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  • Making Optimum Use of the IGI

    Helen Schatvet Ullmann, CG, FASG

    Since its inception in 1969, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) has been a marvelous finding tool — not a source in itself, but, as its name indicates, an index to records from all over the world.[i]

    It has always been a good idea to understand the nuances of this database in order to make full use of it.  While it is a great resource for locating people, one must not be misled by the many duplications and errors it contains.  Now that the IGI is online, there are new ways to search it.  But you will not be making optimum use of it unless you make some effort to go behind the individual entry and find the paperwork and sources associated with many of the entries.  With this knowledge you will have a much better idea of when you will find information, how reliable that data is, and whether to pursue an entry that interests you.

    Take, for example, my search for George Cook Stevens, a nephew of one of my ancestors.  From a thorough check of many sources, I was sure he had been born in Cheshire, Connecticut, about 1811-12, and it seemed he had been married in Massachusetts shortly before 1850.  But I had no date or place for any vital event.  A check of the IGI showed:


    STEVENS, George Cook
    , son of George Stevens and Savilla Hitchcock, born 16 Jan 1811 at Cheshire, New Haven Co., CT. LDS ordinances: baptized 17 Feb 1966 LG [Logan Temple], endowed 25 Feb 1966, sealed “pre-1970” Batch/film #0,448,102.[ii]

    Without going into much detail at this point, the above information led me to a family group sheet referring to the “Greely Fam., p. 698-9.”  Indeed George H. Greeley, Genealogy of the Greely-Greeley Family (1905) treats George’s wife, Mary Ayer, and gives all vital data one could wish (though without sources). It would have otherwise taken quite a piece of serendipity to lead me to George Cook Stevens in that book.

    Finding the book that included George was relatively simple since I knew how to deal with a 1966 IGI entry.  But what about his grandfather, Hubbell Stevens?  There were two Hubbells — a father (who married twice) and his son.  So, ideally, there would be five entries under the name: two birth records and three marriages.  But I find over twenty!  How can we evaluate and interpret these entries?  Which are worth pursuing?  More on that later.

    Some hints for searching the IGI

    There are differences between searching the IGI on the old DOS version of FamilySearch, which is available at Family History Centers (FHCs), and searching it online.  However, both programs allow you to search in three different ways, for births or christenings of individuals, for marriages, and for children of certain parents.

    Trial and error is probably the best teacher in this case.  There are many nuances, which you will pick up with experience.  For example, when doing a parent search in the DOS version, you will need to search three times, once with the wife’s full name, once with only her given name and once without a wife’s name.  Online you must enter at least the wife’s given name.  The search will find both those with and without her surname at the same time.

    Actually, a search of the DOS version can be faster because you will be able to see the spouse’s or parents’ names on the index screen, which will help you decide whether to move to the detail screen.  However, the DOS version is static, containing entries made only up through the beginning of the year 2000, while the online version is updated weekly.

    When searching the IGI by itself online, you have some options that are not available when doing a search in all the databases available at http://www.familysearch.org/.  For example, you can locate a woman by only her given name if you include her husband and/or other limiting parameters in the search.

    Submissions in different time periods

    In order to make best use of the IGI, you need to understand that entries have been made in different ways at different times. We can identify four distinct periods during which different types of records were generated. While this process may seem complex at first view, it is not really very difficult.  These four eras are:

    1. pre-1942
    2. 1942-1969
    3. 1969-1990
    4. 1990 to the present

    For the first two periods there is a card index on microfilm, compiled by the Temple Records Index Bureau (commonly called “TIB”).  The latter two periods are fully indexed in the present IGI, and church members have nearly finished adding in names from the first two periods.

    First, though, it would be helpful to understand what the Mormons (or LDS, as we call ourselves) are doing with the IGI. This huge database was designed to keep track of “temple work” undertaken on behalf of deceased persons. Temple “ordinances” are performed by living church members as proxies for the deceased: baptism for the dead (c.f. I Corinthians 15:29), the endowment (a sort of course of instruction), and the sealing of married couples and of children to parents (c.f. Matthew 16:19).  Mormons believe that many persons who have died are waiting for these ordinances; others may yet decide to accept them.  Since it is an index to temple work, and since many members of the church do not (or in the past could not) check to see whether work has been done, many temple ordinances are unnecessarily repeated.  This explains why there are multiple entries for the same person.

