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.
It has always been a good idea to understand the nuances of this database in
order to make full use of it and not be misled by some of the outright errors it
contains. But with the 1992 microfiche edition (as well as the recently-released
1993 CD-Rom version) you will be bewildered unless you make some effort to go
behind the individual entry and grasp what The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latterday Saints is doing with the IGI. With this knowledge you will have a much
better idea of when you will find information, and when you will not. Such an
understanding will also help you decide whether to pursue an entry that
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, Conn. 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 1992 IGI showed:
STEVENS, George Cook, son of George Stevens and Savilla Hitchcock,
born 76 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.
Without going into much detail at this point, the above information led me to
an old LDS family group sheet with the reference “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 G.C. Stevens.
Finding George was relatively simple, since I had some understanding of the
meaning of what I found. 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 found eighteen! How could I evaluate and interpret these entries? Which are
By using the LDS temple ordinance dates (which appear on the fiche in three
columns headed “b” “e” and “s”) these entries can be grouped under the four
great periods of LDS “name-gathering.” While this process may seem complex at
first view, it is not really very difficult. These four eras are:
4. 1990 to 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
now fully indexed in the 1992 IGI on microfiche. Church members have just
finished computerizing names from the first two periods. Many of these names
have been added to the 1992 IGI and almost all are in the 1993 CD-Rom
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), 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.
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 of the church 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 family group records from this era, so
there is no way to obtain further information. However, the TIB card index
generated during this period can lead you to later material.
During the last few years church members have been extracting these names
(firstly the baptisms, of which the 1992 IGI contains about 95%). You will
recognize these entries by the “relative” in place of parents or spouse; by the
term “pre-1970” in the endowment and/or sealing column; and by the word “film”
where a sheet number would otherwise appear.
The second era (1942-1969)
From 1942 to 1969 temple patrons submitted names on family group sheets. The
patron’s name, address and sources of information (often cryptic, sometimes
incomplete) were listed. Hence the great “Family Group Records Archives” (FGRA)
contains all family group sheets submitted during  these years, and
is available on microfilm in the 127... series (where the George Cook Stevens
family group sheet appears). 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 an ordinance date between 1942 and 1969, you can be quite sure of
finding a family group sheet. 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, it will be necessary to look for a TIB card first.
Most of these records have been added to the 1993 CD-Rom IGI. Ask your Family
History Center librarian how to order the microfilm for the family group
records. While there are indeed numerous errors and omissions on these sheets,
many are the result of meticulous research or reflect otherwise inaccessible
During these two eras before 1969, the precursor of the IGI was the TIB.
Every name submitted should have an index card with vital data about the person.
Thus, when in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I went into the
Special Collections room and checked George’s card on microfilm. It is necessary
to be a church member to use Special Collections, but there are two other
alternatives: either send a TOIR (Temple Ordinance Index Request) form (which
costs $1) or hire a member to undertake the search. Inquire for forms or a list
of accredited genealogists at Family History Centers. Forms are also available
at the Church Distribution Center (the same place you buy PAF). If you hire a
genealogist he or she will need your request in writing and you will need to
state your relationship to the person you seek.
Generally, if there is only a date for baptism in the IGI, you will derive
more information from the TIB card than from 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. A copy of this sheet should be
sent to you with the reply to your TOIR.
On the other hand, you may want to see the whole group of names submitted by
the patron. In this case, consult the film referenced in the IGI. Remember that
these records are chronological, so search by the date of the LDS ordinance.
Before ordering, be sure to check the microfiche of restricted films, since many
of these films can be consulted only in Salt Lake City; you may need to hire
someone on the spot. However, most are no longer in Special Collections and can
be viewed by anyone.
The third era (1969-1990)
In the 1960s the Church began using computers and volunteers to “extract”
christenings and marriages from British parish registers. And in 1969 the system
for member submissions was again changed. Now there are two major types of
submissions for temple work. When you go to the source screen on the CD-Rom
version of the IGI, 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. When using microfiche, the more you understand
about batch numbers, the easier it will be to know what lies behind any given
For member submissions, family group sheets were now used when persons could
only be identified in relationship to parents or siblings. But most of the time,
persons 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” whose number began with the last two digits of the current year (e.g., a
batch beginning with 73 arrived in 1973). The entry was assigned a page or sheet
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. The “Parish and Vital
Records List” available on fiche identifies all these projects.
By interpreting the batch number, just as with the index of a book, you can
work toward the information itself. The first step is to identify the input
source. If you are using the fiche IGI, you will need another set of fiche, the
“batch number index,” to identify this number. In the case of extractions, there
is sometimes also an alphabetical printout, which you can order on film and use
as an index. Or you can use a photoduplication form, available at Family History
Centers, to obtain a copy of the original.
With member submissions from this period, you have the same 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 to send for a copy of the entry, which will include the
patron’s name and address, source(s), and (very likely) additional data on the
person you seek. (Of course, if you are in the Family History Library in Salt
Lake City, you can go directly to the film.)
