Tag Archives: Census Records

Great Lakes States – State and Territorial Censuses

I spoke on Wednesday at the National Genealogical Society Conference on “The Third Coast: How the Great Lakes Shaped America.” This lecture really just skims the surface of  topics one would need to know to do effective research in the Great Lakes States. (I put together this lecture and realized I had a lot to say on the subject and gave me the idea to develop an entire course on the subject.)

One thing I wish I had more time to discuss is the use of State and Territorial censuses in Great Lakes research. The following map I colorized to demonstrate the Great Lakes states that held state-level censuses, typically on “the fives” (e.g. 1855, 1865, and so on).

StateCensusMap

The states in green held state censuses, those in orange did not. Indiana (in yellow) did, but they are scattered or no longer exist. So, of the eight Great Lakes States, five of them offer this extra set of records that other states do not.

I share with you two resources for further study on this topic:

To make things a little easier, I have collated the information from both of these sources, as well as that from the appropriate state archives, to create a useful table regarding only the Great Lakes States. (Click here to download a PDF.)

So, if you had not considered whether or not your Great Lakes ancestors had been captured on a state or territorial census, I hope the above resources help you figure that out. Happy searching!

Village Genealogical Society Seminar

villagesI am VERY excited to be presenting an all-day seminar to the Village Genealogical Society and the Akansa Chapter, NSDAR on 17 September 2016. The seminar will be held at the Coronado Community Center, 150 Ponderosa Lane, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. To register visit this website http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~arhsvgs/ or click here:  VGS Workshop 2016 Flyer and Entry Form (pdf).

The group has picked some fantastic topics. I will be presenting:

  • “Census Hurdles: How to Jump Over or Go Around”
  • “From Deeds to Dirt: Case Studies in Analyzing Research with Maps”
  • “Cluster Research and the Fan Principle: Finding Your Ancestors through their Friends, Associates, and Neighbors”
  • “The Heart of it All: Migration Research Methods”

This seminar will begin with some foundational research record sets and methodology (censuses and maps), and then build on those lectures in the afternoon with two methodology lectures. The “Cluster Research” lecture will explain the FAN Club principle (thank you Elizabeth Shown Mills) and demonstrate some of the best methods for identifying your ancestors’ FAN club. The second, “The Heart of it All” will bring together all of the records, techniques and methodologies from the day into a final case study on determining one family’s migration route and their reason for moving.

I’m looking forward to this opportunity and I hope to see some of you there!

What I Don’t Know, Part 5: Census Records

Once I have oriented myself with the geography of a new research area, I generally begin looking for my research subjects in the census. I will start with what I know. Usually it’s that they died in a location, so working back to the census year just before their death date, I will locate them and then work backward. This constructs the family group(s) giving a rough skeleton to their familial framework. Census records can contain many errors but I find they are a great tool to get started and create a sketch of the family structure, often for several generations.

In the case of Jeduthan Dimick, I knew from his biographical sketch in the compiled genealogy that he died in 1839 in Pope County, Illinois. Using census indexes at Ancestry.com I located Jeduthan and his household in the 1830 census in Hardin County, Illinois.

2014-03-30 10.43.06 pmAny census before 1850 consists of the name of the head of household and then hash marks for the rest of the family members broken down by age and sex. The household for Jeduthan consisted of:

Jeduthan Dimick household analysis:
Males under 19 = 3       (possibly Fayette, Mary? and Franklin)
Males 40-49 = 1             (Jeduthan)
Females under 19 = 1    (Sarah)
Females 40-49 = 1         (wife Mary)

This is probably Jeduthan, his wife, 3 sons and 1 daughter, but we can’t be sure with no names to identify them by. However, according to the compiled genealogy I started with, Jeduthan had 2 sons and 2 daughters. It is possible the census taker counted one of the girls (Mary) as a boy, it is impossible to know, but I am fairly certain this is the right family since no other “Jeduthan Dimicks” showed up in the searches.

