12 September 2009

Confusing New York and Kentucky

This 1885 census for Davis County, Iowa, contains the entry for Frederick and Lucretia (Sargent) Price. I have been trying to connect Lucretia Sargent to my Ira Sargent (born ca. 1843).
What is interesting about it is that it indicates Lucretia is born in "Ky." All other records indicate she was born in either New York state or Canada. The family has to be hers as all the other details match.
The first letter of her place of birth is clearly not an "N" as there are other "N"s on the page (in the legal description of their farm location). Here is my theory:
The census taker took down notes. He wrote down "Ny" for the place of birth and then, upon writing up his good copy, read it as a "Ky."
That seems pretty reasonable. And I think it explains something else that has never made sense to me.
Ira Sargent (born ca. 1843) had a daughter Ida Sargent Trautvetter. In the 1930 census for Keene Township, Adams County, Illinois, Ida's father and mother are shown with places of birth in "Kentucky." I never understood this at all. While the places of birth for Ida's father were not always consistent, records always provided a place of birth of either New York state or Canada-never near Kentucky.
I am wondering now if she gave "New York" as her father's place of birth and the enumerator in his field notes wrote down "Ny." Did he later interpret that as "Ky" for Kentucky and write that down in the census? I'm not certain. But it makes a little more sense than other scenarios I've been able to come up with.

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16 December 2008

Famous Census Pages are Back!

After a hiatus, our famous census pages are back. It will take a while to bring all the images again to our website, but we are making progress.

Our pages have a new look and a new domain name

Take a look--we're starting off small while we work out the bugs.
Suggestions for additions are welcome and can be sent to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

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04 December 2008

Ancestry Releases Mortality Schedules and Index 1850-1880

Ancestry.com posted a new database on their site, apparently today: United States Mortality Schedules (and Index) 1850-1880). This database is incomplete and is still in progerss, users should read the description to be certain what locations are covered. Not all of these schedules are extant, either. This is a welcome addition to Ancestry.com's set of databases. We'll be posting more about this as time allows.

The 1850-1880 United States Mortality Schedules can be searched here.

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25 June 2008

How Do I Know I Have the Right Family?

How Do I Know I Have the Right Family? --this originally appeared in the Ancestry World Journal on 15 Dec 2006

by Michael John Neill

When families migrate from one area to another, it can be hard to
determine if you have really located the same group of individuals.
The difficulty is compounded if the last name and first names are
relatively common. It's important to be certain that the "true"
family has been located and that one has not mixed up families with
similar names. Male cousins bearing the same first and last name are
particularly easy to confuse.

One quick way to track families in the post-1850 era is through
population census schedules. The listing of all household members
facilitates the matching process, and every-name indexes make the use
of these records much easier than before, especially when the
residence is not known. However, the first close match on the list of
results is not necessarily the correct family. All matches to the
search terms should be analyzed and eliminated based upon what is
known about the family. What appears to be the "right" entry must be
compared in light of other records to determine if there really is

On the other hand, searches of databases must not be overly strict,
as this can sometimes eliminate potential matches. I generally
perform a variety of searches for individuals I am seeking, including
some using Soundex and wildcard functionality. Sometimes it is easy
to determine if the correct person has been found (the person has an
unusual name, the person is living in the right location, names,
ages, and birthplaces of family members match up, etc.). Other times
it is not possible to make a definitive decision that the desired
person has been located. When families are eliminated, the researcher
should keep notes as to why these families were stricken from

Generally speaking, when searching online census databases it is
helpful to track the type of search that is being performed as it is
being performed. Key elements in this tracking are:

  • The first and last names that were put in the search box

  • Whether a Soundex option was used

  • Whether a search was performed with wildcards
  • What year of birth was used (and what range of years)
  • What birthplace was used

Reasons for tracking the search include:

  • It is impossible to effectively modify an unsuccessful search when
    one is not certain how one searched originally or how one searched
    last week.

  • Searching the same static database in the same way will typically
    produce the same results.

  • It is impossible to remember each combination of search techniques
    that was applied. The "correct" combination will always be
    overlooked. It's Murphy's Law applied to genealogy.

One quick and easy way to track your online searches is to make a
spreadsheet with column headings for the various search boxes for the
database being searched. This spreadsheet can be printed and written
on while searching or those who are adept at toggling between
computer windows can fill out their chart as they search. Personally,
I prefer to fill out my chart of searches before I search, making
certain no combination of terms was eliminated. Then I can use the
chart to make certain I have conducted all the desired searches.

