23 January 2011

Index? Oh yes!

In my eyes, a family history publication with no index is of limited value. I also like to include a complete Table of Contents (with the subheadings as well as headings and chapter titles) and a List of Illustrations. But those are in the front of the book. In the back of the book lies the treasure. A listing of all the names and places referred to in our work. We also add a reference to each census entry [Census: Last name, first name (Year)] and birth and death certificates and records [Birth record: Last name, first name]. We also index separately the names on the pedigree and family group records and then include a third index of people's photographs. I read a family history book once that indexed their family's favorite family stories--they called it the 2 1/2 minute talk index.

You may not find it necessary to index so thoroughly, but please index. The truth is that most of us don't read a book from cover to cover. We pick and choose. And how do we pick and choose--from the Table of Contents and the Index.

It's hard work to index, no doubt about that. We think we are through with a history, we breathe a giant sigh of relief and then...the index. I know. But it provides another opportunity to proofread and I guarantee will we find something that needs correcting. And most importantly, it makes our hard work accessible and useful. Even with a typesetting program like Quark or InDesign, indexing is not easy. Microsoft Word also provides indexing capability within their program. But it's not as easy as just searching electronically for each instance of a name.

A good index will index instances of "his father," "her brother," "Dad," etc. with the name of the individual referenced. And we have to decide and then remember how we indexed that name. If the text says "Will," does our index say "Will," "William" or "William D?" Last name first, of course. The possibilities are many and the best indexes are consistent. We choose to index women by their maiden name for that very reason.

It is possible to hand index a book. I've participated in that exercise too. Print out the text and highlight the desired information. Then list it and be thankful for a computer to compile the list alphabetically. However you choose to index, don't leave that last and very important step out. Enlist the help you need. Take the extra time. But please index! We need one.

No comments:

Post a Comment