Chatten Scroggins, Sanders’ father, also shows up in the 1830 census, in Gallatin County, Illinois. If you remember my earlier discussion on geography, Hardin County was formed from part of Gallatin County, so we are looking at a nearby location to the Dimick family.

2014-03-30 10.48.57 pmChatten’s household consisted of:

Chattan Scroggins household analysis:
Males under 19 = 5         (John, James Lewis, Sanders and two unknown boys)
Males 40-49 = 1               (Chatten)
Females under 19 = 3     (Mary and 2 unknown girls)
Females 40-49 = 1           (wife Elizabeth)

This family probably consisted of Chatten’s wife, 5 sons and 3 daughters. Again, the children don’t exactly line up with what is indicated by the compiled genealogies but no other “Chatten Scroggins” showed up in my searches.

I did a similar search for the 1840 census, but knowing that Jeduthan Dimick died in 1839, it was difficult to locate the rest of the family in 1840. Likely they lived with friends or relatives in 1840 while they were getting their living arrangements in order. Since the 1840 census lists only the head of household, it is difficult to know right now where they are in the census.

The Scroggins household is located in the Gallatin County census enumeration. Sanders has moved into his own household and is living next door to his father’s home. He has only one female of about his age living with him, likely his first wife, and no children are living with him.

This is just the first step with the census records. I conducted this research through the 1870 census for the purposes of the program I put together. I would normally follow as many family members as possible through the 1940 census. I also found the families in the Illinois State Censuses that were available. Going through the census records, I was able to put the family groups together in time, place and relationship. This beginning work then allowed me to move on to other records and resources.

Love and Marriage – Getting a Good Wife

The Bismarck (North Dakota) Tri-Weekly Tribune, 2 April 1878
The Bismarck (North Dakota) Tri-Weekly Tribune, 2 April 1878
“Marriage is not about age; it’s about finding the right person.” Sophia Bush
(Read more at BrainyQuote.)
There’s nothing that says “love” like going to look for a good wife. There must have been a shortage of “good women” in North Dakota in 1878. Well, it wasn’t a state yet, but part of the Dakota Territory in 1878. Statehood for North Dakota occurred in 1889. The population was sparse (and continues to be) for the area. And I imagine there really was a lack of “good women.”
1880 Census, Dakota Territory
1880 Census, Dakota Territory
In the 1880 Dakota Territory census, Phillip W. Lewis is listed with his wife, Mary, and their son, John (age 1). And where are Phillip and Mary from? Virginia. I think Phillip found his good woman.

Census Hurdles – Searching Tips and Tricks

2013-10-07 03.46.42 pmAfter our tour through some of my favorite census hurdles, let me sum up with some of my corresponding tricks for dealing with them.

Language Barriers
Think in terms of thick accents and how the names may have sounded.

SOLUTION: Create a list of all possible spellings of your name to use when searching.

Literacy
While you may know exactly how your ancestor’s name was spelled, the census takers and indexers did not. They did the best they could.

SOLUTION: Keep an open mind about how names were spelled in both the census and the census index.

Indexing Errors
Hard-to-read handwriting & typos

SOLUTION:  Learn about old handwriting. Read a lot of old handwriting. Look at tutorials, articles and examples on old handwriting. Be sure to make “corrections” at Ancestry.com using the “add alternate information” link.

Quality of Information Given
How do we know who gave the information and how accurate it is? We don’t.

SOLUTION:  Take every bit of information from the census as a clue, not the truth. Always, always, always corroborate census data with other research. Back up your findings with birth, marriage, death, land records and other research.

Microfilming Errors
Did all of the pages get microfilmed?

SOLUTION:  Pay attention to the page numbers in the upper corners of the census records. If there are missing pages, you can write to the National Archives for missing pages.

Are the images readable?

