Both. No question. Both. Why? Because sometimes one way into the records will have a hint or a clue, or maybe even an index that’s not available when approaching the records from another direction.
Take for example the Saskatchewan Provincial Records. If you go into FamilySearch through the Search page, click on the map for Canada and select “Saskatchewan” you can scroll to the bottom of the page to see the “Unindexed Records.” These are browseable records. There are thousands of images of records, maybe even the homestead record of your ancestor, but unless you have the date the homestead claim was recorded, or better yet the claim number, good luck. You will find yourself searching through file after file looking for a needle in an entire province of haystacks if you start your search using the map.
But if you click on FamilySearch.org/Catalog/Search, type “Saskatchewan, Canada” into the search box, and scroll down to “Land and property,” you’ll find “Saskatchewan homestead records, 1870-1930, and index.” An index! Yes, it’s an external index that will take you out to http://www.saskhomesteads.com/search.asp. But that index will lead you to the file number for your ancestor’s homestead record. The Saskhomesteads website provides a link where you can purchase a copy of the file, but once you know the file number, just go back into the “Land and property” in the Saskatchewan page in the FamilySearch catalog and browse through the records for that file number.
Here's a partial list of results from my search. The numbers to the left of the names refer to the homestead file numbers. I can go back to that list of Saskatchewan Provincial Records we saw earlier and see if FamilySearch has the file I'm looking for. If not, I can order it from the Saskatchewan Homestead Records site.
The map search is quick and easy to get into, just “point and shoot,” but sometimes it doesn’t have all the tools. Be willing to explore the catalog and its PlaceName search to see if that might offer a more helpful way into the millions of unindexed records on FamilySearch.
For my Tuesday Tips today, I'll cover another indexing scheme for organizing the names you might find in a county record book. These books cover things like wills, deeds and more. As FamilySearch.org puts up more and more image-only historical records, it's important to understand how the indexes work. The records on FamilySearch aren't necessarily searchable via search boxes, but if you know how the indexes work you can find them almost as quickly. as you could with search boxes.
West Virginia Will Index – The example below is from FamilySearch for West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971 Hampshire Index to wills, v. 01 1907-1969
You can see the index above across the top of every page, they list the letters, so even on the A names pages you can see the S index pages. But let’s look at this. There is S on page 125. Sc is 127. Se is 129, etc. But note this is NOT a straight up alphabetical index. Page 125 is not just the names beginning with Sa and Sb. Page 125 displays the S+ the letters that aren’t specified. So things like Sa, Sh, Sp, Sl. Whoever put this index together for the county saw that there were a lot of SC names, a lot of SM, ST, etc. so those letter combinations got their own pages. There aren’t so many SA-, SP- and SH- surnames so those names have been combined on their own page.
The list progresses roughly chronologically by date of probate through the surnames, but notice that it goes up to 1968, but then a 1964 and a 1964 name have been added at the end. Word to the wise - read all the way to the end just to make sure a name hasn't been added out of order
Once you locate the name of the person you're looking for, read to the right of the name where you will find the Will Book and Page Number where their will can be found. Check FamilySearch to see if they have the images for that book digitized. If not, you may be able to borrow a microfilm with the will on it, or you may need to write to the county to get a copy of the will, but now you have the book and page to tell them where to look.
County record for things like deeds, probate records and others often have the surnames somehow indexed to make it easier to find them. Rarely are these indexes a straight alphabetical sorting, however. When you begin to research in a particular record set in a particular location, spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with how the index works. Those few minutes will save you time in the long run. This rule applies whether you are searching an actual roll of microfilm at a family history center or browsing the digitized images of these records on FamilySearch.org.
A case in point involves the deed indexes for Erie County, New York. Many of these records have been digitized by FamilySearch.org. They are not necessarily searchable, but they are browsable. I was recently looking for a deed in which James Lawson purchased some property in Buffalo, Erie, NY. Erie County uses the Graves Tabular Initial Indexes for its land records. These tables classify surnames by the first three letters. In my case I was looking for LAW for Lawson. As the image below shows, I use the table for “L”. I find the second letter, “A” under the bold “L”, and then follow across until I see “W.” In the “A” line under the “W” is the number 466. I will find all entries for Lawson on page 466. If I were looking for Lewis, those entries would be on page 468.
I then need to scroll forward to find page 466 for my Lawson entries. There may be multiple pages numbered 466, depending on how many Lawson, Lawrence, Lawlor, etc. transactions there are for the time frame covered by the index. Once you find page 466 in the grantee index, you can see there are 6 columns representing the first letter of the grantee’s given name. ABCD appear in one column, EFGH in another. It’s a simple matter to scan down the IJKL column until I see a J and then look to the right to see if that is a transaction for James Lawson. If there is a transaction for James, I write down the Liber (Book) and Page numbers. It is an easy matter then to find the Deeds Volume for the Liber number shown on the index, and then find the right page and, voila! there’s the deed I want.
I have found that in a particular set of indexes, the tables hold constant across the years and between grantor/grantee. If I find that Lawson will be found in the index on page 466 for Grantees in Erie County in 1885, Lawson will also be found on Grantors in 1840 in the same set of land records. I don’t need to look it up every time. Here’s a tip – if you have a lot of a particular surname in an area, make note of their page number for the index. You won’t have to look it up every time you’re working on deed research. One more tip – sometimes the index tables cover several letters – J,K,L&M. The microfilm, or digitized film might be A-K and L-Z, so to find your table for L, you might have to go to the start of the J’s. And if you can’t find for your year in the grantee index, look for the table for a different year or in the grantor index – because the tables work across time and grantor/grantee, it will still work.
There are several other types of indexes besides the Graves Tabular Initial Index. I will cover others in upcoming Technique Tuesdays blog posts.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.