The Brices

An earlier column mentioned the family of William and Anne Brice and
how they were tracked in census records from Illinois to Kansas to
Missouri between 1860 and 1900.
As an example, let's
look at how their entries were obtained and what leads me to believe
I have the same family in four separate locations over four census

Generally speaking, census enumerations on any family should not be
viewed in isolation. (Space considerations do not allow us to include
the complete analysis in this column.) Rather, other records should
be utilized in order to determine if the tentative family structure
and migration paths are supported by other documents. Wherever
possible, obtain maps of all relevant areas to assist in viewing the
family's overall migration path. Search for reasonable alternate
spellings before assuming the "actual" family has been located and
consider if there are alternate situations that could explain the
records that have been found. We should search to see what is found,
not search to prove an already determined conclusion.

1860 Census-Ursa Township, Adams County, Illinois

William Brice, age 21, born Ireland, married within census year

Anne J., age 22, born Ireland, married within census year

The reference to the marriage within the year caused me to search the
Illinois State Marriage Index. An
index entry appears for William Brice and Ann Jane Belford indicating
an April of 1860 marriage. It seems very reasonable that this is the
same couple, especially since there were no other marriages in the
index for a William and Anne Brice (or any reasonable spelling

1870 Census-Chili Township, Hancock County, Illinois

William Brice, age 34, born Ireland

Ann, age 33, born Ireland

William, Jr., age 6, born Illinois

Mary A., age 4, born Illinois

Robert, age 1, born Illinois

Chili Township in Hancock County, Illinois, is close to Ursa Township
in Adams County. The ages of William and Ann are consistent with the
earlier enumeration. In both cases, William is a farmer (it is
important to note any extreme inconsistencies with occupation as
well). The ages of the Brice children are consistent with an 1860
marriage. The initial census search was conducted for a William Brice
(and Soundex variants) born in 1838 in Ireland, plus or minus five

1880 Census-Bruno, Butler County, Kansas

William Brice, age 45, born Ireland

Anne J., age 48, born Ireland

William, age 16, born Illinois

Mary, age 14, born Illinois

Robert, age 11, born Illinois

Sarah J., age 9, born Illinois

James, age 6, born Illinois

John, age 2, born Kansas

The family structure is consistent with the 1870 enumeration. The
ages of the parents are off slightly from earlier enumerations, but
not so far off as to warrant any special concern. The initial census
search was conducted for a William Brice (and Soundex variants) born
in 1838 in Ireland, plus or minus five years.

1900 Census-Grant Township, Caldwell County, Missouri

William Brice, age 62 (born March 1838), Ireland

Ann, age 62 (born March 1838), Ireland

Jno. H. M., age 20 (born Mar 1880), Kansas

An unexpected move of the family. However, this was the only "match"
using our previous search terms that came even close to our desired
family. Anna Brice's death certificate (obtained via the Missouri
State Archives website) indicates that she was born in Ireland on 28
March 1836, the daughter of Daniel and Mary Jackson Belford. This is
the same maiden name for the "known" Anne Brice, wife of William.
Further research needs to be done, but it appears I have the same

Wrapping It Up

  • Perform searches that are not overly narrow so that close matches
    (which maybe the right family) are not overlooked.

  • Constantly review information in light of already known
    information to be reasonably certain the same family has been

  • Track what you do, so search terms can be modified as necessary.

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14 April 2008

The Census Taker Cometh

The Census Taker Cometh
(originally published at Ancestry.com in 2004)
It is June 3, 1860.

Anna Gufferman, who is twelve years old, sees a stranger approaching her small home. He looks reasonably dressed and does not appear to be carrying a weapon. Illinois is not as wild a place as Nebraska where her cousins live, but mother has warned her that one can never be too careful. She shoos her five younger siblings in the house as the man approaches.

He approaches the front yard and calls out for the man or the woman of the house and says he is here to ask questions for something called the “census.” Anna is wary of calling for her parents if there is no need. When Father and the boys are in the field, he does not like to be disturbed, not even if Grandfather comes. Mother is down at the creek by herself, having left Anna with the children. The weekly washing is one of the few times Mother does not have several small children underfoot, and Anna is hesitant to bother her if it is not absolutely necessary. Anna decides this “census” does not require her to disturb her parents. She tells the census taker that she is very familiar with the family and the goings on in the household. After all, she is twelve years old and responsible for several younger siblings.

The census taker asks Anna several questions, which she frankly thinks are none of his business. He tells her that the government needs to know this information and that it is important it be accurate. Anna does the best she can to answer his questions. He starts by asking her the names of her parents and her siblings.

“It is a good thing my parents are not here,” Anna thinks to herself. While her English is rudimentary, it is considerably better than the handful of words her parents have managed to learn. Determined to impress the census man with her knowledge of English, she indicates that her parents are not Hinrich and Anneke Gufferman, but that they are rather Henry and Ann. Her other siblings all have names more German sounding than Anna's. She decides to provide the census taker with English versions of their names, just as she did with those of her parents.

