Figuring out family history puzzles takes time. So, when family historians can save time without sacrificing thorough research, they should. Pages copied from an unpublished index of records, which are housed at a government office that is located some distance from a genealogist's home, are time-saving tools.

When researching in offices where birth, death, probate, cemetery and other records are kept, ask to copy a portion of the indexes being used. The request is a little bit unorthodox, but if a genealogist is seen as a serious researcher, it probably will be granted.

Family historians should ask that index sections containing the surname they are researching be copied. They also should ask that pages with every possible spelling of the surname be included. It's important to note that variant spellings may not be listed in sequence. And genealogists should supply all spellings they are familiar with to the office when making such a request.

The index pages will be helpful, months, maybe even years down the road, when other ancestors having the name are discovered. Then, a genealogist can search for those ancestors on the index pages, and request the records of any found, using exact spellings of the name and any numbers associated with the documents. Being able to provide an office with such information increases the chances that desired records will be found. If the record office charges a fee to retrieve documents, reducing the time it takes to find them also can save money.

Even if a John Jones whose record a family historian sends for turns out not to belong on the family tree, the genealogist learns that without waiting months for the opportunity to visit the office and read Jones' record. Then, any theory that would depend on Jones being an ancestor, can be set aside quickly and the research can move ahead.

Of course, if a name is not found on an index, a record could still exist for that ancestor. It just may have been overlooked when the index was created, or misplaced at some other time.

When records are ordered, genealogists should check them on the next visit to the office. There might be clues that can be gleaned from the way the documents are filed, scribbles on a folder containing them, notes on the backs of pages, or something else indicating that one or more additional factors should be considered when relying on the records.

While it's unlikely that finding such clues will give the record an entirely new meaning, a little distinction here and a little distinction there can add up to a big difference.