Hey, that's not right! -- Correcting Database Errors

Regardless of one's best efforts, errors in indexing are inevitable. As mentioned in another article, reading bad handwriting is probably the biggest source of errors. Then there are also data entry errors (typos) of the indexer and errors in fact created at the time the record was originally written. Many indexes in genealogy-land are regarded as transcripts-- faithful and accurate copies of the original records. If you have been doing genealogy for some time now, you probably have been furnished transcripts that have incorrect information in them or have found errors in published indexes. Because the transcript is held in such esteem, publishers are loath to correct mistakes even when you can provide solid evidence from the original record itself or from other reliable sources.

My philosophy from the very beginning of my involvement in indexing is that an index should be a finding aid-- something that connects you to the original documentation-- not take the place of it. Sometimes someone's "transcript" only serves to muddy the waters and prevents us from ever finding a needed record (see article on Arbitrator Obfuscation). Subscribers to this website now have the ability to select records they believe are in error and report the error along with their reason/evidence for changing the record in the index!

Subscribers will notice that each displayed record has a "radio button" at the beginning of the line. If you believe the record has an error, click on the button to select that record. There is a Submit button at the end of the displayed page which will then walk you through the correction submission process. The radio button approach allows you to correct only one record at a time. You may be contacted via email if clarification is needed .

Submitted corrections will be carefully considered-- usually by comparing the correction against the image used to create the index entry or from other available resources. There are several possible courses of action:

  1. The original index entry may be modified with corrected data.
  2. A completely new record may be created.
  3. The correction may be added to the Notes field of the original entry.
  4. No action taken. This may occur if insufficient justification for the change is given or if the correction does not substantially affect the ability to find the record. See discussion below.

In the early days of personal computing when memory capacity was quite limited, I made certain choices that still carry on today. At that time, given names were abbreviated during data entry. This meant I needed a consistent abbreviation for names. For example, Stan was used for Stanislaus, Stanley or Stanislaw. When memory capacity improved, Stan was expanded to Stanley in US records or Stanislaw for records from Poland. But what did the original record say? I don't really care. Remember my philosophy, I'm working on an index as a finding aid, not as a transcript! In that regard, I would not "correct" an index record for Stanley just because the actual record says Stanislaus. While not entirely consistent, women with their -ska or -cka ending names were Americanized to the masculine -ski or -cki forms. I would consider on a case by case basis changing the masculine ending back to the feminine ending if other modern sources show that the feminine form is currently being used by male members of that family. These "errors" generally do not affect one's ability to locate a record. To borrow a phrase from the software industry when a program does not work the way you expect it to, "That's not a bug. That's a feature!" One place a lot of errors are likely is in Polish place names. These were usually in the locative case in the record but maps show the nominative form. When I could find the nominative form, that's what was indexed. Otherwise, my best reading of what the record said was indexed. I would correct place names to the nominative form if provided. The same grammatical problems may exist in surnames where the genitive case was used instead of the nominative case.