Saturday, June 9, 2012

How or IF to Cite an Index ?

I have a website, that always has a tab set to that Website: Evidence Explained A relatively new, but much needed resource for us. There is lots of material on the website and lessons that might be of interest to many of us.

As a user of Family Tree Maker, I know that it has a Template feature that is based on Elizabeth Shown Mills book of the same name, Evidence Explained! I have a copy of the book on my desk, especially when working with a New Record Type or document. I even look at it, IF I can't figure our which Template to use OR what the Key Word might be, to get me to the right Template.

If you have read much of this blog, my goal for 2012 is to get ALL of my Sources into the FTM Template feature.

But I am stumped, when I find a Record that is an Index. That is, NOT the complete information, but the record that is found points to another document.

I have heard, from several genealogists, that we should not Cite an Index. Paragraph 2.12, on page 48 suggests that in Index is a Tool and not the record. I agree with that. But Index points to the source that would be "the record". I agree with that as well. BUT, what is not talked about, it the time between finding the Index and being able to actually see "the document or record".

My mind can't keep track of what Indexes that I look at, and the associated record. Now, IF, I found the index and immediately was able to see the record, I might have a different answer. But to try to be consistent, I WILL cite Index Information and use a Template to do so.

Generally, the Indexes that I have found, so far, are for government types of records. City Tax Records, Birth and Death Indexes, for example.

What is the important information that I will find in an Index, would be the name of the person and that the record can be found elsewhere.

Usually, what is found in the Index is:
  • Database Title
  • Website creater/owner
  • Website title
  • URL
  • Year
In looking for a template options, and what the Index Records were, I select the "Database Online (Courts & Governance, Derivative)" Template.

The template calls for the data listed above.

Pulling up the Citation Screen, the Citation Detail is looking for:
Enter the date the website was accessed, description of the item, and credit line (how the information is credited on the website)
That information is what is in the Citation Detail screen before you start to enter anything in that field. Likewise, the Citation Text says:
Enter pertinent text from the source and/or an explanation of the relevance of the data to your research
The Citation Detail, will provide me with enough information to know what document I am looking for, and the Citation Text would remind me who I was looking for in that document.

For example:
Online publication - Baltimore, Maryland Tax Records Index, 1798-1808 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999.Original data - Baltimore City Archives. A Name Index to the Baltimore City Tax Records, 1798-1808. Baltimore, MD, USA: Baltimore, MD, 1981.

Source Information Baltimore, Maryland Tax Records Index, 1798-1808 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999.

Original data: Baltimore City Archives. A Name Index to the Baltimore City Tax Records, 1798-1808. Baltimore, MD, USA: Baltimore, MD, 1981.

About Baltimore, Maryland Tax Records Index, 1798-1808
The largest city in Maryland, Baltimore boasted a population of over 60,000 residents in 1800. This database is an index to the earliest existing general property tax records in the city, dating between 1798 and 1808. It provides the names of individuals and organizations, along with year of assessment and reference to the original city tax record. Containing over 5700 records, it can be a useful guide to more detailed tax information for researchers seeking ancestors from Baltimore ancestors.

That information is what was on's website for this Index Hit. If I wasn't interested in the Template feature, I could just use this information, and some of it, would be included in the Web Merge for this Index hit.

Now, I Copy and Paste that information into the Citation NOTEs for that Citation. But here is what I entered into the Citation Detail:
accessed 09 May 2012; tax year 1798; page 166; 1799-1800; page 439; 1801-1803; page 384
 The Citation Text would have:

index for Samuel Worthington; citing Baltimore City Archives, A Name Index to the Baltimore City Tax Records, 1798-1808, Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore, MD, 1981
The Reference Note would not read:
"Baltimore, Maryland Tax Records Index, 1798-1908", database, Operations, Inc, (, accessed 09 May 2012; tax year 1798; page 166; 1799-1800; page 439; 1801-1803; page 384. index for Samuel Worthington; citing Baltimore City Archives, A Name Index to the Baltimore City Tax Records, 1798-1808, Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore, MD, 1981.
So, I know what I am looking for, and who I am looking for.

