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Below are the more common types of indexes found among the Maryland records. Some indexes explain the arrangement and provide a key. Even so, expect indexing errors and check all variations of spelling. Keep in mind that not everyone mentioned in a record is indexed. For example, the wife of a land owner or multiple parties to a suit may not be indexed. Other difficulties are found in probate records indexed by executor rather than decedent or court records indexed by plaintiff rather than defendant, all of which pose a challenge when researching records especially older ones.      

General Indexes

General indexes give references to an entire record series, or at least a substantial
portion of it. They are listed separately, usually following the records to which they apply.

Volume Indexes

Volume indexes are those found at the beginning or end of a particular volume or book. Some record series have both a general index and volume indexes.


In this index, the entries are divided into sub-alphabetical groups under each letter of the
alphabet. For example, the names that begin with the letter "J" would be segregated under
the following headings: "JAA-JAC, JAE-JAL, JAM-JAP, JAQ-JAY, JE, JI, JOA-JOG, JOH-JOM, JON-JOP, JOR-JOY, JU, JY." These volumes are usually thumb-indexed. The entries are chronological within each group.

(See image of Burr's Record Index. Talbot County.)


Under this system the names to be indexed are arranged alphabetically by initial letter
of the surname and by initial letter of the given name. Thus, the names John Brooke, James Barrett and Jane Bower would all appear on the same page in chronological sequence. By consulting the alphabetical key sheets in front of the index volume, the searcher can locate immediately the page on which the names beginning with the initials "J.B." may be found.

(See image of Campbell Index, Guide Sheet. Montgomery County.)

(See image of Campbell Index, Entry Sheet. Montgomery County.)


Many of the card catalogs found at the Maryland State Archives are part of the Maryland Indexes collection and are usually secondary sources created long after the record(s) they reference. In some instances an index is created for a record series that has no general index or to replace a fragile paper index. Other indexes aim to reference various records by subject such as marriage references found in non-marriage records, like wills or court cases. Arrangement is almost always alphabetical by name (person or place), also giving the record type and any specific identifying information needed to locate a record. Identifying information is dependent on the type or format of the record such as a book or file.

Archivists, volunteers and government agencies have all contributed to the creation of these indexes over the last century. The majority of indexes are very old, often making reference to an arrangement no longer in use. This sometimes makes it difficult to identify and locate the record found on the index card. More, some card catalogs reference multiple series of records while others reference only one series.
Card indexes not found in Maryland Indexes are cataloged under the government agency responsible for creating them and function much in the same way. 


The Cott Index Company manufactures an almost infinite variety of indexes, but these
may be consolidated into four basic groups.

1. Cott Key Table
This group may be readily identified by the complete table of alphabetical references
printed at the top of every page in the index.

(See image of Cott Key Index, Left Page. Worcester County.)

2. Cottco Universal
In this group, the alphabet is divided into a number of sections or "units", each of which
is independent of the other and may be entered in a separate binder. Usually, however,
several units are combined within a single volume. Each unit is made up of the following
elements: (1) A tab sheet marking the beginning of the unit and showing just what letter of the alphabet or what part of a letter it covers. (2) A buff sub-index sheet giving a page reference to every possible combination of letters within the unit with which a surname might start and to every "set-out" name. "Set-out" names are those that occur with sufficient frequency to justify assigning them a special page. (3) The entry sheets numbered to correspond with the sub-index sheet.

(See image of Cott Key Index, Right Page with Key Table. Worcester County.)

3. Cott Family Name

This group is so-designated because every family name or surname is given a separate
entry page. This index too is divided into "units" of the alphabet with each "unit" preceded by buff subindex sheets that show the pages on which the names appear. Tab sheets identify each unit. In physical makeup, the volumes of this index are half the size of the other index volumes, being nine inches long on the binding side as compared to eighteen inches for the others.

(See image of Cottco Universal Index, Guide Sheet. Frederick County.)

(See Image of Cottco Universal Index, Entry Sheet. Frederick County .)

(See image of Cott Family Name Index, Guide Sheet. Allegany County .)

(See image of Cott Family Name Index, Entry Sheet. Allegany County.)

4. Cott Guide Letter

This group is based on the same principle as the Russell index. (See above.)


The earliest general indexes were made by combining the indexes to the individual
volumes in such fashion that all the index entries for each letter of the alphabet were
grouped together. Thus, the reference sequence would be as follows: "A"s for Volume 1, "A"s for Volume 2, "A"s for Volume 3 and so on.

(See image of Liber Index. Cecil County.)


The names in this index are arranged alphabetically by the first three letters of the
surname only. Thus, all surnames beginning with the letters "DAS" would appear in one
group, those beginning with "DAT" in another group. Within each group the names are
entered in chronological order. A Key table giving a page reference to each letter group is
fastened inside the front cover of every volume.

(See image of Paul Company Key Index, Key Table. Harford County.)

(See image of Paul Company Key Index, Entry Sheet. HArford County.)


In this index, surnames are arranged on the basis of certain key letters following the
initial letter of the name. The key letters are "L, M, N, R, T". All other letters are ignored.
For example, in indexing persons whose surnames begin with the letter "C", the following names would be listed under the key letter "M": Camp, Coffman, Cushman, Chapman. Names such as Carr, Creecy, Cubberly, Coker would appear under the key letter "R". Within each key letter group, the given names are arranged alphabetically by initial letter in much the same fashion as they are in a Campbell index.

(See image of Russell Index, Guide to Key Letters. Montgomery County.)

Certain frequently recurring surnames are indexed on special pages in the rear of each
index volume with cross references given on the pages where the names would normally

(See image of Russell Index, Entry Sheet. Montgomery County.)


Soundex is a phonetic index that groups together names that sound alike but are spelled different, for example, Borrows and Burroughs. It uses an algorithm to produce a code for sound alike names. The code consists of the first letter of the last name and three digits. The code for the various spellings of Burroughs is B620. The soundex is arranged by soundex number order then by surname.


This index is alphabetical by the initial of the surname and the first vowel that comes
after the initial letter. For example, the letter "C" would have the following subdivisions:
"CA", "CE", "CI", "CO", "CU" and "CY". Under the heading "CA", one might find such
names as, Campbell, Craig or Chandler.

(See image of Vowel Index. Dorchester County.)

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