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Reader's Feedback:
Re: Beginning Lesson #9: Census Info

see also: Lesson #9 What to Do about Conflicting Information?

NOTE: Special thanks to Pat Bergener who has taken the time to share her talents with this article detailing more about census records! -- Myrt :)

From:  (Patricia M. Bergener)

I've been gaining a lot of help from your "beginning" lessons that have been sent out recently and I've been doing research for 20 years, but there is ALWAYS something to be learned. But some of the comments that readers have sent about census records have been bothering me. One is the assumption that parents gave the information to the census taker. 

It could just as easily been one of the older children, a servant who worked for and possibly lived with the household, a relative (parent or sibling of the head of household), or even a neighbor if there was no one at home when the census taker came by! Also, parents don't always give out the correct information when asked about their children's names and ages, especially if they had a whole "passell" of kids. (I frequently call one of my 5 daughters by the wrong name, particularly the youngest one.)

I was called upon to give an in-depth lesson about the census to the staff at our local Family History Center, and used several sources to gain information. I learned something that really set me back on my heels: 

-- There were two or more sets of the 1830 - 1885 enumerations. To make the additional sets, copies were made of the originals. Usually the original was kept at the county court and the copies were sent to the State and Secretary of the Interior. In 1880 the original went to the Federal Census Bureau and an abbreviated version to the county court. Wherever the copies went, they do contain transcription errors: whole names have been changed or omitted, ages copied wrong. The microfilm copies available through the FHLC are of the federal copies. Availability of originals at the county level must be determined on an individual county basis, a check of many county inventories by the WPA in the 1930s suggests that most county copies are lost, especially for 1850 & 1860. {The FHLC does have microfilm copies of the originals that were kept in Albany, New York.)

-- The 1870 census is considered one of the worst ever taken. The federal marshals were presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate, and usually chosen for their party affiliations. They were far too few in number to take an adequate census and, because of ill-will felt by the local populace to marshals, particularly in the south where the hated "carpetbaggers" were still in control, it is estimated that 1.2 million Southerners were missed, and in Utah and other areas heavily populated by "Mormons" where persecution of the church leaders for their practice of polygamy was aided by the census, there were numerous households that went uncounted. The attempted prosecution of Mormon leaders affected the 1880 census as well. 

The following are the sources that I used for information regarding the census:

-- Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920; William Thorndale & William Dollarhide; Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.; Baltimore, MD; pp ix - xxiii.

-- The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy; edited by Arlene Eakle & Johni Cerny; Ancestry Publishing Co.; Salt Lake City, UT; 1984; Chapter 4: Census Records, Arlene H. Eakle; pp 91-128.

-- Compendium of Historical Sources, The How and Where of American Genealogy; Ronald A. Bremer; Progenitor Genealogical Society, Inc.; Salt Lake City, UT; 1994; pp 268-277.

-- Federal Population Censuses, 1790-1890; National Archives Trust Fund Board; Washington, D.C.; 1979; pp vii-viii.

-- National Archives and Records Administration home page; 

Even vital records can be wrong. My daughter's death certificate has incorrect information on it and I was the one that supplied the info. I don't know if it is incorrect because of transcription errors or because of the severe emotional distress that I was in at the time! 

I have copies of death certificates on some of my relatives where the death date does not correspond with the date on the tombstone. Many tombstones are not erected until months, perhaps years, after the death of a loved one -- frequently because of the expense involved.

And obituaries can also be wrong, depending upon who supplied the information, and the emotional condition of that person at the time. Also, most newspapers charge for printing an obituary -- usually by the word. This was something else that I discovered when my daughter died. And it can help explain why some obituaries are only three or four lines, while others are several paragraphs long. 

Thanks for all the time you put into your newsletter and web site!
Pat B in Virginia Beach

PS - All my children were born at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, and we would prefer to be living in Washington! When we left in 1987, they were still including wind direction in all weather forecasts to give warning of possible ash fall. Do they still do that?
(Myrt's Note: Not sure, let's ask our readers!  Remember, while I have strong roots in the Seattle/Tacoma area, I live in sunny, hurricane-ridden Bradenton, Florida!)

To post a message on this topic, go to Myrt's Message Board 


1995-2009 Pat Richley HOME | Ask | Blog Right-click to copy RSS feed URL. Add to My Yahoo BookShelf | ContactLessons | Listen to Podcast media RSS feed
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