Research Note: Those Oldies but Goodies (“Ancient” Research Aids)

I must say that I’m always excited to hear of new processes, new software, new methods, new hardware, new, new, new, new everything! Now while I’m not one who must go out and be the first to have something new, just for the sake of being first to have it, I will usually upgrade as soon as I possibly can afford to (after having made a considered investigation, of course).

What do we do with things that are old? All too often, we cast them out, banish them never to be seen again, ridicule them as ancient, laugh at those who use them, and in other ways disrespect them, at least until they are old enough to be rediscovered or rebranded as “venerable” or antique.

Is it hard for you to suppress a laugh at the old couple down the street who still have a dial telephone? When was the last time you played a 33 1/3 LP? Or a 45? Or 78? Did you know that Rambler was once the name of a top-selling automobile in America?

As this world has moved at warp speed from hi-fi to Wi-Fi, some things that we used to enjoy now seem hopelessly useless.

By the by, genealogical sports fans, when was the last time you perused the IGI? Or the PRF?

“The what? And the who?”

Now ask yourself this, “When was the last time I looked into the old version of”

When did you last use “Old Search” on

I admit it’s been a long time since I’d done any of those things! But a spirited e-mail correspondence with a knowledgeable person concerning the potential origins of one of my research surnames led me back to both “Old Search,” and “old” And I found myself contemplating possibilities that I had never contemplated before.

These ancient (in techie terms) databases still yield valuable clues and information that may assist one in one’s research. Take the IGI for example. (“The what!?” International Genealogical Index). As you may recall, the IGI contains hundreds of millions of records of life events such as births marriages and deaths,from around the world. it’s conveniently broken into regions of the world such as North America or South America and sometimes subregion such as Southwest Europe. Sometimes individual countries are broken out on the IGI. There is even a “World Miscellaneous” listing of records on the IGI.

International Genealogical Index Screenshot

Remember This?

Click on an IGI name and you’ll find an individual record that may include a spouse’s name, parents names, a pedigree chart, or a family group sheet. Individual record may also contain the name and address of the person who provided the information. Caveat –many of these addresses may be outdated.

IGI individual records also contain a Family History Library microfilm number. Click on the number and you’ll see a description of the records contained in that particular microfilm roll.

The individual IGI records can be printed or downloaded to your computer.

IGI records come mainly from people who lived between 1500 and 1885. Many were submitted by members of the LDS church.

So why on earth would you want to use the IGI today, with so many other modern tools out there? Well, you might want a lot of information quickly in a particular format. You might find clues that you’ve overlooked in other resources. You might discern patterns that you can’t quite make out from other resources. You might find ancestors from overseas that you couldn’t find anywhere else. And all of this is free.

You do take a somewhat greater risk of unreliability with the IGI, but if you think of it as an aid and not as a final repository, you may find it to be a useful tool in your research.

The same could be said of other aspects of the old family search such as the PRF (“The who?!” Pedigree Resource File), or Ancestral File.

I found that reviewing these databases presented me with some interesting and thought-provoking questions about some of my research surnames.

And how about “Old Search” on I was  among those who clamored for the “New Search” and I love it. For many, many months now I haven’t even bothered to take a look at “Old Search.” But recently, in the course of the same correspondence I referenced above, I found the old version quite handy for something I needed.  For example, say you want to know “how many people named Johnson lived in Clay County, Missouri in 1870?” You’ll find the answer better presented in the old search format than the new. The new format is “person-centric.” The old one is more surname-geographic. Each has its strengths, depending upon what you want to do.

So don’t abandon these oldies but goodies just yet. Unfortunately, especially with,  it’s hard to tell how long the old stuff will be around.

Hey, buddy, can I borrow a quarter? I want to make a phone call, then stop by McDonald’s for a burger. . . .


May 2011
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