    From its inception, church leaders also visualized the IGI as a tool by which family historians could locate records in hitherto difficult-to-access or unexpected sources. The IGI only began in 1969, however; Mormons have undertaken genealogical work since 1836.

    The first era (pre-1942)

    Before 1942 members took lists of deceased relatives to the temple with them. The temples maintained separate ledgers of baptisms, endowments, and sealings, arranged chronologically.  The patron’s name appears at the head of a group of names as the person at whose “instance” the work was undertaken.  The Church does not have accompanying family group records from this era, so there is no direct way to obtain further information.  However, the TIB card index generated during this period can lead you to other material.  The TIB is only directly accessible by church members in Special Collections at the Family History Library, but anyone else can address a letter to the Photoduplication Department, Family History Library, 37 North West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.  Include a check for one dollar for each name.[iii]

    Most, but not all, of these names have been “extracted” from the old temple record books and are now in the IGI.  You will recognize these entries by the word “relative” in place of parents or spouse when you are searching the DOS version of FamilySearch.  Online, the entry will lack the name of a spouse or parent.  When you click on the film number given in the entry, you will find yourself in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC).  When you click on the title and then on “film notes” you will find yourself at the beginning of a long list of microfilms.  Scroll down until you find the film number and look at the date of the records on that particular film.

    Most of the time you can order that microfilm at an FHC.  Before ordering, read carefully to see if the film is restricted.  Some of these films can be consulted only in Salt Lake City, so you may need to hire someone on the spot.  However, most are no longer in Special Collections and can be viewed by anyone.  Use the page and reference number given in the IGI entry to find the name. 

    These temple volumes may or may not be helpful, depending on the details given and on the surrounding names.  Searching for an Edwin J. Mills in Michigan, I found him in the temple book among a group of Howlands.  This was a clue to look at a Howland genealogy.  Edwin had married Cornelia Howland.

    The second era (1942-1969)

    You may find, when you look at the date of the temple book, that it falls during this second period.  From 1942 to 1969 temple patrons submitted names on family group sheets.  The patron’s name, address, and sources of information[iv]  were listed.  The “Family Group Records Archives” (FGRA) contains most family group sheets submitted during these years and is available on microfilm (where the George Cook Stevens family group sheet appears).  While there are indeed numerous errors and omissions on these sheets, many are the result of meticulous research or reflect otherwise inaccessible family records.

    To find these, search for film number 1275000 and you will find the whole series of films.  These sheets are alphabetical by head of family, usually the husband.  If the person is a wife or child, and the spouse or father is unknown, a TIB card may make a connection.

    In compiling family group records during this period, patrons referred to the earlier TIB cards.  On many of these sheets the baptism and endowment dates are pre-1942, but the sealing dates are later.  So, if you see by clicking on the film number for the temple record book, that an ordinance was performed between 1942 and 1969, you can be fairly sure of finding a family group sheet.  You may also find one for entries of the earlier period.

    Generally, you will derive more information from the TIB card and family group sheets than from the temple record book films referenced in the IGI.  A “P” or a “C” in the upper left corner of the TIB card indicates the person appears as a parent or child on a family group sheet.  If you request a TIB card by mail, you should also receive the relevant family group sheets.

    On the other hand, you may want to see the group of names submitted by the patron.  In this case, consult the film referenced in the IGI.

    The third era (1969-1990)

    In the 1960s the Church began using computers and volunteers to extract births, christenings, and marriages from many countries.  And in 1969 the system for member submissions was again changed.  Now there are two major types of submissions for temple work.  When you look at the source information, you will almost always find that the origin of the entry is either “submitted by a member” or “extracted from” the church or civil vital records of a particular place. Both types of entries have “batch numbers.”

    The more you understand about the batch numbers used since 1969, the easier it will be to know what lies behind any given entry.  For member submissions, family group sheets were now only used when persons could only be identified in relationship to parents or siblings.  Most of the time, individuals and spouses were submitted on “entry forms.”  Three persons or three marriages appear on each form, with sources and the name and address of the submitter.  When an entry form arrived in Salt Lake City it was assigned to a “batch,” the number beginning with the last two digits of the current year (e.g., a batch beginning with 73 or F73 arrived in 1973).  The entry was assigned a sheet (i.e., page) number within that batch, and many batches were then microfilmed together.  The resulting film is often called the “input source.”

