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.