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Hansen's Ten Rules for Using Indexes

Mr. James L Hansen has graciously agreed to allow us to post these 10 rules for indexes. Indexes are a wonderful tool for finding information about an ancestor. These rules point to the obvious that an index is a finding aid and is no substitute for the original document, however, an index does help a researcher find that elusive document.

James L. Hansen, a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, is the reference librarian and genealogical specialist at the Library of the Wisconsin Historical Society. He is a past president of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and the 2002 winner of the Filby Prize for Genealogical Librarianship.

Hansen's Ten Rules for Using Indexes

  1. An index is only an index. It is not a substitute for the record being indexed.
  2. The larger the size of the index, the more easily pertinent listings are overlooked.
  3. In a given record, any vowel may at any point be substituted for any other vowel—or consonant.
  4. Virtually every pre-WW II record, in whatever form we see it in today, originated as an attempt by an individual to put on paper what he or she thought was heard.
  5. There is no perfect indexing system.
  6. It doesn't matter how you spell the name; it only matters how the indexer spelled it.
  7. Just because an index is described as complete or comprehensive, doesn't mean it is complete or comprehensive.
  8. If you haven't found it in the index, you can only conclude that you haven't found it in the index. You cannot conclude that it's not in the record.
  9. The index isn't always at the back of the book.
  10. Sometimes it is best to ignore the index altogether.

James L. Hansen, FASG Wisconsin Historical Society

 

© 2012 by James L. Hansen. Used on VGS.org by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

 

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