    Names derived from extraction projects also have batch numbers, which usually begin with a letter of the alphabet.  In this case, the original records, e.g. Irish civil records, are the “input source” microfilms.  You can see what the input source is by clicking on the film number and reading the consequent FHLC entry. Then decide whether to order the microfilm to see the original record. In the case of extractions, an IGI entry may sometimes also refer to an alphabetical printout.  You can order this too and use it as an index to the original record.

    With member submissions from this period, you have two alternatives.  You can order the input source film and look for yourself, perhaps finding a whole group of forms submitted by the same person.  Or you can use a photoduplication form (available at FHCs) to send for a copy of the entry, which will include the patron’s name and address, source(s), and perhaps additional data on the person you seek.

    Carefully read the fine print on the photoduplication form.  There are exceptions, particularly in regard to New England extraction projects, which have all-number batch numbers. Also be aware that batch numbers beginning with F, 50 and 60 are patron-submitted family group sheets. A batch number beginning with “A” indicates that there may well be a family group sheet in the FGRA.

    The fourth era (1990 to the present)

    About 1990, members began submitting GEDCOM files on diskette. Patron names and sources are not presently available. However, these entries may include links to family members and other information, such as death dates and places.

    In this case it may be helpful to refer to the Ancestral File, which was conceived as a great matchmaker among family historians.  In fact, all genealogists were invited to contribute and make corrections to the Ancestral File.  Submitting to this file did not initiate temple work.  If you disagreed with data in the Ancestral File, you used to be able to make changes and document your information.  Then searching for “History of Changes” would provide documentation. 

    However, no changes have been made to the Ancestral File for many years. The new Pedigree Resource File is the Church’s current collection of material submitted by GEDCOM.  In this resource each individual submitter’s file remains intact.  Evidently a new database is being planned.

    The extraction projects will continue, and each extracted entry in the IGI will cite the original document.

    Multiple entries

    So what of all those entries for Hubbell Stevens?  They are indeed bewildering, but intelligible. (The pre-computer TIB correctly has only three cards — for Hubbell himself, “Mrs. Hubbell,” and Hubbell Jr.)  Five entries in the IGI are for “Mrs. Hubbell,” submitted before either wife was identified. Of the many remaining entries, two are for Hubbell Jr.’s estimated birth date and four for his marriage to Elizabeth Clark.  The original marriage sealing record was evidently typed “Hubber” so a patron submission in 1973 was not recognized as a duplicate.  For some odd reason it is itself duplicated.

    We are still left with at least twelve entries for Hubbell Sr., most for his birth.  (1) The earliest, a name submitted for baptism in 1920, gave the wrong place of birth.  (2) In 1934 a baptism was submitted again, this time with the correct birthplace.  (3) In 1972 a patron again submitted the name with 1934 ordinance dates, but he or she had evidently not consulted the FGRA, so the sealing (performed in 1946) was repeated.  (4) In 1974 the Connecticut vital records extraction program noted his birth. The program recognized the earlier 1934 entry, but did not catch the 1972 patron submission, perhaps because the place name was spelled differently.  (These initial four entries should, of course, have been more than enough.)  (5) In 1987, a patron resubmitted the name.  It was “cleared” again for temple work, but by the time of the 1992 edition of the IGI the 1946 sealing date to parents had been found and correctly added.  (6) For some reason, however, in 1992 a patron submitted an entry with dates, which, as far as I can see, are completely imaginary!  Since 1992 three more entries appear, the result of patrons not bothering to do research and not even checking the IGI before submitting their own guesstimates as to birth date and place.  So the computer thinks these entries are for new people.  Newer is not necessarily better!

    This story highlights the need to research thoroughly and check for previous temple work before making a submission.

    Turning to Hubbell’s marriages, we find at least six entries: one to “Mrs. Hubbell,” three to Anna Shepard, and two to Deborah Jones.  The earliest with correct names are my own submissions (1986).  Because these submissions were not available to another researcher they were duplicated around 1990.  Then there are recent ones with imaginary dates.

