Burning an Assumption

The 1880 Census for Harmony Township, Hancock County, Illinois, indicates a household headed by a U. Bruns is next to a household headed by an Ekke Burns.

One might be tempted to think that the census taker just got one of the last names wrong by transposing two letters. It’s best not to give into temptation and not to assume what error the census taker made until more research has been done.

U. Bruns’ last name was actually Bruns (his first name was Ubbe). Ekke Burns’ last name was actually Behrens. That last name was pronounced in such a way that to a speaker unfamiliar with the language it would have sounded like “Burns.” Consequently neighbor Ekke was not a probable son of his neighbor U. Bruns.

He was a son-in-law because Nanke Burns was a daughter of U. Bruns and his wife. But that is not indicated anywhere in this census entry and is only known from other records.

And what is really only known about the residence of the Bruns and Behrens families is that they were in the same township. There’s no guarantee that families whose enumerations were adjacent in the census record lived on adjacent farms without knowing the precise path the census taker took. It’s probable they lived near each other in Harmony Township, but there’s no guarantee of that.