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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Record Indexes

In a previous video, Jen shared the importance of looking at the images of original records instead of trusting the information that was indexed. Indexing refers to the text that is transcribed and attached to digital images so that the information is searchable.

The meaning of an index for offline records is different, of course. An index is generally a listing of names or other information that references where to find where those names or subjects occur. It's like a table of contents, and they are often at the beginning or end of record books. Sometimes indexes are in separate volumes that were compiled much later than the books they reference. In genealogy, we might find indexes that direct us to the book and page where records of births, marriages, deaths, court proceedings, land transactions, and more were logged.

Like any information, indexes can contain errors and mistakes. One recent example was encountered during a site visit to Woodford County in Illinois. I was there to look through the heavy, dusty record books for traces of an ancestor by the name of Joseph Kaufman, who lived in the area in the mid-1800s. His parents and place of birth in Europe were unknown. Though I had a theory about his parents, I was hoping to find information that proved it.

Searching page-by-page through the indexes of land transactions, I encountered the name Joseph Cuffinell. The name Kaufman is often misspelled Coffman, which was the first reason I was looking for Kaufmans in the "C" pages of the index. The letters Cuff- were similar to Coffman, so I thought that record was one to find and read.

The mortgage was recorded by the county official throughout the document using the name Joseph Cuffinell. However, the signature made me jump for joy. It's hard to read, but I know what it says:

That's German script, and the signature of Joseph Kaufman. One can see why "Cuffinell" would be the best guess of the county official who recorded the original document. Were there still any doubt what the surname is, the signature matches the one on my Joseph Kaufman's will from 1866.

This land transaction for "Joseph Cuffinell" was exactly what I was looking for and ultimately knocked down the remaining pieces of a brick wall. Had I disregarded that name in the index, and not sought out the original record, I would have missed it.


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