Having published several indexes I know of the huge amount of time it takes to compile an index. From my experience I would like to offer a few observations about indexes.
They are subject to human error.
Original documents are subject to interpretation.
- Handwriting deciphering
- Original information – could have been an error at the source
- Poor quality duplication – faint or very dark films make reading difficult.
Index creation issues.
- Typos, transposed numbers/dates, skipped lines
- Incorrect interpretation of criteria
- Even with the careful proof reading of the entries – errors are inevitable.
Know the criteria used to develop the index.
What are the original sources of information? Are those original sources available for review? A good index will tell you where the data was found and where you can search the original material.
When I began to collect data for my first newspaper index – I had to create a set of criteria to which I would gather information. In order to have my index copyrighted, the Copyright office had to accept my criteria as unique enough to copyright – which they did!
My criteria I used for Oregon Newspaper Death Notices remain the same for my current index projects.
- The death notice was found in the Eugene Oregon newspapers I had selected.
- Have a Oregon connection, either the person died in Oregon, had been a resident or was a relative of a Oregonian.
- National figures with no Oregon connection, out-of-state deaths reported in local newspapers, perhaps reporting a sensational story in a neighboring state – were not included.
When you find an index, try to find out all you can about the index. Don’t make assumptions – based on the title – what is in the index.
The University of Oregon’s library system has a great online index to the Portland Oregonian, covering the years 1852-1987. Playing around a bit with the search features I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for. I refined my searched with the search operators and this helped. The most help came when I discovered the detailed inventory of their source material used, I then knew the strengths and weaknesses of the index.
Always ask a librarian if there are any indexes available for the time period you are researching. Indexes will save you hours of research time and help you find material that was previously unknown to you about your family.