Tip: Understand How the Record Set Is Organized

Have you gone looking for a document that you expected to be in a specific set of records, only to be disappointed because it wasn’t there?

I often mention how important it is for genealogists to do their own original research and not to rely on others’ findings. To research successfully, one needs to understand how a collection of documents is organized, or in some cases – not organized!

While perusing probate records for Cumberland County, Kentucky, I came across Will Book B, 1815-1831 on FamilySearch. It is digitized and can be accessed from home.

My husband had a couple of branches of his ancestors who settled in Cumberland County in its earliest days – not long before Will Book B was created.

When I opened the file and checked out the index, it seemed to me that there were a lot of entries for many letters of the alphabet – too many I thought – given the early time period of the wills and the general poverty in that region.

Instead of jumping to the Rs to look for family members, I started with A and this is what I found:

Source: FamilySearch

Here is a closer look at part of the A column:

Look at these entries. The list begins with Apprs – I would imagine shorthand for Appraisers, given that this is a will book index. However, the appraisers and administrators are for men whose surnames don’t begin with the letter A! Instead, they are for C. Miller, S. Lafferty, J. Gee, Stockton and so on.

In fact, the 12th entry is Assignmt dower to B. Blaky – assignment of dower!

It isn’t even until the 13th entry that there is an inventory and appraisal for Appleby!

The C entries include certificates, D includes dowers, at least for those that aren’t “indexed” under A for assignment! I entries have inventories, W has “will of . . .” and so on.

In this case, this will book is not indexed by surname, it’s indexed by a combination of legal terms and surnames. Therefore, for me to be sure I’m not overlooking a potential family record, I need to read this “index” from start to finish.

The lesson here is to slow down and take a careful look at how records are organized.


One thought on “Tip: Understand How the Record Set Is Organized”

  1. Great advice! I too have found exploring the indexes can be very helpful, rather than just going directly to search results. They often lead to new discoveries 🙂

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