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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 11/12/2003

Other 1880 Census Articles

1880 Online Strategies: Part II Search the 1880 Census for free

Last week's article discussed the free online 1880 Census database available at both and While both sites search the same data at no charge, there are differences in how the search interfaces are constructed, and there are times where one search interface is more effective than another. This week we continue our discussion by looking for various individuals whose names are not all that easy to find.

Misspellings and Locational Stumbling Blocks
Last week's column ended with John Ufkes, enumerated as John Ulkus. Because of the way this last name was transcribed, Soundex and most searches based upon the last name were not effective. Another approach was necessary. In this case, I was reasonably certain of John's 1880 residence.

The FamilySearch interface to the 1880 census allows the user to choose a place of birth from one of the dropdown menus. Germany is one of the choices, but if I search for John with a birthplace of Germany, it will not locate him. In this case, John's place of birth was enumerated as "West Friesland." Natives of this area typically list a place of birth of Hanover, Prussia, or Germany. However, the place of birth listed for John is not in Germany, it is in the Netherlands.

John will only be located if the place of birth is left blank or is set to the Netherlands. One must be careful when searching the 1880 census transcriptions for those born in Germany. FamilySearch will search for multiple parts of the German empire if Germany is chosen as the place of birth from the drop down menu. Those unfamiliar with the locations used in the database are advised to look at the entire list and locate the area where the ancestor was born on both modern and contemporary maps.

Name Close, Residence Uncertain
The desired person in this case is Antje Albers, born in Ostfriesland, Germany, ca. 1811.

The problem with Antje was a common one: I had absolutely no idea where she was living in 1880. This immigrant was known to have lived in Illinois, Missouri, and New Mexico after her 1860s era immigration. People who "get around" are always more difficult to locate in census records and are one of the reasons national databases are so helpful.

Antje was located at FamilySearch by entering her name in as Antje Albers and choosing a year of birth of 1811, with an error of plus or minus five years. Several matches were found. Antje was located in Denver, Colorado, living with her son L.U. Albers.

Antje also could have been located in the search interface for the 1880 census. In her case, the best search would have been to use wildcards on her first name (Ant*) and her place of birth (Ger*). The search interface will search only for births in Germany if Germany is entered in the birthplace box. Since there are entries in the database with a place of birth of "Ger" this search term (Ger*) will catch both entries. However, a search at for Ger* will not catch those entries that list a place of birth as Bavaria, Saxony, etc.

German locations may be entered in the database in one of many ways (typically dependent upon the census entry), including (but not limited to):


This incomplete list is provided to give the reader an idea of the potential abbreviation and spelling considerations they may face. Census takers did not always follow instructions, so consistency in place names is not to be found in the 1880 census.

For German searching, it usually best to use FamilySearch and choose Germany as the birthplace. Just make certain that your ancestor would have put some German state as his place of birth and not Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, etc. instead.

Significant Last Name Problems
Joseph Desmarais should have been listed somewhere in Clinton County, New York. This is an individual where the surname presented significant database search problems. A search at FamilySearch with exact spelling off did not locate him, even though the known county of residence was included. A Soundex search for Joseph Desmarais at was also unsuccessful. In this case, it was decided that the spelling of the surname was the likely problem.

What to do? In this case, I would use FamilySearch and take advantage of the ability to search based upon family structure. Joseph should have a wife and at least eight children in his household in 1880. Our approach will start with his wife.

Joseph's wife's name, Cesarine, was frequently Anglicized as Sarah. My initial strategy was to search the 1880 census database at FamilySearch for individuals named Sarah living in a household headed by a person named Joseph in Clinton County, New York. Knowing that Cesarine was born in Quebec, I entered Canada as the place of birth. No age or other information was included.

There were only four results, one of which was an entry for Sarah Demarrah. An analysis of the other family members in the household made it clear the correct family had been located. No last names were even used to conduct the search in this case.

Some General Comments
— For Soundex searching, use the search interface.

— For wildcard searching, use the search interface. Remember that the wildcard character, *, must be preceded by three letters.

— For household-based searching, use the FamilySearch interface. If other details are sufficiently known, it may be possible to locate the family without even entering the last name.

— For similar names searching, use the FamilySearch interface. Keep in mind that this search will not catch all similar names nor will it catch all Soundex equivalents as we saw in last week's column.

One Last Note
The wildcard feature of the database is a very nice feature, particularly when the place of birth is relatively unusual. A trick I used at was to enter only "Ostfriesland" as the place of birth. There were only fifty matches in the entire database—one of which was an uncle I had been unable to locate. This technique will not work with large geographic areas, but in some cases you just may ferret out someone you were trying to find.

Actual census images of entries discussed in this week's column can be viewed here.

Next week, we'll see an 1880 census enumeration that is slightly unusual in that the head of household is the wife. What makes this unusual is the fact that the husband is living and is also enumerated—as the last entry in the household!

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.