Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The AGBI: A Brief Overview

A phone call from a curious Godfrey Scholar prompted us to think once again about library founder Fremont Rider's greatest contribution to the field to genealogy, the American Genealogical-Biographical Index.  For those who are unfamiliar, the American Genealogical Biographical Index, or AGBI, is a 226 volume index of all names mentioned in nearly every genealogical work available at the time of the index's publication.  It was a massive undertaking, one that Fremont Rider sadly did not live to see completed.

Until last year the only way to read the AGBI was to visit one of the few libraries and historical centers with sets or to request scans of pages you needed from the Godfrey.  Now that the AGBI is available in full on the Godfrey Scholar doors are opened to researchers all over the world, no matter their proximity to a physical copy of the index!

Of course, being able to read the index is of little use if you do not know how to interpret the information.  Rider and his assistants set up the AGBI using Rider's own system of cataloging and abbreviation that can be difficult to decipher.  Names are arranged alphabetically by last name.  Each page has two columns of names, the head of each column being the last name and the following entries being the first names of people corresponding to the last name.  The work in which the person is mentioned and the page on which they are mentioned, as well as brief genealogical information (approximate dates of birth and death, military service, place of residence) are listed after the name.  Unfortunately, due to this abnormal setup we are not able to make the AGBI searchable through the Scholar Search portion of our website- browsing using the Page Viewer is the best method of navigation.  A detailed guide to using the AGBI is available in the Scholar digital library as well as on the library's website.  It can be viewed here.  

The names of genealogical works have almost all been abbreviated in the AGBI.  Rider provides a key to those abbreviations in the first volume and the Godfrey has also created a Abbreviation Key for ease of use.  Our Abbreviation Key, located on the Godfrey Scholar, contains not only the key to decoding the abbreviations, but also links to any of the sources that are available for free online.

Although no longer a complete index of every genealogical work published, the AGBI is still an unparallelled source of information.  Patrons tell us time and time again that what they find in the AGBI has broken through walls in their research and exposed them to sources they never knew existed.  If you're a Godfrey Scholar and haven't checked it out, why not do so today!  If you aren't a Godfrey Scholar you can still request page scans from the AGBI or make an AGBI search request, for a small fee.

To request page scans or to become a Godfrey Scholar please contact the library at (860) 346-4375

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