Using Maps with the Census?

Are you using a map when you search the census for your ancestor? If you don’t have appropriate, contemporary to your census problem year maps, you could easily be making mistakes or looking in places that are not quite right.

With indexes, manual searches of the census are not always necessary (but sometimes they are). Maps though, are not optional. You need to know where locations are and how they fit together. Even if you think you know the location, get a map. In fact, making assumptions about locations can create a few brick walls.

Head of Household Might not be Oldest pre-1850

Just remember that in pre-1850 United States census records the oldest person might not necessarily be the head of the household. If a grandparent or parent is living with someone, they might be the oldest person enumerated while the person named as the head of the household is actually someone younger.

I think that’s the case with a family in Ohio that I’m working on for an issue of Casefile Clues.


Is the “unindexed” record “indexed?”

Are you using an 1820 census enumeration where the names appear to be listed in roughly alphabetical order?

Census takers and some tax collectors, in an attempt to be helpful, roughly sorted names by the first letter of the last name. The problem for genealogists is that this strips the record of all sense of neighborhood. Keep this in mind when you think all the “B”s in an area lived together. No group of people are that organized.


Go Back and Browse

With more and more records being indexed, it is tempting for some to quit searching when the index fails. Keep in mind that there are times where manual searching of a record is necessary. Indexes are not perfect and sometimes writing is extremely difficult to read.

The census is a good example. If you know where your ancestor lived and the index does not quickly locate him, search manually. If the relative was in a rural area, it may not take very long to page through a township or two in an attempt to find him. And in searching page by page, you may find other relatives in the process. In urban areas, you may be able to pinpoint your relative’s location down to a handful of enumeration districts. And learning more about where your ancestor lived and tracking his residences may help you research more than just locating him in the census.

Those of us who researched in the days before census indexes relied on manual searches when we first started.


Are they enumerated with just initials?

Some census takers were plain lazy, some couldn’t spell, and some didn’t care.

After you have exhausted all the variations on your ancestor’s first and middle names, consider that they might have been enumerated with just their initials. Or perhaps their first initial and their middle name spelled out. I have seen entire townships where no one apparently had a first name and everyone was named with their initials. I have seen locations where census takers used initials for non-English names instead of trying to spell them correctly.

Maybe your ancestor was enumerated as J. Smith in the 1860 census. Now there’s a real problem.