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.

Getting Past 1850

One of the biggest hangups for genealogists just getting started is working before the 1850 census. Try taking those pre-1850 enumerations and “practicing” on a family where you have already discovered the children’s names and ages with other records. See if the enumerations “fit.” Then expand your work to individuals where you don’t have as much information on the children. It helps to practice first.

Are You In Isolation?

Are you researching in complete isolation? Even if you cannot find relatives to bounce ideas off of, there are genealogy societies, mailing lists, message boards, online groups, and a variety of other ways you can interact with other genealogists. Don’t research in complete isolation. Discussing problems with other and sharing concerns is a great way to learn and expand your research.

Analyze Before you search

Are you analyzing that information you have before you start performing searches of online databases? If you have found a census enumeration for a family, have you estimated the year of birth for everyone in the household? Have you estimated the date of marriage for the suspected parents? These are good things to do before you start searching as it allows you to compare information.

Make a List

Before you start doing wildcard and other searches at an online database, make a complete list of all spelling variants. Use this list to decide what wildcard searches need to be conducted in order to not overlook any variants. Keep a written list of search options so that searches are not missed either.

Are you paying attention to the dates on those records?

Have you looked at the date the document was drawn up and the date it was recorded? Was there a delay? Is there any significance to the date a document was executed? Fit the record into the context of the family? Had a child just become of age? Had someone recently died? There might be a reason even if it is not clearly stated.

Have it re-researched?

Is it possible that the person who said they would do a quick “lookup” for you in a certain record didn’t really know what they were doing? Did they overlook it? Did they not consider all the spellings? Anyone can make a mistake. Might it be worth a second try?

Please don’t get me wrong, those who volunteer to do lookups do us a GREAT service, but since they are human, every once in a while they can overlook something.

Why did your ancestor “break” the rules?

If possible, learn why your ancestor “broke the rules” or went against tradition. I’m not certain why my wife’s Roman Catholic great-grandmother didn’t have her last two children christened as infants. She waited until they were nearly 7 and 8 which is unusual.

The baptisms were likely done then as she got married in a church ceremony a few weeks after her children were christened.

She could easily have had them christened at birth. They were born in Chicago in the 1910s—there would have been plenty of opportunities.

If you could ask 1,000 genealogists…

If you could ask 1,000 genealogists a question, what would it be? Casefile Clues, Genealogy Tip of the Day Sponsor, is going to survey up to 1,000 genealogists and is looking for question ideas.

More information about the survey can be found here:


Results will be posted publicly on the site.