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Citing Indexes & Finding Aids

Citing Indexes & Finding Aids

The following article describing the factors involved in citing indexes and finding aids in one’s genealogical research has been excerpted from Elizabeth Mills’ groundbreaking book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition Revised, with the author’s permission.

“In the framework of history research, an index is usually a tool, rather than a record. Typically, indexes are used in three ways, each of which involves different considerations for citations and analyses.


Evidence Explained

When an index points us to a source and we proceed to consult that source, we rarely need to cite the index. An exception would be a case in which an index provides some sort of special insight.


In the course of our research, we may access a microfilmed index or an electronic database to a record set, while the records themselves are not immediately available. In such cases, we take our notes from that index and we cite that index as the source of those notes. As a rule, this is a policy for our working files only. Our pursuit of reliable evidence dictates that we proceed to use the actual records rather than make judgments on the basis of index details that the compiler has presented out of context. Once we examine the actual record set, we report our findings from that search and cite the actual records.


On occasion, to add perspective to our conclusions, we may compile statistics from an index or analyze it for patterns. In other cases, clerks who created index entries at the same time they recorded legal and sacramental acts may have amplified the index with details about the parties that do not appear in the main documents. In such cases, the index itself is a source to be cited on its own merits.

Excerpted from Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,
3d ed. rev. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2017), p. 48, §2.12.