    The question remains, however: what is one to do with all these entries?  A request for TIB cards or an FGRA film would yield the 1946 family group sheets.  Of post-1969 submissions, the batch number beginning with F86 (1986 family group sheets) suggests that two recent family group sheets identify two different wives of Hubbell, Sr. You can view these records on film, or order copies using the photoduplication form mentioned above. Later entries can only send you to the Internet or to published material — you will find my article about Hubbell Stevens by using PERSI at www.Ancestry.com.

    “How likely am I to find the person I am looking for in the IGI?”

    There is no simple answer to this frequently asked question. In the first place, temple work is only undertaken for persons known to have died.  Thus, in a program extracting birth records, it is assumed that anyone born less than 110 years ago might still be living.  For marriage records the cut-off date is 95 years earlier. Many of the extractions were done in the 1970s and 1980s.  Thus you are not likely to find someone born after about 1875, unless an LDS relative supplied the death date in his member submission.  Many of the extractions from New England were taken from the published “Vital Records to 1850” series.  Thus New Englanders in the IGI probably lived between the early 1600s and 1850.

    Evaluating the entry

    In using the IGI, those much-maligned terms “primary” and “secondary” are helpful.  If one understands a primary source to be one created at or near the time of the event (or at least by the person[s] directly concerned), then a secondary source would be someone else’s use of that primary source.  The IGI is at best secondary.  But very often it is “tertiary” material.  At times one might even call it “quaternary.”  Among Kent, Connecticut, vital records I was puzzled by the appearance of a James Swift, born  December 25, 1767.  A Tamer Swift was baptized in 1769, but who was James?  Microfilm of the original town record appeared to say “Tamer, daughter,” but I could see how the transcriber had read it as “James.” The IGI contains extracted Connecticut vital records from the Barbour Collection, which in this case used an earlier copy of Kent data by James N. Arnold. We are now three steps removed from the original, hence quaternary.

    In the case of a member-submitted entry, it is a good idea to check the source and/or look for verifying material elsewhere using the entry as a clue.

    One final example

    I’d just about given up looking for what became of John Belden Mills, last known to be in Saybrook, Connecticut, in 1824.  The 1850 census listed a John B. in Utica, New York, born in New York, with wife Amelia and two children.  Could he be the right person?  Checking the IGI for John Belden Mills as a parent I found five children born in Nantucket.  That was a surprise! The batch number led me to the published Nantucket vital records, which had used a Bible that for once gave places of marriage and birth, including John’s known date and place of birth in Chester, Connecticut.  John and Amelia were married, and their children born, in upstate New York and Canada!  Here was a good lesson in using the IGI as an index, not a source.

    A little bibliography

    For more detail see the LDS research outlines, The International Genealogical Index (On Microfiche), the FamilySearch instructions for the International Genealogical Index (On Compact Disc) and Finding an IGI Source, as well as the IGI Reference Guide (on microfiche “Z” of the IGI itself).  These free guides are available at your local Family History Center and on their website.

    Articles on the IGI by G. David Dilts, AG, and/or Elizabeth L. Nichols, AG, appear in Genealogical Journal 20 (1992):5-21, Genealogists’ Magazine 24 (1993):294-97, 349-53, and FGS Forum 5 (Winter 1993):5-10 and 6 (Spring 1994):4-6.



    [i] © May 2003. This article is an update of my earlier work, “A Perspective on the 1992-93 IGI” which appeared in the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s NEXUS, Vol. X, Nos. 5 & 6 (Oct.-Dec. 1993).

    [ii] The IGI is updated weekly on http://www.familysearch.org/ , but only Church members who register can view these dates online.  However, anyone using FamilySearch at a Family History Center can go to the menu item “LDS Options,” and view the IGI as “Ordinance Index,” (the same IGI but with the ordinance dates).  Keep in mind though, that the old DOS program, which uses CDs, only contains entries through about March 2000.

    [iii] Or you may be able to obtain a Temple Ordinance Index Request form (TOIR) at a Family History Center, but they are out of print.

    [iv] These sources are often cryptic, sometimes incomplete.  To translate into present-day call numbers, call the Family History Library, ask for the first floor library attendant’s window, and explain carefully what you want.

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