The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Finding People in Databases & Indexes

Elizabeth Shown Mills, is an expert researcher and family historian. Her works include top selling books on proving and citing sources: Evidence!: Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Mills has also written a number of Quicksheets covering research methodologies designed to improve the accuracy and success of the overall research process. This review examines The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Finding People in Databases and Indexes.

Mills provides a basic premise for this guide: “Databases and indexes are valuable tools for research. As finding aids, they can shortcut the process of discovery…Historical records, however, involve vagaries that defy technical formulas.” She suggests that databases and indexes can limit, or even prohibit, discoveries if the researcher does not apply an analytical strategy. Genealogical research requires understanding the nature of those people being studied. Computers cannot understand people and their unique needs. However, one can understand the nature of both one’s ancestors and the systems or tools one uses. Finding solutions begins with understanding problems.

The guide suggests strategies to help overcome database and index related issues in finding people. Some strategies provide a pro-active approach. The author lists seven considerations to keep in mind. Three full pages in this four page guide, are dedicated to a single table. The table lists “anomaly types” along with the associated “typical problem” and examples. For example, the “Anomaly Type” for Translated Names offers two “Typical Problems”. One problem for Given Names and one for Surnames. Examples included the translation for the French name Reine is Regina in English. Such a translation is helpful in searching indexes and databases that cannot make the translations assumptions for you.


Basic Premise

Pro-Active Strategies

Major Considerations

  1. Erratic spelling
  2. Family names vs. surnames
  3. Female name usage
  4. Penmanship
  5. Regional dialects
  6. Translations and adaptations
  7. Composition of finding aid
    • Arrangement of entries
    • Selection criteria applied

Table: Common Anomalies & Errors


Order The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Finding People in Databases and Indexes from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: GPC3869, Price: $8.77.

See other Quicksheets available at Family Roots Publishing:

QuickSheet: Citing Online African-American Historical Resources

QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources

QuickSheet: Citing Databases & Images

Quicksheet: The Historical Biographer’s Gide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle)

QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to the Research Process

QuickSheet: Genealogical Problem Analysis, A Strategic Plan

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