Given Name(s) Last Name


From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 3/5/2003

I am Jones or Am I Something Else?

Readers can view census images discussed in this week's column here.

Last week's column discussed the difficulties with finding an 1860 Macon County, Missouri, census entry for a Wesley Jones. When located, the census entry only raised more questions. Wesley, his wife, and several apparent children are enumerated in their order of age. At the end of the entry are two additional individuals, listed out of age order when compared to the others in the household.

Who Are These Two People?
The last two residents in the Wesley Jones household appeared on the surface to be:

"Iam Jones," aged 26, born Missouri
"Matilda Jones," aged 20, born Missouri

I jokingly thought that the first name should really read "I am Jones." Seriousness quickly took over and I read more of the census entry. When I looked at the right hand columns of the census page, I thought I had my answer to "Iam Jones." These two individuals were married within the census year. William Rhodes and Matilda Jones were married in March of 1860. It seemed fairly simple.

Were Iam and Matilda really William and Matilda Jones Rhodes? Wesley Jones already had a son William enumerated as being aged nine, so the "Iam Jones" was not likely a reference to Wesley's son with the same name. Did the census taker make a mistake? Did someone provide incorrect information? With that potential in mind, it might be helpful to compare the 1860 census information on Iam and Matilda Jones with known information on William and Matilda Jones Rhodes.

We'll organize the information into two parts: parts that are consistent with already known information and those parts that are not. Of course, there is always the chance that our known information is wrong, too (no one ever said genealogy is an exact science).

What Is Consistent:
--- The names of the women are the same.
--- The age of Iam Jones and William Rhodes
--- The age of Matilda Jones and Matilda Jones Rhodes
--- Both couples were married within the census year

To be thorough, I could search marriage records in Macon County and environs for an Iam and Matilda Jones marrying within twelve months of the 1860 census date to make certain that there really was not another couple with that name.

The inconsistencies are perhaps the larger concern. A summary will help us address these problems.

What Is Not Consistent:
--- The surname
--- The first name of the man
--- The man's place of birth.

Given the typical accuracy of census records, the birthplace difference (Missouri versus Tennessee) does not worry me much. If the place of birth had been England or Germany the inconsistency would have been greater and I would be more concerned. The first two inconsistencies are more problematic.

I'm working under the assumption that the census taker did not ask William and Matilda the questions directly. If the Iam Jones is really Wesley Jones' son-in-law William Rhodes, the family likely had not known him very long. Information given about William Rhodes could easily have been partially incorrect for this reason.

Abbreviations for William?
A frequent abbreviation for William was the use of "Wm" with the "m" slightly raised and occasionally with quotation marks written under the "m." Did the census taker write down "Wm" for William and was later unable to read his writing? It is worth a thought.

When actually "taking the census," and going from residence to residence the census taker took what are usually referred to as "field notes." These notes were later used by the census taker to compile the official census report. It is this official census report that genealogists typically use. Were the census taker's notes about the Jones family unclear? What was the chance he would revisit the family to clarify one item? Did the census taker simply make a mistake on the surname for the last two individuals enumerated in the Wesley Jones household in 1860? We will never know.

I'm inclined to think the reference is to William and Matilda Jones Rhodes. This is largely because of the relative consistencies of the ages and the fact that both couples were married within the census year. Also there are no known extended members of this Jones family whose first name was Iam.

Finding Wesley in 1850?
Taking a look at Wesley's census entry in 1850 is also in order and hopefully there is no Iam Jones enumerated in the household. Finding Wesley in the 1850 Missouri Census Index was not as easy as entering his name. Jones is not a surname typically misspelled by census takers. I decided to search for Jones entries in the 1850 Missouri Census Index for Macon County at This was done by entering Macon as the county on the search box. I found the likely suspect indexed as "Welsey" Jones enumerated on page 154 of Macon County's 52nd district.

Finding Wesley in the census index raises a good point about using any census index: consider the possibility of typographical errors. Created by humans, every index has the potential for these problems. In some cases, using the online index affords the user options that are not available for the print version. In this situation, it was easier to use the online index and have the computer look for the Jones entries in Macon County, instead of having to view all the Jones 1850 Missouri entries individually and manually sift out the desired ones.

There was no guarantee that the Welsey Jones was the guy I wanted. I would not be certain of the typographical error in the index until I had viewed the actual census image itself. Fortunately, this could easily be done within minutes.

Other Family Members Confirm
Viewing the actual census page confirmed Welsey Jones was the Wesley Jones I wanted. The other household members (wife Serelda and children) correlated with records previously located. Daughter Matilda is enumerated as Lucretia M. K., aged 11. Matilda's name was actually Lucretia Matilda K. Jones. The two middle names only add to my occasional confusion. Fortunately, there was no Iam Jones enumerated in the household in 1850. Of course, the lack of an Iam in Wesley's household does not mean that he did not exist, just that he was not living with Wesley in 1850.

Items Worth Remembering:
--- The census we use is typically not a first generation copy, nor is it a photocopy. It is usually a handwritten transcription of the census taker's notes.
--- Consider using other search options when searching for names in online census indexes.
--- Census takers could have made a mistake in any part of a census record.
--- Analyze census information in light of other records.
--- Consider analyzing information into what is consistent and what is inconsistent with other records.
--- Even if you think your conclusion is obvious, consider proving your case, point by point. You may discover additional information as a part of the process.

I'm not really done analyzing the 1860 entry for Wesley Jones. There is one item on the census entry that has been overlooked in my enthusiasm to make a connection and a common technique for reading handwriting that has not been used. While our case for William and Matilda has been organized (an excellent thing to do)--we are NOT done analyzing this entry in light of the overlooked item on the census and the failure to apply a common technique to deciphering difficult handwriting. Next week, we'll see what was overlooked and why "Iam" Jones may not be "Iam" Jones (or William Rhodes) after all.

Conclusions are always open to revision and re-evaluation in light of additional evidence.


Ancestry 1850 Census Index

Ancestry AIS Census Indexes -- List of Databases

Search Ancestry's AIS Census Indexes

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 e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2003, Inc.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

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