In a recent Two-Second Survey
, we asked FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum
members whether they've looked up someone in a microfilmed census soundex index. Of the 351 respondents, 211 have. Another 46 said they've never needed to, and 83 weren't quite sure what it's for. (The rest picked “other.”)
For the 83 folks in that last group—and everyone else out there nodding their heads in curiosity—we’ve put together this little overview:
The Soundex system is a way of coding similar-sounding surnames to help you find ancestors whose names were misspelled in census records or indexes. You can use FamilyTreeMagazine.com's online Soundex generator
to figure out the code for your surname—mine is H-330.
Once upon a time, genealogists would look through an actual card catalog, organized by state and then by Soundex code, for index cards with their family’s name. The cards looked like this (click to see one)
, and told you which census volume and sheet listed your family.
Eventually, the index cards were microfilmed. The National Archives and Records Administration
and the Family History Library
have Soundex film for all the states; many state archives, large public libraries and genealogical societies have Soundex film for their states, too.
Nowadays, census databases such as Ancestry.com
’s ($155.40 per year) and HeritageQuest Online
’s (free through many libraries) automatically search for surname spelling variations—that's why so many modern researchers haven't used Soundex.
But many genealogists swear by Soundex microfilm indexes for locating especially hard-to-find ancestors in census records. One of our Two-Second survey respondents commented that he or she never uses any other form of census index. There’s an endorsement!