Challenges in citing indices - The FreeBMD index and the GRO birth and death index

I often have the situation in which I find information that I do not wish to automatically relegate to my research notes. In fact, sometimes, the line between material that belongs in research notes and that which belongs in formal findings is clearly blurred. In these cases, I believe that a citation should be considered. But how and using what format ...

Case 1:
FreeBMD indices are known to be simple extractions from digital images of the U.K. BMD index books. Technically; information obtained from this source belongs in my research notes. I can't always justify ordering certificates for persons not in the main line of descent, nor can I immediately locate the related parish records. But; I do wish to record the contained information as an entry in my formal records (at least temporarily), as others typically don't have access to my research notes. Is there an accepted method to do this that clearly indicates that the information is not intended to be exact, but rather a finding aid that could/will be followed up?

Case 2:
A more important instance is the relatively recent GRO birth and death database. It is definitely not the same situation. In the case of births, it may explicitly state the maiden name of the child's mother. This information was not present in the images of the index books and indicates that it was very likely input derived from the actual records. This makes this source more than a simple finding aid and one that deserves more visibility. Unfortunately; the GRO does not explicitly state the source of the non-index information. How can this be handled using a citation?

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Mon, 12/24/2018 - 10:25

I have checked again and it appears that the mother's maiden name was captured as part of the index after the early 1900's. Please disregard point number two.

I am still struggling with point number one. A small clarification to the problem statement ... I ALWAYS find and cite proper evidence for the direct line of descent. I don't anticipate using "placeholders", if I intend to immediately base further research upon them. If I do intend to extend my research on such a branch, I secure proper evidence and use that instead.

History-Hunter, your second message refocuses your need on Case 1, but I see two issues. I'll address each one in separate messages:

Introductory Paragraph:

You write:

“I find information that I do not wish to automatically relegate to my research notes. …sometimes, the line between material that belongs in research notes and that which belongs in formal findings is clearly blurred.”

You raise an interesting point. If we do not record potentially relevant information in our “research notes” at the time we find it, how will we be able to continually evaluate it against new findings to determine whether it has become not just relevant but vitally important?

The crux of the issue centers upon the second part of your statement about “research notes” and “formal findings.” These are, of course, two different work products. Traditionally, research notes represent our work in progress. The “formal finding” is what we produce when we are ready to publish.

Am I correct in assuming that (1) you maintain your “research notes” within a relational database from which you also produce your "formal findings"; and (2) you use it to store “research notes” that are obviously relevant because (3) if you add things that are "potentially useful," whose exact relevance is not yet obvious, then when you print out a “report” on each person, it merges the tentatively relevant notes into your biography of that person?

If this presumption is correct, then I can’t tell you how to resolve your problem within that software. Different software works in different ways. That's out of EE's purview. However, at, the website where I archive my own research in progress (under the “Research” tab) and my “formal findings” (under the “Articles” tab), you may find some useful ideas. As you will see there, my own research in progress always includes potentially relevant material—along with my tentative analyses or reasoning as to why I think it might eventually prove relevant. This kind of material often ends up being indirect evidence to help me build cases for identity, etc. Often, too, it later provides direct evidence to support my case, after I have broadened my research enough to understand its relevance.

I’ve also described my approach to research in a conference presentation that Playback Now has recorded for NGS: "Information Overload: Effective Project Management, Research, Data Management & Analysis"

QuickLesson 20 here at EE, “Research Reports for Research Success” also treats this subject. See


Submitted byEEon Fri, 01/04/2019 - 17:15

Case 1

Citing an online index follows the same basic format regardless of how detailed it is or what we think of its reliability. That basic format appear in EE's QuickStart Guide under the heading “Website with Multiple Offerings.” Basically, the format is this:

Author/Creator of Index/Database/Article, “Title of Index/Database/Article,” Author/Creator of Website, Title of Website (Publication Place=URL : Date), specific item.

If the website provider has identified its own source, then we would add at the end whatever citation the provider gives us. When our evaluation of that source uncovers weaknesses or strengths that we want to make note of to guide us in future assessments, then we simply add whatever sentences needed to say what needs to be said.  (EE 2.10 “Reference Note” & 2.21 “Citing the Source of a Source”)  EE also offers a variety of examples throughout.

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Thu, 01/10/2019 - 15:47

Dear Editor;

Your response gave me quite a bit to consider. While I do use a relational database, I tend to view it as a mechanized way of assembling my research notes and comments into a report (or reports). Personally; I have seen too many changes in applications and computer platforms to feel comfortable entering my research notes and comments directly into the database. I prefer to assemble my "arguments" in a word-processor document and then cut and past only the relevant material into my database.

Based on your lecture, to which I've listened, it appears that your workflow typically produces a research report (with comments) on specific individuals. Then, the research notes and comments are cut and pasted into a database, which is used to produce a formal report. This is similar to my preferred methodology. However; it would seem that the level of detail shown in the examples on "" would make progressing the work on a family tree rather slow, unless one tightly controls the scope of research.

My research scope is to document a bloodline. However; I do need to mention contextual information (such as FreeBMD or GRO indices for siblings) for which in-depth proof may not (at least currently) be required." I think you referred to such information as having to do with the "neighbours". I do appreciate your providing the answer in your forgoing post, even though one might not typically cite indices in a finished work. Perhaps, the answer is to not cite the indices, but instead go one step further and cite the parish records, thereby effectively tailoring the depth of the research report for such contextual information by using a more accepted type of evidence?

I realize that the question of how to scope ones research is not the focus of this forum. Suffice to say, that how to deal with the boundaries of my research scope is an issue that constantly haunts me.