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Don't Rely on Indexes


I was searching for George Patton in the 1820 census and I found him in an index which made me happy. Here is an image of what was listed in the index as George Patton.

1820 Census Lydia Patton entry
(click image to enlarge)

On this very same page there was another person by the name of George.  You can clearly see what the name George should look like as written by this enumerator. The first image, showing the man indexed as "George" Patton, clearly isn't the name George based on the second entry.

1820 Census George Tilley entry
(click image to enlarge)

1820 U.S. census, Wilkes County, Georgia, p. 162, lines 4, 20, Lydia Patton and Georgia Tilley; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 December 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 9.

Luckily I know who the first entry is. It is George’s stepmother Lydia (Orr) Patton. So here is the problem. Lydia and George are very different words so no matter how fuzzy you make this search these two will not be picked up as a possibility for the other unless I searched for the name Patton only. Let’s say I did search just for the name Patton. If you were looking for a Lydia Patton would you click on the name George in the index? Or, if you were looking for someone named George would you click on Lydia? This is just an example. Lydia wasn’t in the index at all since she was indexed as George.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that the handwriting is hard to read and it is always easier for someone who is familiar with the names to spot them. My point is, don’t rely on indexes. The indexers are human and they make mistakes. Sometimes you need to hand search the images.
All of the online repositories have this indexed incorrectly and I have sent corrections to all of them. This is how you can make the index better. If you see something like this let them know.
So where is George? No clue. I haven't found him yet.

Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


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I had a similar problem with my James Beard, wife Harriet and a previously un documented/sourced daughter Elizabeth.
His was in the 1851 Wales census.
Finally found them under Bend. When viewed it was Beard and fairly clearly too. Still if I had not gone through page after page of images I would never have found them. Fuzzy doesn’t equate Beard and Bend.

Thanks for this always pertinent post.
I just wrote about a similar situation on my own blog. An indexed surname that was so far off, it would not be picked up in fuzzy searches. Instead of Thorp, the correct name they indexed Thersse.

I have found index entries for my great-grandmother's baptism in two independent places...still, I know better, so wrote to the repository that holds the record. Someone there confirmed it for me, but until I can get hold of a copy (complicated by the repository on another continent only accepting payment if I phone with my credit card info), I'm not entering this info as a certainty.

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