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Michael John Neill-- 10/4/2001

1880 Census Beginnings: Part III

As mentioned in Part I of this series (links follow the article), there was one feature of the 1880 Census CDs from the Family History Library that was not available: The ability to search based upon the birthplaces of parents. I had a particular problem where this ability would have been helpful.

The Problem:
The only record of my ancestor Florence Ellen/Ella Butler Sargent is her entry in the 1880 census in Warsaw, Hancock, Illinois. An exhaustive search of other records has not resulted in any other information on this individual. Family tradition holds that Ellen left the family around 1882 and was never heard from again. Her 1880 census entry indicates that twenty-three-year-old Ellen was born in Missouri of Michigan-born parents.

I had hoped to search the 1880 census index for individuals surnamed Butler born in Missouri of Michigan-born parents. I realized that this approach was a long-shot, but was desperate, and other approaches had not been successful. I hoped that a national database like the 1880 census index would "catch" a relative of Ellen.

There were some assumptions that this approach required: 1) Ellen's information in the 1880 census was correct. 2) Ellen had at least one full sibling with the surname Butler living in 1880. 3) Ellen's living sibling gave the same information about parents that Ellen did. 4) Ellen's sibling was also born in Missouri.

Every research approach requires assumptions. One just needs to remember that one has made them.

The census index would not allow me to search directly based upon birthplaces of parents, but there was a workaround. The problem was that it was not a quick and easy one. Having spent twenty years on the problem already, I really did not expect to solve it overnight.

I could search for individuals surnamed Butler in the census that were born in Missouri at approximately the same time as Ellen. I decided to cover the years 1840 until 1872.

Why the Wide Range of Years?
I chose a thirty-year time span for the following reasons:
1) I was not certain if Ellen's age in the census was accurate
2) I did not know where Ellen fit in the birth order of her siblings.

Using the National Index, I searched for individuals of either gender with the surname Butler born in Missouri. For the first search, I put 1845 as the year of birth and set the range of years to five. This would provide me with a listing of Butler individuals born between 1840 and 1850 (inclusive).

I saved the entire set of results as a RTF (Rich Text Format) file so that I could view them in my word processor and perform some additional sorting on the results. The file name I used was "Butler_1840-1850_born_MO." After all, I wanted to remember what I had searched for. The following files were named in a similar fashion. Using files names that are meaningful is extremely helpful and assists in tracking and documenting your research.

I continued the search by altering the year of birth in the individual search box. Using the year 1856 as a five-year range would include the years 1851-61. I already had the 1850 births from the previous search. These results were also saved as a Rich Text File.

I then performed the final individual search by changing the birth year to 1867, again leaving the range at five. This gave me results from 1862-72. This file was again saved as a Rich Text File.

Note: I could have searched for all Butlers born in Missouri, but I was afraid that there would have been too many results to easily manipulate later in one single file. It is also possible to copy and paste the results from the Resource File Viewer (used to view the 1880 census transcription) instead of saving the results. I had the Resource File Viewer save the results for me so I knew the results would be saved (I'm always leaving open files unsaved and having my system crash on me before I have saved).

The Analysis
I had all those individuals born in Missouri between 1840 and 1872 with the surname Butler. Now to the real work.

I used Microsoft Word to open the file containing the Butlers born between 1840 and 1850. I selected all the information and then converted that text to a table using the table command (and choosing convert text to table). This would then allow me to sort the data based upon columns.

The data was initially sorted by the approximate year of birth of the individual. I needed to sort the information in other ways in order to make effective use of the data. The first way I sorted was by the relationship column. There were numerous individuals listed as a "wife" in the household. I did not need to concern myself with these individuals. (After all, if they were listed as "wife" then their maiden name was something other than Butler and they were not my concern at this point). When the table was sorted by the relationship column, all the "wifes" appeared together. These cells were then cut from the table of data.

I then went to the bottom of the file and made the following note. "Those whose relationship was listed as "wife" were "cut" from the data table." Then to preserve the original information (just in case I needed it later), I chose to save the file with a different name "Butler_1840-1850_born_MO_no_wife." It is important to note that I made a comment at the bottom of the data table to indicate what alteration I had done to my search results. I now had two files, the original one and one with those individuals whose relationship is listed as wife removed.

I created similar new files for the other two files that I had saved.

The information comes in seven columns. I added an eight column to indicate my search results. The information was then sorted by state of residence. There were two reasons for this:

1) The census data CDs themselves are organized by state and this approach will make searching specific individuals much easier. 2) Viewing the information based upon state will allow me to search specific states first where I think the individuals were likely to have lived.

Now my only job is to manually view the transcription for those individuals who appear to be likely matches. I will have my list of Butlers open in Microsoft word at the same time so that I can make notes in the eighth column that I appended. I will save the file frequently. Of course, I could always choose to print out the lists of Butlers and take notes manually.

Why Didn't I Start with Ellen's Parents?
I decided that there was a greater likelihood that one of Ellen's siblings would be located that would one of her parents. If her father was dead, her mother could have remarried and had an entirely different surname. If her mother was dead, her father could have married a woman not born in Michigan. The death of either one of the parents would have made locating them via this approach more difficult.

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Michael John Neill's Genealogy Web Site--any other use of this article requires the permission of the
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