179,454  images.” Click on this and you will see a list of Catholic Churches in Chicago.

I scrolled down to “St. Patrick (Chicago)” and clicked. A list of available record sets appeared, and I clicked on “Baptism Index, 1846-1883.”



This index was created using a notebook with pre-printed page numbers in the upper corner of each page. Remembering Sperry’s advice to analyze the index style, I started looking at the beginning pages from A – C. Although the person/persons creating the index made an effort to alphabetize within each letter, this order was sometimes interrupted when a new letter was started. Space issues became so complicated that the indexer had to go backward and/or forward to fit in additional names in a letter grouping. In short, a brief look at the grouping for letter C showed a serpentine path. I found that this index required a careful reading of every page.
I was able to find an entry for Daniel Cosgrove, born 1873, to be found on p. 228 of vol. 6. I went back to the list of records for St. Patrick’s and found vol. 6 of Baptisms, 1871-1875. And on p. 228 (image 119), I found this record:

 Unfortunately, neither John Carney nor Mary Duffy Carney were witnesses.

Another problem with indexes is that the ink can be faded. This is the case with the baptism records from St. Patrick’s. I never did find an entry in the index for Catherine Cosgrove, daughter of Matthew Cosgrove and Julia Mercer Cosgrove, and part of the reason may have been that I couldn’t read the ink. But again I followed the advice of Sperry to go to the actual record. 

From the 1880 Chicago US Census, I knew that Catherine’s birth year was 1875. I returned to vol. 6 of Baptisms, 1871-1875. This time, I didn’t have a page number but I did have the year. I went through late 1874 and into 1875 and there she was on p. 330, Image 170:
Again, unfortunately, neither witness was John Carney or Mary Duffy.

Although you may not find the name you were looking for when you complete a piece of research, just going through the process is very helpful. You gain more skills in a particular area of genealogical research such as using indexes.

Categories: genealogy tools, research terms

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