Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Unindexed Databases at Redux

I pointed out in my post Unindexed Databases on that some databases at are not indexed by names in the databases - the user does not receive a search result if they are searching by name. In order to find the records, the user has to "browse" the database. Usually, these unindexed databases are in alphabetical order, or by locality, so the task is not totally random.

Genea-Musings reader and genealogue Chris (Dunham) commented that:

"Doing a Google site search for the phrase "no search function for names" brings up a few more databases."

That was a great idea. Here are the results from that search:

* War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index, 1812-1815

* Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934

* U.S. Circuit Court Criminal Case Files, 1790-1871

* New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 (World Archives ...

* Sweden, Kugelberg Newspaper Clips, 1888-1904

* U.S. Freedmen's Marriage Records, 1861-1869

* U.S. Revolutionary War Miscellaneous Records (Manuscript File ...

* World War II Japanese-American Internment Camp Documents, 1942 ...

* Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 ...

* Returns from Regular Army Regiments, 1821-1916 -

* U.S. Index to General Correspondence of the Record and Pension ...

* Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916 -

* Missouri Still Birth & Miscellaneous Records, 1805-2002 -

* Selected U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (World ...

* New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 (World Archives ...

There appear to be some databases that are indexed by only the last name. One set of examples is the Massachusetts Town Vital Records Before 1850 books (the so-called "tan books"). Some of these books are indexed only by the surname, not by the given names, parents names, etc. You can find many of these books by using keywords "vital" and "Massachusetts" in the Ancestry Card Catalog search box. My search link is here. I noticed that, even though all of the town Vital Records books contain births, marriages and deaths, many of them are not included in the Birth, Marriage and Death collection but are listed in the Stories, Memories and Histories collection. Some of the town BMD books are indexed with given names also. Ancestry should really fix this cataloguing error - these all belong in the Birth, Marriage & Death collection.

Genea-Musings reader Geolover commented that the US Revolutionary War Compiled Service Records database is arranged by State and Regiment (sometimes misnamed) and other items under 'Miscellaneous'. This database is name-indexed at That is very useful information - thanks!

The lessons learned here, for me, are that:

* the indexing and cataloguing systems are imperfect -- they are not consistent nor complete.

* The user has to consult the Card Catalog to determine if Ancestry has databases of specific interest, whether for a locality or record type.

I think that "Caveat Genealogicus!" is going to be the name of my next blog! It certainly applies here!

UPDATED 10 a.m.: Lorine commented that some of these unindexed databases are in the World Archives Project (WAP) and will have indexes in the future. which has a list of databases currently being indexed. Thanks for the great comment, Lorine!


  1. Hi Randy

    Great article on the unindexed and often overlooked databases on Ancestry. One thing I wanted to point out though is that many of them are part of the World Archives Project.

    This project is where volunteers from the genealogical community do the indexing and then the indexes will be free to search

    The complete list of databases (Images only) in the WAP is at


  2. They might be able to get more people to volunteer to index these records if they could open it up to MAC users. I have already sent them that information and they are not moving in that direction, which is sad. There are many MAC users out there that would like to help.

  3. Thanks for the info! I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Randy, you hit one nail on the head concerning inconsistency in database indexing at

    Some are just plain installed defectively, such as "Berks County, Pennsylvania Estate Records, 1752-1914." You can use the search box to search it if you want a surname alphabetically up to 'Blaine', but not thereafter. It is not browsable. Anne Mitchell suggested searching using keyword 'Berks', which supposedly gave a results list of all entries that one could then browse tediously by page of results. But no matter how far one browses by page, the display stops at 'Blaine'.

    Then there are the dBs quasi-indexed by keyword through OCR, such as newspapers. For many surnames this results in large numbers of irrelevancies, and no first0name/surname indexing is on the horizon.

    The largest dB with this type of quasi-indexing is the California Voters Registration Lists, where you are more likely to find a target person if you know what street they lived on and search for that. One searching for an Arnold Moore would not especially be interested in all Arnolds, persons living on an Arnold Drive, persons living on Moore St., or all Moores. The search results do not tell you what factor was 'found' by the search engine, so by and large this is a fairly inaccessible database.