Once upon a time, before the internet, when you had laboriously gone through the original parish registers at the local record office, and found your ancestor missing, your next port of call would be to look at the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on microfiche to see if you could find them nearby. Very often the County Record Offices only had the fiches for their own and nearby counties, but the IGI could be very useful if your missing ancestor had come from a neighbouring parish. If you found them on the IGI, then you would then look at the relevant parish to get the original record.
Since the internet, and since the IGI is now online, I can see that the approach to the IGI is very different to what it used to be. In fact, when I am searching specifically for IGI records, I am aware that probably most people do not even realise that they are searching the IGI, or even that it is an index.
For one thing, if you use a programme like Ancestry to search for baptisms, the results will be a mixture of original parish register copies, and the IGI – which will not give you the original copy. But do people actually realise this? I have a feeling that people use IGI information as if it was an original source. This is dangerous, and can lead to wrong information. My purpose in this post is to clarify exactly what the IGI is, and how to use it professionally, to eradicate error.
What is the IGI?
The IGI is a computerised project run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints which was first published in 1973. It is compiled by its members in order that their ancestors can be baptised. The index is available for anyone researching their family history, and you can access it online at www.familysearch.org and also on Ancestry.co.uk.
The IGI is an index of mainly parish register entries – mostly of baptisms and marriages (and a few burial records), arranged by county and then alphabetically by surname. However, with the search engines on the above websites you can now search by name first (in the old days you had to load the fiche for the county, and scroll through the lists of names).
FamilySearch.org is the free website where you can search the I.G.I. It is easy to search for an individual’s baptism or marriage by place or county, or even the whole country (although, if it is a very common surname, the more specific you can be the better, otherwise it could prove impossible).
While extremely useful, the IGI is just an index, so it should not be used as an original record. Once you have found entries on the IGI that look like they might be your ancestors, you should then search the original parish registers by visiting the county record office, hiring a genealogist, or finding out if the registers have been published online. Another option is to contact the relevant county record office and applying for a photocopy of the record. Most CROs do this for a reasonable fee.
Important Notes about the IGI
The main drawback of the IGI is that it is not comprehensive. There are still many parishes that are under-represented. So, if you do not find your ancestor on the IGI it does not mean that they were not baptised, it just means you need to look at other resources.
The IGI should never be used as conclusive evidence. While it is an extremely useful tool, and often a way of finding ancestors that you cannot find elsewhere, any information you find should always be backed up by following up the original resources.
This is partly because the IGI can be inaccurate, but also because it is not complete. You might find an entry who you think might be your ancestor, and because it is the only result, it might be easy to believe that you have found the right one, but it is possible that your actual ancestor was baptised in a nearby parish, one that has not been included on the IGI.
How to Use FamilySearch
When you go to www.familysearch.org hover over the Search tab at the top and then click on Records. This will bring you to the main search engine.
You need to put in a first name and a surname, and then any other details that you have. If you are searching for a birth/baptism, put in the birthplace, if known, the birth year range, and the names of the parents, if known. For a marriage, enter the place, if known, and the spouse’s name, if known.
You can then search by country and county. If you still can’t find your ancestor in the county they should be in, try doing a search of all counties, then look at the search results to see if they were baptised in a neighbouring or nearby county. This can often happen especially if the family lived close to the border of a county.
If you know exactly where your ancestors came from, it can sometimes be of benefit to search by the exact location (see the right section of the search page). This can be useful if, for example, you wanted to see all instances of a surname within a certain location.