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Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 4/11/2002


1920 Census, Part II: Michael Locates His People

Partial copies of some of these census entries can be viewed at www.rootdig.com.

This week's column focuses on my searches in the 1920 Ancestry.com census indexes for some of my relatives. My wife and I have thirty- five ancestors who were alive in 1920-this article discusses just some of them. Some of the techniques I used to locate these ancestors may be just the ticket to finding your ancestors in this and in other indexes.

Mimka and Tjode Habben
Found in 1920 index as: Habben, Minke
What it looks like to Michael: Habben, Minke
Found in: Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois

I am extremely blessed with some unusual ancestral names. The problem is that unusual names can occasionally be difficult to find. When I entered my great-grandfather's full name in the search box, I got no results. Searching for only his surname in Illinois (where he was known to reside) resulted in a manageable number of hits. His name on the original census certainly did look like Minke instead of Mimka.

It is always worthwhile to view the entire census page and not just focus on the desired entry. Two of Mimka's brothers and their families are listed on the same census page as Mimka.

Ancestry.com searches from both the advanced search page and directly from the individual census years in the Images Online project allow for Soundex searches. These searches will provide hits for all of the surnames that share the same Soundex code as the name entered, allowing users to locate some misspellings.

Would the Soundex option have worked here? Not if both the first and last name were entered in the search boxes. This is because the first name was not spelled in the census record the way I was searching for it. In the Ancestry.com 1920 census index, the Soundex option only applies to the surname. Had the first name been omitted from the search parameters, the Soundex option would have located this entry.

Fred and Tena Ufkes
Found in the 1920 index as: Ufkus, Fred
What it looks like to Michael on the census: Ufkes, Fred Found in: Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois

An important note about the way the surname looks: One tends to see what one is trying to locate -- especially when one is viewing the original records. Anyone reading the 1920 census for Bear Creek Township in Hancock County, Illinois, will notice many German names. I can usually read these names "correctly." Not because I'm smarter than anyone else, but because I grew up hearing these surnames over and over and am also related to many of the families. The creator of the index likely did not have that unique experience. I'm certain there are other counties and areas where I would have difficulty reading the names because the handwriting was not all that great and I was not familiar with the surnames of local families.

I originally searched solely for individuals with the surname "Ufkes" in Illinois, with the intent of locating all of Fred's siblings and his father. Fred was not listed. Checking the Soundex option brought the desired entry.

For this reason, it is also important not to give up if an entry doesn't show up in an index. Soundex searches won't pick up some misspellings. By browsing through the entries yourself you may be able to interpret your ancestor's name better than the indexer.

George and Ida Trautvetter
Found in the 1920 index as; Trautvetter, George A
What it looks like to Michael: Trautvetter, George A
Found in: Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois

Despite the German name, this entry was easy to locate as well. Here I thought I knew the township and the county of residence, but I was wrong. Searching on the entire state was a more effective approach. The family moved across the Hancock-Adams county line a few times in the early 1900s and finding where they were living at the exact time of the census is occasionally problematic. Interestingly enough, George's wife listed the place of birth for her parents as "U.S." Not exactly a specific and helpful location!

John and Anna Habben
Found in the 1920 index as; Hobben, John
What it looks like to Michael: Hobben, John
Found in: Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois

With this family, it was easy to see how the census reader interpreted the surname as "Hobben" instead of "Habben." Typing John's first and last name the search boxes did not produce the desired results and a Soundex search was needed to locate the family. Although I know that they came to the United States in the 1860s from other records, in this case their years of immigration are left blank on the 1920 census record.

Anna Goldenstein
Found in the 1920 index as; Goldenstine, Anna
What it looks like to Michael: Goldenstine, Anna
Found in: Camp Point Township, Adams County, Illinois

A direct search for Anna Goldenstein in Illinois was not successful. A Soundex search quickly located this entry. Anna's deceased husband and her parents were all born in Ostfriesland, Germany. "Ostfriesland" is listed as the place of birth in the census for Anna's parents and for the father of her children. This usage in the census is not typical. Census takers did not always follow the guidelines for place name standardization.

Jann Jenssen
Found in the 1920 index as: Johnson, John What it looks like to Michael: Johnson, John Found in: Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois

This individual is listed in the census under the Anglicized version of his name: John Johnson. Jann never legally changed his name, but most records in the United States (except his tombstone) list his name as John Johnson. Unfortunately in this case the Anglicization of the surname results in a name that is significantly more common than the original surname.

