The more things change, the more they stay the same

It used to be -- back in the day -- when you couldn't find the subject of your search in an index, you would have to search the old-fashioned way, page by page, through the original records.  Sometimes that meant a trip to the county courthouse or the local archives, but more often than not, you spent hours hunched over microfilms, searching line by line for "your" person.  

The digital age hasn't really changed a thing.  With this push to index the massive amounts of records that are now available online has come a new twist on the old problem.  Indexing is being farmed out to non-native English speakers who can do the work cheaply and quickly -- but with a commensurate rise in the error rate.  

I am the Registrar of my local DAR chapter, and am confronting a problem that I don't think has existed on this scale before:  original documents that clearly contain data about an individual, but with indexing errors significant enough to prevent anyone else from finding those documents using a search engine.  I just submitted an application for my mother to join the DAR and I swear, while every single document I used came from the internet, not one could be found using a search engine!  Good thing I know how to cite my sources -- If I just used "" or "" no one would be able to replicate my work.  

Nancy A. Spears indexed as "Nancy A. Spencer"

Every member of this household was incorrectly assigned the surname "Routh" except for the head, who was correctly indexed with the surname "Seabolt."  Come on, this is common sense!

Thomas Covert indexed as "James"
So we are back to the old days.  If you can't find your guy in the database, chances are he really might be there, just hidden by a poor indexing job.  Now don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled to have so much data available at our fingertips.   I'm just saying we need to be as vigilant as ever about checking the original sources.