Creating an index

Alicia Crane WilliamsI am in the last phases of preparing eight new Early New England Families Study Project sketches for publication on in the next week or so. I will give full details about each in an upcoming post.

First, I have to create the indexes. Indexing a database for the NEHGS website involves a lot more than a simple name or place index. Using an Excel spreadsheet, there are nineteen fields of information to be entered for each record. Most are self-explanatory, but I have added a few notes for those that may not be:


AlternateNames: Other spellings of the last name used in the sketch (Browne, Smyth, etc.).

FirstName: Including middle and maiden names as applicable.

Principal: If the record is for the principal person of the sketch or his/her spouse, the numeral “1” is entered, which tells the program to generate a “Featured Name Only” entry that can be used in the search engine.

RecordType: Birth, marriage, and death, and “record” for anything that does not fall into the first three categories.






SpouseLastName: If female, her maiden surname, or the surname of her most recent spouse.

SpouseFirstName: If female and previously married, this includes her maiden surname.



MotherLastName: Her married surname.

MotherFirstName: Her first and maiden names.


Birth entries are usually straight-forward, but there are a few tricks with marriages and deaths [the following examples are compressed for purposes of illustration]:

SMITH, John, Marriage, 1678, DOE, Jane

DOE, Jane, Marriage, 1678, SMITH, John

SMITH, John, Death, 1700, DOE, Jane

SMITH, Jane [Doe], Death, 1734, SMITH, John

However, if Jane remarried after John’s death, another set of records is needed:

SMITH, Jane [Doe], Marriage, 1710, BROWN, Robert

BROWN, Robert, Marriage, 1710, SMITH, Jane [Doe]

And, of course, Jane’s death entry would change to:

BROWN, Jane [Doe] [Smith], Death, 1734, BROWN, Robert

In a regular name index, if the name John Smith appears on a page, regardless of whether the name applies to more than one individual, “John Smith” is indexed only once per page.  In the database, however, each separate person is indexed, resulting in entries such as [again, condensed for illustration]:

SMITH, John, 1, Birth, 1650, {father} SMITH, John, {mother} SMITH, Ann [Black]

SMITH, John, Birth, 1679, {father} SMITH, John, {mother} SMITH, Jane [Doe]

SMITH, John, Record, {spouse} BLACK, Ann

These three entries would represent John Smith, who is the Featured Name of the sketch, his son John Smith, and his father John Smith.

The result is the enhanced information you receive when you search the databases; see, for instance, this search for Peter Hobart.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

9 thoughts on “Creating an index

  1. Alicia – whether or not your work helps me find one of my ancestors, thank you for your massive work project.

  2. Even if the index didn’t help me (and who knows it might) you will find plenty of people it will help or they will find you and be glad for your great work. I feel Thankful anytime there is an index for anything. So Thank You ahead of time:)

  3. Alicia, thank you so much for this informative post! My cousin just started his own genealogy search, I have forwarded this to him and I know it will help.

  4. If your browser does not show text in the “Relationship” column of the search for Peter Hobart that connects with the link here, just go to the search page in americanancestors, enter “Peter Hobart”, then choose the “Genealogies, Biographies” section and it will take you to the full page of the index. The “Relationships” column is what makes the index most useful.

  5. Before retirement I spent 30 years of my life cataloging and database indexing. Most people, while they appreciate getting quality results from their search, have no idea the amount of effort entailed in making that information accessible to them. It takes a good indexer to make quality information available to those who are not experienced searchers. While scanned and OCR’d documents are a plus and can make searching easier, the task of weeding through a great number of results can be daunting. The provision of good indexing and finding aids helps separate the wheat from the chafe and generates manageable quality results. A hearty thank you to you Alicia and others within your organization for your great work on the users behalf.

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