SOLUTION:  Not much can be done here. You may have some luck with putting the image into a photo editing software and adjusting the brightness and contrast. Also looking at the images in the negative can be helpful.

Some other things you can do to make your census research more successful:

  • Use indexes but do not rely solely on them, as we’ve seen, there are errors.
  • Make a list of spelling variations. Write down every way you can think of that the surname could be written. Write down every way you find it indexed.
  • Read the census line by line for a given district if you are sure they should be there and you can’t find them in the index.
  • Learn about old-style handwriting. You can learn a lot about this by volunteering your time as an indexer through FamilySearch Indexing.
  • Corroborate census info with other research.
  • Don’t give up. Just because you don’t find them in an index doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Get creative with your searches.

I hope this series has given some ideas of what our ancestors, census takers, indexers, microfilmers, and researchers have to deal with during each step of the process. Between when the census taker stepped foot on our ancestors’ doors to these census indexes and images displaying on our computer screens many potential mistakes could have been made. Keep in mind the reasons, try to imagine the situation, and be creative in searching and you will have more success using census records.

 

Census Hurdles – Microfilming Errors

When moving from one level of human interaction with a piece of information to the next, we introduce more and more potential for errors. I’ve already discussed some sources of errors such as language barriers, literacy, handwriting, and indexing errors. There is also the possibility of errors in microfilming.

If you are browsing images either online or on microfilm, you might want to pay attention to the page numbers. Were any pages skipped when microfilming the original census books? If there weren’t necessarily page numbers on every page, you can pay attention to dwelling and family numbers to be sure they are in sequential order and none were skipped from page to page.

I have been victim to those really dark or really faint microfilmed pages. Check out some of these beauties:

      2013-10-07 03.47.00 pm

2013-10-07 01.20.14 pm

2013-10-07 03.59.37 pm

I’m not sure how we are really supposed to read these, let alone the indexers. Thankfully, there have been some really great advances in digitization and many of these dark and light images can be corrected.

Other oddities I have seen:

  • hands in the image
  • pages not completely turned
  • blurred images, as if the page was being turned while being filmed
  • other pieces of paper in the image, over the census

I’m sure everyone has a fun example of microfilming errors. I’m hoping over time, these errors are being fixed and improved. It just highlights the fact that no one is perfect, right down to the folks who run the photography equipment.

Census Hurdles – Who was the Informant?

641px-Volkstelling_1925_CensusYou might think that your ancestors were always home when the census taker knocked on the door. Or that they all sat down, had a cup of coffee or tea while they cooperated completely with the census taker’s questions. Honestly, we have no idea what happened. With the exception of the 1940 census, we have no idea who gave the information to the census taker. We don’t know if it was the head of household, his wife, one of the children, a neighbor, or if the census taker made it all up. We just don’t know.

This not knowing creates a lot of problems for genealogists who are trying to establish proof using the principles of the genealogical proof standard. Having an unknown informant on a record does not allow for the researcher to determine how much firsthand information that informant was likely to have. Therefore we have to assume that the information given to the census taker is suspect, likely to have errors. This should not stop us from using the census. On the contrary! The census is one of the records sets I use most often to establish ancestors in a time and place.

Having an unknown informant is one of those hurdles of the census. Use the data you find in the census as a road map to other documents, as the skeleton upon which other research is built. Corroborate everything you find in the census with other documents, with known informants. Only then will you be able to know you have the correct information.

Unfortunately there is no genealogical time machine that allows us to go back to the day the census taker visited our ancestors. (I’m still working on that technology in my lab. I’ll keep you posted.)

Census Hurdles – Literacy

Like the problem of language barriers, literacy (or the lack thereof) likely complicated the census taker’s job. Most of my ancestors, as far as I can tell, had a limited education. Only in the 1900s do I begin to find out that my ancestors went to school. Those that I was able to talk to only went through some elementary or middle school. Their focus was on earning a living, and especially through the Depression era, helping their parents make ends meet. School and education were not a focus in my family until recent times. I have one grandfather who attended Bowling Green State University, but it is unclear if he graduated (WWII happened and he enlisted). Other than that, it’s been my parents’ generation that really began to focus on education.

