Whilst carrying out family history research, indexes are undoubtedly extremely useful, not to mention time and cost saving. A search of a parish register can take just a few minutes, or even seconds, to cover several hundred years looking for all occasions of a particular surname.
But it is always essential to check the indexed entry against the original. It could be that details have been transcribed incorrectly, such as a name or a date, but as well as this it could be that additional information is included in the register that has been omitted by the transcriber. Such information could be an occupation, the circumstances in which the event took place, information about bad weather or other local events. This can add to our knowledge of our ancestors lives, and bring alive events which otherwise could be just a list of names.
One example is that of John Duncalfe, who was buried in St Mary, Kingswinford, Staffordshire, in 1677. His burial entry is included within the National Burial Index with simply his name and date of burial.
But when the original parish register entry is examined, a fascinating story emerges. In fact, he had recently stolen a bible and as a result, his hands and legs had rotted, causing his death. The story is elaborated on at length by the parish incumbent, beginning “John Duncalfe the man that did rott both hands and leggs was buried who confessed hee stole a bible . . . .”
Often these additional details can lead to further research in other sources to find out more about the particular incident. In the case of John Duncalfe, it appears that his bible stealing became famous both locally and nationally, after his story was the subject of a sermon by a local preacher, which was subsequently published.
Without looking at the original register, the death of John Duncalfe could have been recorded as simply another name and date.