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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill  3/9/2005


More 1880 Census Search Options

We have looked at the 1880 census search interface at Ancestry.com in the past. This week we revisit the search interface, which now offers researchers eighteen fields upon which to search. The variety of search options allows researchers to potentially locate undiscovered family members. However, the increased number of search options requires the researcher to be organized and systematic. This week we look at some strategies I used in my attempts to locate two of my ancestors' lost siblings in the 1880 census.

Note: The 1880 Census index at Ancestry.com is free and use of the database does not require a paying membership. Access to images of the census is available. 

Siblings of Elizabeth Chaney Rampley
Elizabeth Chaney Rampley's 1880 enumeration in Hancock County, Illinois, indicates she was born in Pennsylvania in approximately 1806, with a father born in Pennsylvania and a mother born in Ireland. Little is known about Elizabeth's siblings, other than that some left their native state. The hope was that some of her siblings were still alive in 1880 and would have given similar information to the census enumerator. Searches for her brothers could be conducted using the last name of Chaney, but searches for Elizabeth's married sisters would require that I know the married surname or conduct a search with the surname omitted.

I experimented with several searches, none of which brought any results. It was time to stop searching randomly and think about what I was doing before I typed information into any of the search boxes. I also needed to think about how the information could have been written on the census page.

The Places of Birth
A birthplace could be entered completely or abbreviated. Pennsylvania could be listed as "Penn, "Pennsylvania," or "Pa." A wildcard search (Penn*) would locate the first two references, but a search for "Pa" would have to be a performed separately. Ireland is most often entered as "Ireland" or "Ire." A wildcard search for "Ire*" would locate both references simultaneously. (The transcription of the 1880 census by the Family History Library did not standardize any place names, rather they were entered exactly as the census taker wrote them.)

The Year of Birth
I decided that searching without limiting the year of birth was a broader search than I wanted to conduct. A specific year of birth was not known in this case and generally speaking is too limiting when using census records (which are notoriously incorrect in terms of age). Based upon other family information, I decided Elizabeth's siblings were most likely born between 1790 and 1819. Consequently I would have to enter three separate searches using the birth year, 179*, 180*, and 181*. These searches would include hits for individuals with births the 1790s, the 1800s, and the 1810s respectively.

Keeping Track of All This in My Head Was Impossible
If the parents never left Pennsylvania after their marriage, and all siblings had the same set of parents, then I was looking for individuals born in Pennsylvania between 1790 and 1819 with a father born in Pennsylvania and a mother born in Ireland. Now that I had thought about how the places could be listed in the census, I knew that several searches would have to be performed. The number of searches hinged upon the ways the places could be spelled.

The Options
My search for Elizabeth's siblings would be conducted on four of the fields of the database, place of birth, birth year, father's birthplace, and mother's birthplace. The variants I had are listed below.

  • Desired person's place of birth: Pa or Penn* (two options)
  • Birth year: 179*, 180*, 181* (three options)
  • Father's Birthplace: Pa, or Penn* (two options)
  • Mother's Birthplace: Ire* (only 1 option)

It would be necessary to perform twelve separate searches in order to cover all the possibilities. This number is obtained by multiplying the number of options listed above (two options times three options times two options). A chart was made before I began searching:

Birthplace
Birth Year
Father Birthplace
Mother Birthplace
Pa
179*
Pa
Ire*
Pa
179*
Penn*
Ire*
Pa
180*
Pa
Ire*
Pa
180*
Penn*
Ire*
Pa
181*
Pa
Ire*
Pa
181*
Penn*
Ire*
Penn*
179*
Pa
Ire*
Penn*
179*
Penn*
Ire*
Penn*
180*
Pa
Ire*
Penn*
180*
Penn*
Ire*
Penn*
181*
Pa
Ire*
Penn*
181*
Penn*
Ire*

The chart was printed and each possibility was marked off as the search was performed. The results were printed individually using the "printer friendly" option on the search results page and kept for a detailed comparison to Elizabeth's known siblings after all the searches were conducted.

Upon reviewing the results, I realized that Elizabeth's brother Abraham was not among the names listed. He was known to have been living in the 1880s and should have been enumerated. A perusal of my information on Elizabeth's father Thomas, caused me to realize Thomas was probably was born in Maryland instead of Pennsylvania. My searches for Elizabeth's siblings would have to be expanded to include Maryland as a place of birth for the father as follows:

  • Desired person's place of birth: Pa or Penn* (two options)
  • Birth year: 179*, 180*, 181* (three options)
  • Father's Birthplace: Md or Maryland (two options)
  • Mother's Birthplace: Ire* (only 1 option)

The chart would be similar to the first one and again helps to organize my search.

Fortunately this strategy located an Abraham Cheney, living in Christian County, Illinois, born about 1797 in Pennsylvania, with a father born in Maryland and a mother born in Ireland. This is the known brother Abraham. The printable version of these results along with the others will be analyzed in detail for possible sibling matches to Elizabeth.

A Comment on Place Names
In earlier "Beyond the Index" columns, we discussed the 1880 census search and the care that must be used with place names, particularly abbreviations and locations in certain parts of Europe. Readers may wish to refer to these two articles for additional commentary on these problems. The search interface for the 1880 census at Ancestry.com has changed slightly since these articles were written, but the comments on locations and search strategies remain the same.

The Case of No Parental Clues
Regular readers may recall that I am totally stumped on Ellen (or Florence) Butler Sargent, whose only known record of existence is an 1880 census enumeration in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois. Exhaustive records searches in the area have resulted in no further information on this woman. In the 1880 census, the twenty-three-year-old female is listed as a native of Missouri with parents who were natives of Michigan. A somewhat unusual migration path if the locations are accurate. In an attempt to locate additional siblings, I will assume this information is on the mark.

Before I randomly enter words in search boxes, I think about how Ellen's potential siblings would be enumerated if they provided the same information as she did.

  • Birthplace: Missouri or Mo (2 searches required)
  • Father's place of birth: Mi, Mich or Michigan (two searches required: Mi and Mich*)
  • Mother's place of birth: Mi, Mich or Michigan (two searches required: Mi and Mich*)

Last Name?
Ellen's brothers and unmarried sisters (at least those who shared the same father) will have the surname Butler. This name will be entered as But* to catch the alternate spellings such as Buttler, Butter, etc. I can also perform searches without a last name (in an attempt to locate potential married sisters), but this attempt will probably result in too many hits to be practical.

Using the information from Ellen, I will construct a chart like the one I made for Elizabeth Chaney Rampley. With the number of searches and the similarity of each search, a chart will prevent me from overlooking one combination of names. If a search combination is overlooked, the "law of genealogy" indicates it will be the successful one.

The improved search interface for the 1880 census has got me thinking about some "lost" relatives that I might try looking for again. I'll chart all the search options and think about alternate place names before entering text in the boxes. In a future column, we will look at some additional ways to make good use of this resource with the additional search terms. And remember, the 1880 census index search is free at Ancestry.com.


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 mjnrootdig@myfamily.com or visit his website at www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2005, MyFamily.com.

 Used by the author on his website with permission


Other articles by Michael John Neill