Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Census Search Techniques

As seasoned genealogists we are adept at using the census in our research. In fact, we know to start with the census. We know to follow our family lines back through the census, and we know about cluster genealogy, that families oftentimes traveled together.

At NGS last week we had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Jason B. Harrison, CGsm of Family Search explain additional strategies in census searches.

Jason reminded his audience that they might be searching the wrong name or wrong location. Their ancestor’s name could be misspelled, or information was given by a neighbor who was unsure of the spelling. There could be a transcription error, and/or the name could be illegible. Some techniques for dealing with these situations are:

  • In Ancestry’s search box, provide minimal information. Start with just the basics;
  • Try checking the “Exact Match” box;
  • Use surname and location only;
  • Do a Soundex search;
  • Use Wildcards.  A question mark (?) replaces one character, an asterisk (*) replaces zero or more characters;
  • Know your ancestors’ nicknames – for a listing go to Family Search Wiki
  • Search for middle names or initials – quite often first and middle names became interchangeable as the decades passed;
  • Leave out the name entirely and search on location, date/place of birth;
  • Search for other family members;
  • Search for a street address.  Utilize city directories for addresses; SteveMorse.org for Enumeration Districts;
  • Search neighbors.  If your family is missing in a census year, try searching their neighbors from the decade before. You family might still be there, just not indexed appropriately.
Although Jason had some great examples, my family provides a great one as well. I could not find my Nunn family in the 1900 census. I wonder why?

Joseph Nunn family indexed with surname "Joseph"

I don't blame the indexer for this one. The father, Joseph Nunn, had just died. He left his wife, Catherine, who had mental health issues and eight children, ranging in age from 13 years to one month. When the census enumerator arrived at their door, I am sure Catherine did not understand what was asked. When asked her last name she responded, "Nunn." They probably thought she said, "none."  When pressed, she gave her husband's name, Joseph. That is how the family is recorded. To find them I had to search on the neighbor's name of Lewis, which I only found when Elizabeth sued them in 1905. 

1 comment:

  1. So glad you found the Nunn family after all! Jason's presentation was one of the most practical sessions in a week of practical sessions. I'm going to try the wildcard technique for my Census-shy ancestors :)