One of my spare-time obsessions recently has been locating well-known people
in U.S. federal census records. I have been using various indexes to find individuals
in 1850-1870 census indexes. These indexes were not all created in the same
way, so the way to search each one is different. There are some commonalities,
but there are differences. The greatest difference of all is that for 1870 there
is a nearly completed every name index at Ancestry.com. Indexes pre-1870 are
generally not every name indexes.
One of the first things I determine when using any census index (online or
not) is what names are included in that index. It is imperative that I know
this information in order to use the finding aid effectively. Not all census
indexes were created in the same way, nor are they all searchable in the same
fashion. In terms of who is included, indexes are typically:
Head of household indexes that also include others in the household
with different surnames
Every name indexes
Head of Household Indexes
We'll discuss the head of household indexes first. A child enumerated in a census
record could be listed in any of the following situations.
Living in a Household with a RelativeSame Surname
Typically this relative will be a parent, but it could be a grandparent, uncle,
aunt, etc. A child enumerated in this household will not appear in the index.
It will be necessary to know the name of the head of household in order to find
the person in the actual census record. If the name of the parent is not known,
it may be necessary to search all households headed by a specific surname within
a certain geographic area. Children could be enumerated with aunts, uncles,
or grandparents, so do not automatically ignore references to individuals that
are too old to be the child's parents. The child may not be enumerated with
his parents in the census.
Living in a Household with a Relative Different Surname
If a child is enumerated in a household headed by someone with a surname
different from the child, the child should appear in the index as a separate
entry. However if the child is enumerated with a stepfather, there is a reasonable
chance (especially in earlier records) that the child is enumerated with the
surname of the stepfather. This could be a problem if the surname of the stepfather
is not known. If it is known that the biological father died and the mother
subsequently married again, try to determine the name of the second spouse.
The entire family may all be enumerated with his surname in the census.
Living in a Household with a Non-Relative Different Surname
If a child is enumerated with a non-relative in the census, the surname
is typically not changed. However, if the child was adopted (officially or unofficially)
by the couple with whom he or she was living, their last name in the census
might not be the same as their last name at birth.
All of these situations point to the importance of learning as much about the
person's family background as possible. Sometimes this can be done from later
census records, obituaries, family histories, probate records, county histories,
and other materials.
Every Name Indexes
Every name indexes are easier to use, largely because it is not necessary
to know the name of the household head (typically the father) and because one
can search for other family members if the desired person's name cannot be located
in the census.
Common Names Require More Search Parameters
Not all presidents are easy to locate. President Andrew Johnson's name is
not all that unusual. To effectively locate him required entering first name
and last name in addition to a state and county of residence. Locating these
location parameters may require a search of other records, such as county histories,
biographies, obituaries, pension records, and similar sources.
Use Wildcards Where Appropriate
Scott Joplin is enumerated in 1870 as Scott Joplino. Effective searches
for him would be a wildcard search Sco* Jop* or a Soundex search based upon
Scott Joplin. I performed a wildcard search because I was uncertain if his name
was spelled Scot or Scott in the census and was initially concerned that the
spelling variant would not be a Soundex equivalent. In this case it was (an
added vowel was the only difference), but that will not always happen.
Use Soundex Where Appropriate
I was not certain if James Penney (founder of the J.C. Penney department
store) was listed as Penny or Penney. Since these two spellings are Soundex
equivalent, all searches for him were conducted as Soundex based searches. Searches
for Samuel Clemens (also known, but not enumerated as, Mark Twain) were also
conducted as Soundex based searches for a similar reason.
Carrie Nation, known for her temperance activities, was not always Carrie
Nation. Nation was the surname of her second husband. She is enumerated in 1870
as Carrie Gloyd. Mr. Gloyd died shortly after the marriage and Carrie is enumerated
as a head of household living with her mother-in-law. Women can be more difficult
to locate under the name of an unknown spouse, as their surname will be different.
One way to learn of additional spouses is to pay particular attention to marriage
records that indicate the bride has been married before. Sometimes it will be
spelled out and sometimes the only indication is that the bride is listed as
a Mrs. instead of a Miss.
Spelling, Phonetics, Writing, and Legibility
We've discussed some of these issues before, but we'll note it here for
completeness. Remember that vowels can be interchanged, some letters can be
misread and that the census page itself can be difficult to read. The census
page for Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 (when he was president) is very difficult
to read at the bottomand of course that is where Grant's name is listed
on the page.
Track Your Searches
We'll wrap up this week with perhaps the most important reminder of all:
track your searches.
There are situations where it is necessary to search through many entries in
order to locate the one that appears to be correct. Don't just mindlessly surf
the results page. Print out the list of results and then mark the entries off
as you go through them, noting why the entry is not the “right one.” A person
can easily be interrupted mid-search and not be able to remember which entries
were looked at and which ones were not. Failing to track what you do as you
do it is just asking for trouble (and is not good research methodology besides).
Note: Famous census entries discussed this week can be accessed through
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2003, MyFamily.com. All rights reserved. Used by the author on his
website with permission.