Now the trick here is "how will I remember to follow up". That is where the Task List or ToDo list comes in.

I will Copy and Paste that Reference Note, into my ToDo List for that person. I have a ToDo Category of Locate Source:

My Locate Source list isn't that log, at this point, but I could create a Category for the Baltimore City Archives or the Maryland Archives. Then, when I go to either of those repositories, I would print my Locate Source Category To Do / Task List and I have what  I need to locate that document.

To Cite an Index, is a User's Choice. Not required, but for me, It's important to keep track of those Documents / Sources, that I need to look for, but also to know when and where I found the information (Index) to look for that document.

The Bibliography Report also helps with the Identification of Index Records.


Copyright © 2012 by H R Worthington


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head here. If you found the information you're documenting in an index, that's what the citation should be for. The fact that it would be better to use the original than an index is true but not so relevant.
    Evidence Explained! does not say that you shouldn't use some types of sources, it just tells you how to document what you have been using in order to properly weigh the reliability of the sources.

  2. Yvette,

    My reference was from here:

    Page 2.12: Indexes and Finding Aides.

    I struggled with that for a long time. But having heard other presentations about indexes and online discussions, led me to believe that we don't need to cite and Index. That has nothing to do with the real deal, it's Do we Cite an Index. I am only suggesting that I AM citing them, but I clearly understand that the work for Evidence is not complete, the Index only points in a direction, and I need to follow it.

    Thank you for your comments.


  3. This is a great topic. I always cite indexes because it could be years before I'm able to find time to get to the original records. Some of my most important recent discoveries have been through Family Search indexes of German BMD records. Eventually, I'll get the actual church records sent to my local FHC, but until then I'm happy to cite the index. I also use the New Jersey indexes to vital records as place holders until I visit the archives in Trenton.

    Dan Babish
    Columbia, MD

    1. Dan,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Good luck,


  4. I'm with you on citing indexes Russ. The fact that the source is an index is apparent from the citation and so that can be taken into consideration when evaluating evidence and conclusions.

    1. Ben,

      I think the issue about not citing an index, is from a Professional Genealogist, especially when doing research for a client.

      For me, non-pro, the Follow Up is what has become important for me. I really struggled with the concept of not citing an index, but I am more comfortable WITH citing and Index, as long as I add it to my ToDo List. I am, in fact, going back through my file and making those Tasks / ToDo lists, based on an Index Citation.

      Thank you for your comment,


  5. I cite indexes as sort of a placeholder until I can get the original document. When I get it, I change my source citation. I do the same thing with IGI/nFS.


    1. Michele,

      When I get the original document or get closer to it, I document that. I don't change or delete what I have entered. For me, it's a paper trail to show how "I got there".

      Thank you,


  6. I agree with you, Russ, and I intend to cite indexes as well. If for nothing else, to make sure that I don't search that same index again in a couple of months! :)

    For a descendancy project that I'm working on, I may never move past the index either. Partly because I don't think I can afford to get all of the original documents and, in this case, I'm not as concerned about "proof" as I am about finding folks. On top of that, the local clerk isn't very fond of sharing documents unless you are a direct descendant, so the index may be as close as I can get (until I recruit cousins to make the request for me).

    Anyway, great thoughts, as always.

    1. Michael,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Good luck,


  7. Russ, I also agree with you. We get a source citation when we merge a record from Ancestry. We might as well convert it to EE format. I do notice that some birth/death indexes from Ancestry are not the same format. BTW, Russ, can you share one of your county/state death indexes and one Social Security Death Index with the group? I do better with seeing an example. I noticed that FTM2012 has an Online Database - Social Security Index template. Thanks, Brian

  8. Brian,

    Here is the Reference Note for SSDI:

    Social Security Administration, "Social Security Death Index", database,,(, [ name ]; SS Number [ ssn ], Issue Date 1955-1956; State of Issue: Pennsylvania.

    Here is one for a Florida Death Index:

    "Florida Death Index, 1877-1998", database, Operations, Inc, (, accessed 08 May 2012; citing State of Florida, Florida Death Index, 1877-1998. Florida; Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Records, 1998. index for [ name ].

    Does that help?



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