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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 12/3/2003

1880 Female Head of Household: Follow-up

Last week's article, "An 1880 Female Head of Household," generated a great deal of reader response. This week we'll look at some of the issues raised by readers and discuss a few other nuances of the 1880 census enumeration discussed last week. Readers who missed last week's column can view it here.

While I'm still relatively convinced that economics and culture were the main reason for my specific irregular enumeration, we'll look at potential reasons submitted by readers, which could easily explain other atypical census enumerations. These reasons might explain why your married ancestral couple was enumerated in a non-traditional fashion. For the sake of not confusing myself, I'll refer to the head of household Anna, by her Ostfriesen name of Antje throughout this article.

Husband Incapacitated?
If the husband is unable (or unwilling) to act as the head of the household, the wife (or an older son) may be the functional head of the household. A husband who has had a stroke or serious illness may not be listed as the household head. In the case discussed last week, there is no information indicating that Henry had a diminished mental or physical state, but it is possible. His obituary from 1912 indicates that up to a time shortly before his death, he could still recite entire chapters from the Bible. While this may be an exaggeration, Henry is known to have lived thirty-two years beyond his 1880 census enumeration.

Divorced or Separated?
If divorced or separated couples are enumerated in the same household their listing could be written up in a nontraditional way. Readers sent in examples of divorced couples enumerated in the same household with the wife listed first and the husband appearing in a variety of places within the household. Henry and Antje were not divorced after their 1877 marriage.

Husband Alive on Census Date, but Dead at Enumeration?
Readers submitted several examples where the husband was alive on the actual census date but deceased by the time the household was actually enumerated by the census taker. While not applicable in my case, it is a possibility to consider, especially if the census is the last known record on the husband.

Financial Problems?
One reader sent an example where a couple had moved west after going broke in New England. The couple's first enumeration in the west listed the wife as the head of the household. While there are also issues of women's property rights to consider in that case, it may be that there was some financial reason why the wife was listed first and in this 1850 enumeration the value of property was listed after her name.

Just A Mistake?
It is also possible that listing Antje first was a mistake on the part of the census taker. Several readers sent examples where cross-outs on the actual census hinted that a mistake had been made. In the situation discussed last week, Antje had her own children, grandchildren, and some stepchildren living in the household. Even if the census taker listed the "wrong" person first, he did get all the relationships correct with respect to Antje. This leads me to believe that the census taker intended to list Antje as the household head.

Summary of Reasons
All of the situations were similar in one regard. The unusual enumeration indicated further research on the family, its economic status, and its cultural background was necessary. In attempting to explain a nontraditional enumeration (or any record anomaly), remember that:
— There should be logic behind your conclusions—not unfounded assumptions.
— You consider all possibilities, not just the one that makes the best story or that is most appealing to other family members.
— Attempt to back up the story with other records, contemporary ones where possible.

Additional Considerations
— 1880 Agricultural Census. The 1880 population census was not the only federal census enumeration that took place in 1880. There was also an agricultural census. Interestingly enough, the Habben farm is enumerated in Henry Fecht's name in the corresponding 1880 agricultural census. How do I know it is Antje's farm? Henry Fecht's name does not appear on any real estate property tax rolls for 1880-81 for Prairie Township, which is where his name appears on the 1880 agricultural census. Since Antje's name appears on the property tax rolls in 1880-81, but not on the corresponding 1880 agricultural census, it seems very likely that the enumeration for Henry Fecht is actually referring to Antje's real estate.

— 1900 Census. The family's enumeration in 1900 would make an interesting comparison. Unfortunately Antje died on 20 May 1900 and is not enumerated in the 1900 census. Henry is enumerated as a single widower in the same township where he is residing in 1880. In 1910, still living in the same township, the eighty-seven-year-old is enumerated with a daughter and son-in-law.

Is Antje Really Sixty-Five in 1880?
Several readers pointed out that in 1880, Antje is listed as being sixty-five years of age. Included in the household were three of her children, aged 20, 18, and 13. A 65-year-old being the biological mother of a thirteen-year-old is a bit of a stretch. Based upon church records in her native Germany and other sources, Antje should have been fifty-seven at the time of the 1880 enumeration, not sixty-five. One should always take census ages with a grain of salt. As a general tendency, the younger a person is, the more likely their age is to be relatively accurate. It is much easier to be five or ten years off when someone is sixty than when they are three.

We've mentioned the records of various female relatives in earlier columns, focusing on those cases where the record is unusual or noteworthy. Some recent examples are:

Married to an Alien
This article discusses a 1920 census entry where a New York State native female is listed as an un-naturalized alien.

The Reality of Sarah's Realty
This article discusses a mid-eighteenth century Virginia female and the disposition of her property after her death.

Researching female ancestors can be more difficult than researching the males but it just as interesting and generally worth the challenge.

One last item from last week …

Michael Descends from Both of Antje's Husbands?
No one called me on this statement, but it is true despite the fact that Antje and Henry Fecht had no children together. I descend from Antje's first husband, Mimke Habben, who died in 1877 and from her second husband, Henry. Fortunately, I only descend from Antje once. Jann Habben (Antje's son by her first marriage) and Anke Fecht (Henry's daughter by a previous marriage) were married in 1881. They are my great-great-grandparents. In this ethnic immigrant group, like many, marriage within the ethnic community was encouraged by family, church, and a common heritage.

Note: Michael John Neill will be presenting five all-day genealogy computing workshops at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois, during March of 2004. The sixth annual week of workshops will be held on the college's main campus. Registration is only $35 per day. Topics will include:
— Family Tree Maker
— European Research Online
— Using, and
— Online Genealogy Techniques
— Genealogy Potpourri

All workshops are hands-on and registration is limited. More information is available at:

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2003, All rights reserved.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

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