Monday, October 15, 2018

Ancestry.com Indexing "Errors" on Massachusetts Death Records Collection

Genea-Musings reader Kathy Sullivan emailed me with this issue that my readers should known about:

" I have an issue with Ancestry indexing.  Maybe you have some thoughts on this.

"I am looking at a death record for Patrick S Cassidy, age 1 month, March 5, 1895.  The child’s name is listed as Patrick S Cassidy.    The parents are listed as Patrick and Bridget Hughes.  The parents are indexed as Patrick Hughes and Bridget Hughes.  In the case of this register the father’s surname is understood to be that of the child.  The father is Patrick Cassidy, not Patrick Hughes.  I’ve attached the record to this email [see below].  For every person on this page with 2 parents named, only 2 are indexed correctly.  The others all have the mother’s maiden name as the father’s surname.

 "I’m not as familiar with other states, but in Massachusetts this is Genealogy 101.  The father’s surname is understood, and if it is NOT the same as the child it will be listed.  I can’t find a birth record for this child, although there is a baptismal record."

Here is the record page from the "Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915" collection on Ancestry.com that Kathy mentioned:


The entry for Patrick S. Cassidy's death in 1895 in Salem, Mass. is the 5th from the bottom of the page.  The parents are clearly written as "Patrick and Bridget Hughes."

The record summary page lists the names of the parents of Patrick S. Cassidy as "Patrick Hughes" and "Bridget Hughes:"


As Kathy noted, this is not a one-off (singular) case - the whole page is indexed in the same way.  This means that every father's last name on this page, except for two, is wrong.

So we have a case of the Ancestry indexer following directions to "Index what you see."  Is the index for the father's last name correct?  Nope, it isn't, not always!  Massachusetts researchers use these death records often - I have over 500 source citations for death records in this specific, and similar (birth and marriage), collections.  I "learned by doing" that these birth, marriage and death records often leave out the father's last name and show them other's maiden name.

What about other pages in this particular set from this collection?  I randomly looked at these images:

*  Image 57:   father's last names are not listed but are indexed as the mother's maiden name
*  Image 157:  father's last names are  not listed and only the given name is indexed, mother's maiden names are in parentheses and are indexed
*  Image 357:  father's last names are not listed but are indexed as the mother's maiden name, except for when mother's maiden name is not listed
*  Image 657:  father's last names are not listed, but are indexed as decedent's lastname, mother's maiden name when known is in parentheses
*  Image 857:  father's last names are not listed, but are indexed as decedent's last name, mother's mother's maiden name when known is listed

And so forth.  There is really no consistency on this set of 1895 deaths.  This seems to be the case for many other years and towns in this collection.

What does this mean?  Here's my summary:

*  A search for the decedent's name will be successful as long as the name was indexed correctly.

*  A search for children of a couple that uses the last name of the father will not always be successful.

*  A search for children of a couple that uses the first names of the father and mother should be successful.

*  A search for children of a couple that uses the first name of the father and last name of the mother should be successful.  The exception is when the informant does not know the mother's maiden name.

I recommend:

*  Don't use the father's last name in a search for children in these Massachusetts Vital Records collections.

*  Use the family last name, the father's first name and mother's first name to find children from a specific family.  However, common first names may provide records form ore than one family.

Thank you to Kathy Sullivan for explaining this indexing issue on this particular (and probably other) Massachusetts vital record collections.

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Copyright (c) 2018, Randall J. Seaver


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3 comments:

Diane Gould Hall said...

Interesting post Randy. And, sometimes we wonder why we can’t find the records we are searching for. Thanks for this tip as I have many links to Massachusetts in mine and Ron's family.

Barbara Lawson said...

Most of my ancestry is from Massachusetts. This indexing problem is so common that after years of dealing with it, I don't even raise an eyebrow when I come across it. My impression is that it was a misunderstanding of one or several indexers. It is common, but not consistent. I've been using the search approach you suggest for a long time and that gets me by any problems. (You'd think after indexing a page or two of one of these documents, the indexer would have caught on--but no!!)

Kat said...

Thanks for getting the word out about this, Randy!