Anna is not quite certain how old her parents and her siblings are, but the man seems to insist on knowing their age precisely. Their christening names and dates of birth would be in the family bible, but Mother would fly into an absolute rage if Anna got the bible herself and began leafing through it. Deciding it was not worth the risk of her mother catching her in the act, Anna guesses as to the age of her parents. Despite her uncertainty, she speaks clearly and distinctly to convince the census man that she knows the ages precisely. He seems pleased to get the information.

He then asks where her parents were born. Anna knows they were born in Germany and were married there. Those questions are easy. The census man then asks where she and her siblings were born. These questions are not so easy. She cannot remember which of her older brothers were born in Germany and which ones were born in Illinois. She remembers that her parents lived for a while in Ohio before coming to Illinois. And frankly, she is getting tired of all the questions. Consequently she tells the census taker that her two older brothers were born in Germany, the next was born in Ohio and that all the remaining children were born in Illinois.

Anna decides to give hurried answers to the rest of the census man's questions. He has taken time away from her chores and Mother will not be happy if the morning tasks are not done when she returns. Occasionally impatient with Anna's delayed answers, the census man seems pleased when Anna begins answering the questions more quickly. Eager to please and knowing she should return to her chores, Anna speedily answers the remaining questions, paying little concern to the accuracy of her answers.

It is June 25, 1880.

The census taker arrives at the home of Hinrich and Anneke Gufferman. It is a different place than his fellow enumerator encountered in 1860. Hinrich and Anneke have two children at home, the youngest son who helps his father farm and a daughter who works as a hired girl for a Swedish couple up the road. There is still plenty of work for Anneke to perform around the house, but no longer meeting the needs of twelve children makes her life less harried than it was before.

Anneke invites the census taker into her kitchen and after he indicates some of the information he needs, she goes and gets the family bible, which contains the names and dates of birth for her husband and her children. She opens the bible to the appropriate page and tells the census taker there is the information. The entries are written in Hinrich's bold, clean script and the census taker only has difficulty in reading the name of the youngest daughter Trientje, which he copies down as Fruita. Otherwise the odd-sounding names are easy to read and the census taker simply copies them into his record.

There are additional questions and Anneke provides the answers as best she can. In Germany, her husband was a day laborer and had moved several times looking for work. When asked where her husband's parents were born she is not certain; Hinrich's mother died when he was a baby and the father had died shortly after their marriage. Anneke told him the parents were born in Germany. Anneke was not certain of her father's place of birth, either. He had died before her birth and had been a soldier. Anneke had been named for her father's mother, with a first name that was unusual for the area of Germany where she was from. Thinking her father was Dutch, she told the census taker that her father was born in Holland. But she was not really certain.

It is June 16, 1900.

The census taker comes to the door of Hinrich Gufferman. It has been a month since his beloved Anneke has died. Hinrich does not know the census taker. He swears at him in German in a booming voice and the enumerator senses that he will get no answers. Gufferman's son Johann lives a few miles up the road, fortunately in the same township. The son had told the census taker that Hinrich was taking the death very badly and was only speaking to a few family members. Johann told the census taker to come back if information was needed on the father. It looked like the enumerator would have to take Johann up on his offer.

Ever wondered why some census entries look like creative accounting? Have you ever thought about what actually transpired when the census taker arrived at your ancestor's home?
requests to reprint/publish can be directed to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com


31 January 2008

Searching 1870 Census

We've posted two articles on our site on searching the 1870 census. The discussion is applicable to other years as well and focuses on alternate spellings for names, variant last names, places of birth, and other issues with locating people in the census. The focus is on organizing and thinking about what you want to search before you start mindlessly entering names in search boxes.

The second article centers on an analysis of entries located while trying to search for Johann Ufkes (born 1838 Ostfriesland, Germany) in the 1870 census and provides some ways to analyze entries.

Unfortunately I have not found either person (Johann Ufkes or Ira Sargent) I was looking for in 1870. But the search continues.

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24 January 2008

Modern Mechanix on the 1940-1960 census

A post to the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list included links to scans of articles from Modern Mechanix on the 1940-1960 census enumerations. Not a complete discussion to be certain, but an interesting one nonetheless.


29 October 2007

Census Searching Reminders

All of us at one point in time or another have difficulty locating someone in a census. Juliana Smith just posted my article on Ancestry's blog with a list of census searching reminders. Feel free to post your own suggestions at the bottom of the post.

The article can be viewed here on Ancestry.com's blog.

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06 October 2007

Disappearing Ancestors in Census Records

My "Tip from the Pro" which appeared in last week's Ancestry World Journal.

