Tag Archives: Indexing

Family Treasures: View from the index

For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index

2018: the year in review concluded

In a few days’ time the blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Here, to review the year just ended, are some posts from the second half of 2018 demonstrating the range of material published at Vita Brevis.

In July, Meaghan E. H. Siekman wrote about her great-grandfather, the Chicago-born son of Czech immigrants who

spent his lifetime chasing the American dream and preserving a history which was not directly his own, as none of his ancestors ever lived in colonial America. Evidence of the importance of American history in his life can be found in his obituary, which focuses more on his collections [parts of which ended up in the Smithsonian Institution] and preservation work than his career in medicine. Continue reading 2018: the year in review concluded

The only existing record

St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a volunteer at NEHGS, my current assignment is to proofread and potentially correct the indexed records of the Massachusetts: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900 collection. If you have taken a look at this database, you’ll know that the handwriting in the records varies from “very clear” to “indecipherable.” We have even made use of a “Transcription Challenge,” where we post names from the scanned record book pages and ask users what they think the handwriting represents. Not too surprisingly, the suggested names vary quite a bit amongst themselves.

Contributing to the confusion is that many of the given (first) names in the collection are expressed in Latin form. In other words, the name “Guillimus McCarthy” represents “William McCarthy” in English. Continue reading The only existing record

‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

Figure 1

Originating in an Italian proverb in 1603 and popularized by Voltaire in 1770, we have all heard the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” This phrase is very well-suited to the topic of searching genealogical databases, and particularly for AmericanAncestors.org.

Over the last year, the NEHGS web team has been researching a wide variety of things that we can do to improve the search experience for our 250,000 members. Along the way it has become clear that one of the bigger problems our members face is the dreaded “0 records returned” message (Figure 1). You just know that the record you are looking for is out there, but you can’t seem to find it when you fill out the search form. Continue reading ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

A good index guides the reader

Penny at podium_croppedYesterday, Alicia Crane Williams wrote about the steps she takes when indexing the Early New England Families Study Project, showing the extensive work that makes it possible for us to find ancestors in database searches. But what if you’re not creating a database, but writing a book instead?

In the course of your research, have you ever picked up a family history and, to your dismay, found no index? With this experience in mind, if you are writing a family history, you must have an index for your work—at the very least an every-name index. Continue reading A good index guides the reader

Creating an index

Alicia Crane WilliamsI am in the last phases of preparing eight new Early New England Families Study Project sketches for publication on americanancestors.org in the next week or so. I will give full details about each in an upcoming post.

First, I have to create the indexes. Indexing a database for the NEHGS website involves a lot more than a simple name or place index. Using an Excel spreadsheet, there are nineteen fields of information to be entered for each record. Most are self-explanatory, but I have added a few notes for those that may not be: Continue reading Creating an index

Composition: Part Four

Final assessment

Alicia Crane WilliamsAs I tie up loose ends on the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Richard Newton, it is time to assess the work.

Newton’s sketch is fairly short, four pages at the moment: his birth and ancestry are unknown, he did not participate in town or colony governments, was not in trouble with the courts, and left no interesting biographical highlights. A lot of information was already in print about the Newton family, including a full transcription of Richard’s will in the Newton GenealogyContinue reading Composition: Part Four

Indexing your family history

Penny at podium_croppedIf you’re writing a family history, you’re ultimately going to index it, right? If you’ve ever consulted a printed genealogy in hopes of finding an ancestor . . . only not to find an index to help you, you’ll know the importance of creating an index for your own work.

In pre-computer days, you’d have used index cards to make your index, making a card for each entry and then painstakingly writing the appropriate page numbers on the card. Then you’d have typed it up into a manuscript. Now you can just start typing index entries in a word-processing or spreadsheet program, later alphabetizing them. (If you’re producing your book completely in Microsoft Word, you can mark entries in your file and Word will generate the index.) Alternatively, you can use indexing software such as SKY Index or Cindex. Continue reading Indexing your family history