Know Your Record Set: Does It Exist & Has It Been Indexed?

I have mentioned knowing your record set in the past, but there is a new tip I’d like to share today.

Many researchers believe that if the record set they need exists, then it is digitally available online AND it has also been fully indexed. Many don’t take the time to drill down into primary records when a search doesn’t bring up the image needed.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean if it does exist, it has been indexed (correctly or with errors/omissions).

Here is an example from my own research:

Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 have been compiled for most early Massachusetts towns. This is a well-known standard reference for anyone who has early New England roots. FamilySearch and Ancestry have this record set, as does American Ancestors.

It is so common and widely available (known as the Tan Books in pre-internet days) that I would certainly expect AmericanAncestors, Ancestry and FamilySearch to have this record set available online – and they do – SORT OF!

I was researching one of my Massachusetts families in the 1700s. Rebecca Blackman, daughter of Benjamin Blackman and Abigail Spur,  was born on 8 February 1737/38 in Stoughton, Norfolk, Massachusetts. Eventually, I found this record:


Birth Records of Stoughton, MA

First, I searched AmericanAncestors:

Hmmm. No record found. That surprised me because their Massachusetts Vital Records collection is extensive. Stoughton is an early New England town, too.

Next, Ancestry:

Hmmm. No record found there, either.

On to FamilySearch:

FamilySearch has an entry that matches the birth date I have for Rebecca, but no image is available. It is part of the Massachusetts Births and Christenings, 1639-1915 collection.

Why is there no image?

Hmmm. Items in this collection come from data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah. That means it might be off old pedigree charts or in the old IGI or from actual government vital records.

Back to Square 1 and I looked at the database collection of AmericanAncestors for Stoughton:

Wow! NO databases found for Stoughton in AmericanAncestors!!! Their digital vital record collection for Massachusetts isn’t complete!

As for Ancestry, the catalog does show that Stoughton vital records are in their collection and are searchable. What happened when I searched for Blackman in 1737 +/- 2 years?

I didn’t even enter Rebecca (Rebackah), just the surname and no hits came up. So, Ancestry HAS the collection, but either it isn’t fully indexed or there has been an error in indexing.

Lastly, I went to FamilySearch, used the catalog and pulled up digital images of the book of Stoughton vital records.

I then clicked, went to Norfolk County, then Stoughton and went through the book page by page until I found the entry I sought.

The lesson here is, once again, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. If what you are searching for doesn’t magically appear in digital format online, take the time to seek out the original record set.

Not only did I find the birth record for my Rebecca Blackman, there were several other records in this collection that allowed me to piece together the Blackman family and extend the line back several more generations to the immigrant.

In my case, the record IS online, but not accessible through an online index.

What you think is a brick wall, might not be at all!

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