Disappearing Ancestors in Census Records

You have found your ancestor in the 1820 and 1830 censuses, but he
cannot be located in the 1840 census. What can you do? There are
several approaches, but one idea is to locate his 1820 and 1830
neighbors in the 1840 census and see if your ancestor is nearby with
his name woefully misspelled or written in a barely legible fashion.
It is possible that your ancestor moved out of state; locating those
1820 and 1830 neighbors in that "new" location may allow you to find
your ancestor living there among them.

Of course, it is always possible that your ancestor is dead in 1840
and not enumerated at all. And there is always the chance that if he
is living with one of his grown children in 1840 that the grown child
is listed as the head of the household. In this case, the ancestor is
there, but just one of the "tic" marks for an older family member.

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28 April 2007

More on Analyzing Pre-1850 Census Entries

I had nearly forgotten that several years ago we posted an extensive series of articles on searching per-1850 census records for Thomas Chaney of Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Those articles are housed on our site at:

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Searching pre and post 1850 census records

One hurdle faced by family historians is working in pre-1850 census records. Although only the heads of household are listed, these records do have value. Head of household census records can provide valuable clues about family structure that may not be available in other records. Census records should be included as an integral part of any research plan for 1790-1850 era research.

Assessment of pre-1850 federal census enumerations needs to be done carefully, as occasionally different interpretations can reasonably be made. It is important to note assumptions....

Our discussion of the analysis of the census records of Augusta Newman 1820-1860 continues in the article posted on our site. I'd be interested in hearing from any descendants of Augusta--he's my 4th great-grandfather.

Those interested can Search US Federal Census Records at Ancestry.com

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06 April 2007

Working with pre and post 1850 census records

We recently posted an article about my work on a family in the 1820 through the 1860 census, determining what the records said and what they did not say. In a future posting, we'll look at how this analysis compared with additional records.

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10 March 2007

Census Enumeration Forms and questions

03 March 2007

Spelled 4 Ways on One Census Page

Barnes, Barams, Barse, Barrus, all one one page of the 1860 census. All refer to several different members of the Behrens family of Golden, Adams, Illinois. Multiple spellings and odd variants are a way of life for genealogists, particularly those whose ancestors do not speak the local language. Because of oddities like these, it is necessary to always look for different family members when searching the census and to consider how your ancestor might have pronounced his name and how a census taker might have heard what came out of your ancestor's mouth.
Four ways is quite a few, but I'm certain somewhere there are five spellings of the same name on the same page.
What makes some kind of statement is that I'm related to half the entries on this one page of the 1860 census!


26 February 2007

Figuring Out Iam Jones

A few years ago, we looked at an interesting census enumeration for an "Iam Jones." Our two part analysis discussed which parts of this census entry we thought were in error and which parts we thought were correct. It is important to note that the census taker occasionally makes mistakes.

The first article I am Jones or am I Something Else? begins our analysis and the second I am what I am, or am I?

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19 February 2007

Pre-1850 Census Searching

Ancestry.com's blog has published my latest article Starting Pre-1850 Census Searching. Working with pre-1850 census records can be a challenge, especially the first time around. This article focuses on my search for a William Newman and includes information on how I found him in the 1840 census. Census records before 1850 can be used, but it takes some time and practice to avoid making incorrect conclusions. We will follow this article with more on census records in this era. Suggestions can be sent to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

I know there are a great number of genealogists who struggle with census records during this period--I know I did when I first started.

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16 February 2007

The Censustaker is at the door...

Census records can contain many errors, but in addition to variants of spelling , pronunciation, and handwriting, think about what might have really happened when that census taker came to your ancestor's door.
  • Who answered the questions?
  • What did they really know?
  • Did the census taker really care?
  • Were they actually lying?
  • etc.

We've posted an article on our site The Census Taker Cometh that might get you to thinking about what really happened when the censustaker came around.


11 February 2007

Pre-1850 Census Records

Analyzing census records before 1850 can be a problem for many genealogists, especially those who have not done much work in these records that list only heads of household. In a four part series on our website, we analyze 1800-1850 census entries for a resident of Bedford County, Pennslyvania, showing how to compare/contrast the entries and reach a reasonable conclusion as to how many children Thomas Chaney likely had.

Also included are the assumptions we made and a discussion of when those assumptions may need to be changed.
The series of articles (and links to the actual census images) can be viewed on our site. And if anyone is related to Thomas, fire off an email to me-he's my 4th great-grandfather.


03 February 2007

Double Entry Census Error

It looks like a typo on the 1870 census in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois for the family of James and Elizabeth Rampley---and it is. They did not have two sons named John--the 23 year old should have been enumerated as James. Just goes to show that the census taker can make mistakes.
And keep in mind that the copy we use on microfilm is the "cleaned" up copy the census taker sent to the Bureau of the Census and one that was compiled from his field notes.