Introduction to the General References and Guides

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General References and Guides

This article is part of a series.
Introduction to the General References and Guides
Overview of Databases and Indexes
Database and Index Types
List of Specific Databases and Indexes
Library Catalogs
List of Useful Finding Aid References

This article originally appeared in "General References and Guides" by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

A genealogist researching a family history or pedigree faces mountains of records that may contain some reference to the family or ancestor of interest. This series focuses on the major finding aids that enable genealogical researchers to tap these vast resources faster and more efficiently. The finding aids covered in this series include databases, which are compiled collections of genealogical information; indexes, which identify where in a record or set of records information can be found about an individual; catalogs, which help determine where records are; bibliographies that identify records; and directories of organizations and other researchers. A growing number of these finding aids are now accessible electronically, and that availability will also be discussed.

Databases and indexes, especially in the last decade, have become essential tools in genealogical research. In fact, with the ongoing information explosion and the increased availability of earlier records, databases and indexes are the best tools with which genealogists can search large collections of records successfully. Indeed, the explosion of published sources in the past two decades, with the attendant increase of indexes and other finding aids, means that this series can only be an overview of the key kinds of finding aids, with the introduction of some specific examples. For more detailed information on the materials introduced here, as well as an extensive discussion of published versions of most kinds of genealogical records, see the Ancestry companion volume, Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records.

Databases, indexes, and other finding aids are perhaps the most important sources genealogists use. They provide access to information that may previously have been difficult, if not impossible, to search. Computer technology makes indexing simultaneously more feasible and more necessary.

How can genealogists learn about new tools and indexes? Involvement with colleagues in professional societies and local genealogy societies is important. So are regular surveys of major genealogical periodicals and those in your area of interest.


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