Saturday, November 10, 2012

Creating Indexes and How You Can Help

Last time we talked about the importance of indexes, the different types, and the Local History Master Index (LHMI), the first search tool for the Southwest Michigan regional family & history collection housed by the Van Buren District Library. 

Amelia Castle
On November 2, the LHMI reached the 1 million record mark and continues to grow.  The hundreds of smaller indexes that comprise the whole database have come from dozens of indexers.  It's birth about five years ago began with combining the many indexes which had been created by long-time area genealogist, Amelia Birdsall Castle of Dowagiac.  For many years, Amelia had compiled and marketed in book form indexes to cemetery, vital, church, local history & land records focusing primarily on Cass & Van Buren Counties.  All of those digital indexes were donated to the library when Amelia moved out of state to her new home in  Arkansas.

Indexes have been created in many formats including Word Perfect, and the array of Microsoft products - Word, Works, Excel & Access.  All have been "dumped" into Access where searches can be made by last name, first name, year, and source. 

The LHMI indexes more than just personal names.  Entries include businesses & companies, historic buildings & sites, organizations & clubs, streets & other geographic references, churches, and schools.  We're even indexing the wonderful old advertisements that appear in directories, yearbooks & newspapers.  In recent weeks, the department has fielded requests for information pertaining to the Colonial Hotel in South Haven and the Rebekah Lodge of Decatur.  In these and other similar cases, searching the LHMI provided a list of hits referencing these topics.

Indexers for the LHMI don't have to live in the area to help with the project.  We've had volunteers as far away as Arizona, California and New York.  The only things required to become an indexer is a computer (no internet access necessary), a program to index into, and time.  Everything else is provided by the library including detailed instructions. 

Volunteers also may take their choice of the type of records they wish to index.  Is your interest in a specific location, or a particular type of record?  There is indexing to be done from typed pages, and those that have experience reading handwriting can work from handwritten records.  Many who have done indexing have enjoyed the added bonus of locating information about subjects or persons of interest to them.

The importance of indexes cannot be overstated.  And, I would argue that hand-generated indexes have a higher rate of accuracy and completeness than machine-generated indexes.  As we are all historians, we know better than a machine what type of information we seek and what should be indexed.

In 2011, the volunteer force from the Local History department generated a combined 1,991 volunteer hours, the lions share of which were at home workers.  Consider becoming a volunteer indexer this winter.  There are no deadlines, no whip cracking....just appreciation. 

For more information about the LHMI or about how to volunteer as an indexer, please contact us.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - McCollum & Cunningham, Dowagiac

Can you identify the young woman in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.  

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