Why No Index (RootDig.com)

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 I recently came across this post on Michael John Neill's genealogy website, Rootdig.com, where he shows an explanation from a 1958 genealogy of the Kyle/Kile/Coyle family as to why the book does not include an index.  As you can imagine, I was interested in reading the explanation and seeing how it compares from current authors' reasoning for not including indexes in their genealogical works. The arguments are pretty spot on to what I have heard in the past several years, and I think worth addressing.

Michael's full post, include the section from this book can be viewed in the following link:  RootDig.com: Why No Index

The explanation included in the book includes 3 parts that I'll touch on one by one:

First, to index and print the estimated four thousand names in this book would add greatly to the cost.
No doubt this was true in the 1950s as people weren't using computers, let alone indexing software, to create their indexes. For today's author's this is a much different story though. There is certainly additional costs in printing, but using a professional indexing tool, you can easily try different index formats and see how using different styles can reduce the overall page count of your index. For a book recently indexed with ENIndexer, the index was designed to have 3 columns, and only include the Surname as a header above all the given names sharing that surname.  The result is an index that averages 180 names per page.  For the estimated four thousand names in the Kyle book, that translates to about 22 additional pages to print for each book.  According to Google Books, the Kyle book is about 186 pages, so adding the 22 pages brings it to just about 200 pages total. In today's world, the additional cost of these additional pages is pretty minimal.

Second, most of those who buy the book can tell from the table-of-contents where to look for their particular section
 This statement may be true for the Kyle book, but it relies on chapter titles in your table of contents being descriptive enough for a user to know which section to go to for what they are looking for. This could mean breaking chapters up into times and/or places which may or may not make sense, depending on your work. The table of contents for any book is a good place to look for starting information, but they are generally, by their very nature, broader in scope than an index.  A table of contents is intended to help you get a general feel for what is included in a book. The good index gets you into the details, which brings us to point #3 in the "Why No Index" section of the Kyle genealogy...

And third, those who use the book as a part of the research for ancestors can well afford the relatively few hours necessary to read the entire book and gain a general picture of the family history  and thus perhaps discover where they fit in
It's hard to argue with this logic. I think most serious genealogical researchers agree to the benefits mentioned in this statement. But this is the weakest argument for not including an index of the three. Including an index should not be intended to help readers get the least amount possible from your book. The index is a tool to that helps a potential buyer decide if this book is the right book for them. Most people have an idea of at least the surnames they are interested in learning more about. What if you have a Smith family in your tree that you believe married into a Kyle family at some point. Without an index how do you know if your Smith family and/or how much of it are included in the Kyle book?  The table of contents?  Maybe, but again the chapter titles would have to be telling enough so that based on the limited information you have on your Smith ancestors you can tell where to start looking. So, the answer is spend the "few hours necessary to read the entire book."

What if you don't own the book?  Would you buy it, not knowing if it had anything about your particular family in it? Maybe, right?  Let's look at this scenario... You walk into a book store hoping they may have some information about your Smith family roots.  You ask for some help in finding the appropriate section of the book store and the employee helps you find 2 books:

1) A book titled "A Partial History of the Smith Family in America" with no index.
2) The exact same book, but includes an every name index.

Which of these books are you more likely to look through and consider buying?  If you are like most researchers, you'll look through the index of the book with the index first and look for the names you are most familiar with. The "Smith Family" is a big topic, after all, and you are only researching a portion of it. And, if you are like the rest of us, you have limited funds to purchase these kinds of materials, so its important to make sure your money is spent wisely.
From a reader's perspective a name index it should be treated as a tool for getting the most out of your time and money. Use an index to determine if the book is right for you. Does it have the names and/or places you are most concerned about...  Is it a wise investment for you, right now, or is it something you want to put on your "someday" book list.  Once you have the book, don't limit yourself to looking up just the names you know.  Use the book for what its intended for....  learn about your whole family history.
As an author, the index is a crucial selling tool. With the explosion of genealogy books through ebooks, self publishing, vanity presses and traditional publishers, there are more and more options available to consumers. The value of your book needs to be clear to a potential customer, just as the value in any purchase needs to be clear.  Why should I spend my $50 on your book vs. the other guy?  If you include an index that helps show me I have several family members covered in your book, I am MUCH more likely to buy your book than the one I have to guess is going to help.  Considering the costs of creating and including an Every Name Index is an important consideration, but don't forget to consider the payback.

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