Carefully read the fine print on the “photodup” 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”
is a good indication that there will be a family group sheet in the FGRA.
The fourth era (1990 to the present):
About 1990, members began submitting via GEDCOM files. This new format began
to change not so much the face, but the behind-the-scenes composition, of the
IGI. No longer will patron names and sources be available. Members are expected
to contribute also to the Ancestral File, which in turn is visualized as a great
“matchmaker” among family historians. In fact, all genealogists are
invited to contribute and make corrections to the Ancestral File. Submitting to
this file does not initiate temple  work. If you disagree with data
in the Ancestral File, you can make changes and document your information.
The extraction projects will continue, and each entry in the IGI will cite
the original document.
So what of all those entries for Hubbell Stevens? They are indeed
bewildering, but intelligible. Two were for “Mrs. Hubbell” (one entered in 1946,
before either wife was identified). The pre-computer TIB correctly had only
three cards - for Hubbell himself, “Mrs. Hubbell,” and Hubbell Jr. Of the
sixteen remaining IGI entries, one was for Hubbell Jr.’s estimated birthdate and
three 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 twelve entries for Hubbell, Sr., six for his birth
alone. (1) The earliest, submitted in 1920, gave the wrong place of birth. (2)
In 1934 the baptism was performed again, this time with the correct birthplace.
(3) In 1972 a patron again submitted the name with the 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 IGI the 1946 sealing date to parents
had been found and correctly added. (6) For some reason, however, very recently
(batch #6020247) a patron submitted an entry with dates which, as far as I can
see, are completely imaginary! So the computer thinks this entry is for a new
person. Newer is not necessarily better.
This story highlights the need to research thoroughly and check for previous
temple work before making a submission. Prior to the 1992 edition, names on
family group sheets submitted after 1969 were not in the IGI, since many persons
had been listed with no birth or marriage dates or places. For the 1992 IGI,
however, they have been added, with estimated dates and probable places.
Turning to Hubbell’s marriages, we find 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 ca. 1990. Then there is the recent one
with completely unreasonable 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 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 “photodup” form mentioned
above. The 1990 entries (the batch number beginning with 50, also a clue to a
family group sheet) should send you to a future edition of the Ancestral
“How likely am I to find the person I am looking for in the
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. Thus you will not find someone born after (say) 1875, unless an
LDS relative supplied the death date.
Many of the extractions, from New England especially, were taken from
published “vital records to 1850” series. Thus New Englanders in the IGI
probably lived between the early 1600s and 1850. For the midwest and western
Europe this latter date could be extended to ca. 1870. Some other areas, notably
Mexico, have had many extraction programs. It should be noted, however, that
some extracted names in the 1988 IGI were dropped from the 1992 edition because
temple work was not complete.
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 “quarternary.” Among Kent, Conn., vital records I was puzzled by
the appearance of a James Swift, born 25 December 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 it had been read “James.”
The IGI contains extracted Connecticut vital records from the Barbour
Collection, which was compiled in part from the earlier copy of Kent data by
James N. Arnold. We are now three steps removed, hence quaternary. Nevertheless,
the IGI is a marvelous index, particularly to the many volumes of published New
England vital records. In many cases, such as in the extraction of marriages for
Ohio, it is a very accurate secondary record with information usually as
complete as in the original.
One final example...
I’d given up looking for John Belden Mills, last known to be in Saybrook,
Conn., in 1824. The 1850 census listed a John B. in Utica, N.Y., born N.Y., with
wife Amelia and two children. Could he be the right person? Checking the 1988
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 VRs, 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 object lesson in using the IGI as an index,
not a source.
This “perspective” is necessarily limited. For more detail see LDS research
outlines, The International Genealogical Index (On Microfiche), the
Family Search 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). Two detailed articles
by Elizabeth L. Nichols, AG., and G. David Dilts, A.G., appear in
Genealogical Journal 20(l992):5-21.
NEHGS trustee Helen Schatvet Ullmann (see NEXUS 8(199 1]:
91-92) serves as a Family History Librarian at the LBS branch library in
Tyngsborough, Mass. Recent articles include “Beyond the Printed Genealogy: Some
Descendants of Sherebiah Ballard” (Register 146:107-129), “The
Fictional Jasper Soper, Supposedly of Windsor, Connecticut” (TAG
67(19921:211-14), “Josiah Halley of Ancram, Columbia Co., N.Y.: Was His Wife
a Novel Reader?” (Connecticut Ancestry 35[1992-93];66-68) and” Discover
the Society’s Journal Holdings” (NEXUS 9 (19921:93). Her forthcoming
genealogy of Peter Mills (Pieter Wouterse van der Meulen) of Windsor, Conn. was
noted in NEXUS 8:97. Source-record publications include Naugatuck,
Connecticut Congregational Church Records 1781-1901 (1987) and vital data
from various Norwegian parishes.