21 November 2012

Indexes Point, But You Have to Look

I'm working on my Rufus D. Stephens "map," and in so doing I was reminded of the importance of taking a look at the actual record.

The census indexes at  Ancestry.com  indicate that there are two Rufus Stevens/Stephens in New York State in 1810. At least the number of matches is not unmanageable. Of course, there could be other Rufuses with a totally mangled last name (due to a combination of enumerator and transcriber issues), but I'm going to limit myself to those that I find in indexes at this point. My research notes indicate what types of database searches were done.

The index entry and preview for the Rufus Stephens in Lewis County shows:

The actual image shows one additional clue:

1810 U.S. Census-Lewis County, New York, page 117 (handwritten--bottom right)

The "Jr." after his name is significant. Whether it means that his father was named Rufus or that there was another Rufus in the same general area is not yet known. Despite my uncertainty at this point about what the "Jr." means, it does mean something. It is up to me to figure that out and it would not have been noticed if I had not looked at the actual image.

And it's also up to me to look at the original record so that clues of this type are not overlooked. Brick walls are sometimes the result of not looking deeply enough. Looking at the actual record is not an advanced search approach.

Don't blame Ancestry.com for this--indexes are finding aids for the census. They are not replacements.

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