2013-10-07 12.00.43 pm
Andrew Slye is enumerated as “Schlei”

Keep this in mind when trying to locate your ancestors in the census. While YOU may know how your ancestors spelled their names, sometimes they did not. Take Andrew Slye (father of Leonard Slye, aka Roy Rogers). He is enumerated in the 1920 census as ‘Schlei.’ We can only imagine why. I don’t believe the Slyes had accents since they had been in the country for many generations. Maybe a neighbor gave the information because they weren’t home. Maybe the census taker was foreign-born. Maybe the census taker hadn’t done that well with spelling in school or never went to school. Who knows. The point is, literacy could and did affect the way millions of ancestors were enumerated.

Literacy can be complicated by the previous post, language barriers. Imagine if the census taker had a limited education AND had to try to understand a thick accent! Double trouble.

Census Hurdles – Language Barriers

2013-10-07 09.54.11 amI have deep Germanic roots. My grandfather told stories of how his grandparents sat around the table and spoke in German. They were not the immigrants, in fact, I’ve traced back several generations beyond theirs and still haven’t found the immigrant ancestors! This tells me that they were proud of their heritage and carried their culture with them through many generations. Our country is made up of countless cultures all blending together and collectively adopting English as the primary language.

Imagine the census taker. He rode around on a horse or in a buggy or walked. He would have had to deal with the elements, hot sun, soaking rain or blustery wind. He knocks on the door of a farmhouse and is greeted by the farmer’s wife… and a thick accent. If they were not native English speakers, their ability to communicate and answer the census taker’s questions were likely limited.

l have encountered many times what I can only imagine is a problem with understanding thick accents. I have worked on the Limmer family for a long time. They have proven quite challenging to find in the census however. I would never have guessed the differing ways to spell “Limmer” but have had quite a time learning all about it:

  • Leemer
  • Leeman
  • Limer
  • Lammer
  • Lamer
  • Laman
  • Lamman
  • Limar
  • Limmar

And so on… Pondering this difference in spelling, I began to understand the plight of the census taker. First he had to try to understand what they were saying, then he had to try to spell it. And if he asked “How do you spell that?” he would have had to try to understand what letter they were saying. Pronouncement of letters varies from language to language, which I learned from taking Spanish in high school and German in college. (What letter was that?) I can only imagine.

This understanding was highlighted for me here in the 21st century. I went to lunch with my mentor Birdie Holsclaw. The lady at the counter asked for her name so they could call it out when her sandwich was ready. When we sat down, I caught a glimpse of her receipt: “Bertie.” She just typed what she heard. No accents involved! Now, imagine a German sandwich maker…

Census Hurdles – Introduction

2013-10-07 10.08.20 amOne of my favorite record sets for creating a framework for any given family is the census. Census records can be an invaluable wealth of information putting ancestors in a time and a place every ten years (every five if you are lucky enough to have them in a state that held a state census every five). In the censuses from 1790-1840, only the names of the heads of households were recorded (and using those censuses can be a whole different animal). However, in 1850 we begin to get more information with every census. Heads of household, relationship to that head, birthplaces, birth month and year, occupations, whether naturalized, military service, and so on.

When I begin researching a new family line, I invariably begin with the census. Finding their names in the correct time and place gives the researcher a solid foundation to begin from. The census is like the solid footing from which all other steps are based: find the family in the census, mark them on a map and begin searching for other records in the town, county, state and trace migrations when they occur.

There are many reasons why you may be having difficulty finding your ancestors in the census. This series of blog posts will share some of my favorite “hurdles” for finding those ancestors. I will cover things such as language barriers, literacy issues, indexing errors, information quality, microfilming errors, and I will end with some of my favorite searching tips and tricks.