Key As Seen

As I promised last Monday, I’ll do my best to keep today’s quality post brief.  Today’s discussion revolves around the over-riding rule of keying.  It comes up over and over in discussion with arbitrators – and, as I do more arbitration myself, I can see why.  I have become convinced that if we would all follow this rule we could elminate at least half of the arbitration required to move these records along.  The rule?

Key As Seen


As genealogists we often must interpret records.  And, when doing research we often have the context to do so.  When keying records, not only do we not have the context of the full family history behind us, we also have the obligation to be true to the original record.  We are creating an index – a finding aid.  Nothing more.  We are not creating a complete transcription.  We are not creating a “more accurate” (whatever that might be) interpretation of the record.  We are creating an index and maintaining the integrity of the original record.


When the first name is listed as Wm or Jno or Kath – Key As Seen.

When the place of birth is listed as Lancs and you just know what that stands for – Key As Seen.

When a suffix of Jun is listed, no matter how much you want to expand it – Key As Seen.

When the rank is listed as Sergt or Lieut (or even worse, Leiut) – Key As Seen.

When the birth year is listed as 72 and you just know it’s 1872 because that is the time period of the records you are keying – Key As Seen.

Get the idea?

There are only a VERY few exceptions to the key as seen rule and they are (almost always) called out in the field helps.  The two I am aware of that are consistent are these:

1.  We key months out in full.

2.  We do NOT key periods wherever they may appear (but be sure to maintain the spaces) whether in initials in a given name or abbreviations in places or business names.

There are other rules that sometimes get broken.  But, I have found that at least half of what I am arbitrating are discrepancies that would be resolved if everyone followed this one, simple rule.

Until next time – Happy Keying!

Added 3 Dec 2010:  Follow up post – Key as Seen:  Revisited.

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