Samuel Otto and Hedvig Johnson
Found in the 1920 index as: Johnson, Samuel
What it looks like to Michael: Johnson, Samuel
Found in: Galesburg Township, Knox County, Illinois

I was not exactly certain what first name this head of household might be listed as in the 1920 census, so I decided to search for Johnsons in Knox County, Illinois, who were born in Sweden. This resulted in "only" three hundred and eighty-nine matches (Knox County, Illinois had a very heavy Swedish settlement). My next choice was to focus on the name Samuel. I put the characters Sam* in the first name box to search to perform a wildcard search for any first name beginning with the letters "Sam" belonging to a Swedish native living in Knox County, Illinois.

A result was located. Upon viewing the entry (and seeing the name of the wife), I knew I had the desired entry.

Joseph and Eva Johnson
Found in the 1920 index as: Johnson, Joseph
What it looks like to Michael: Johnson, Joseph
Found in: Henderson Township, Knox County, Illinois

Joseph is the son of Samuel Johnson listed above. Tired of searching through so many Johnsons, I tried this search initially by entering the same county and township as where the father lived in order to perform a more specific search. This was not a successful approach, although it was a logical place to start.

I expanded the search by removing the township and searching the entire county for a Joseph Johnson. I chose not to enter an age on this search. Using the age box can be helpful, but it is important to remember that:

  • Your ancestor had to list the same age in the 1920 census as you think he should have.
  • The census taker wrote down the age he was told.
  • The entry is legible and easy to read.

    I have searched upon age before in an attempt to locate people, but it necessary to remember that census ages can be significantly off.

    Henry and Caroline Mortimer
    Found in the 1920 index as: Martier, Henry What it looks like to Michael: Martier, Henry Found in: Rock Island, Rock Island County, Illinois

    I decided to experiment with this one family a little and did not allow myself to use the Soundex option. While this was not necessary in this case, there are names where a Soundex search does not help. The exact spelling of the name did not produce the desired entry even when searching for the entire state of Illinois.

    This individual lived his entire life in Rock Island County, Illinois, both inside and outside the city of Rock Island. For this reason, the search could not be restricted geographically to an area smaller than the county of Rock Island. However, if I had found the individual in city directories for 1919, 1920, and 1921 for the city of Rock Island, then a search of just the city would have been reasonable. (Note: It is important to remember that families might have moved more than we think. This is especially true for families that were not property owners. In this case the family could also easily have moved across the Mississippi River which would have put them in a different state.)

    Henry was born in Iowa and would have been thirty-four at the time of the census. A search for a "Henry" aged thirty-four, born in Iowa, living in Rock Island County, Illinois, was conducted. This was to no avail. I broadened the search by removing the born in Iowa constraint and located the individual under the name of Henry Martier. A Soundex search would have located the spelling, but sometimes it is helpful to "play" with a database in order to determine how it works and to improve search skills in general.

    Also living with Henry is his mother, Louise Mortier. This household was paydirt as four ancestors were located in one swoop. The household includes Henry, wife Caroline, mother Louise, and daughter Grace A-my wife's grandmother.

    There were a few other ancestors who I found living with their children in 1920. They were not all as easy to locate as Louise as they did not choose to live with their child who was my direct-line ancestor. It goes to remind us that it is important to research the entire family---not just our direct line of descent.

    John Ufkes
    (Not listed in the index)

    This individual was living with his son Henry Ufkes in Harmony Twp., Hancock County, Illinois, and does not appear in the census index separately. Even when the parent or parent-in-law has a different surname from the head of household, they may be difficult to locate due to spelling issues or other irregularities. As a matter of course, I check the households of all adult children of an ancestor if I am having difficulty locating them in a census record.

    Heipke Dirks
    (Not listed in the index)

    This eighty-seven year old individual was living with her daughter- in-law, Anna Dirks, in Honey Creek Township, Adams County, Illinois. One may typically expect to find aged parents living with their children, but Heipke (listed as Heipka) was living with her widowed daughter-in-law and her daughter-in-law's family. It always pays to search all the households of all various family members when an older family member cannot be located in a household of their own.

    When you tire of the 1930 census (or even before you start looking at it), consider re-visiting all your families in the 1920. Are there entries you have missed or family members you still have to locate?


    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 and Genealogical Computing. You can visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

    Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com.


    Other Genealogy articles by Michael John Neill
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