Monday, January 29, 2018

52 Ancestors – In the Census

1900 Population Schedule for Manhattan, NY
When beginning genealogy research, we are told to start with ourselves. And then the next step is to go to the census—a most important tool. By following the census back every ten years, we learn different things about our ancestors. The census wasn’t taken with genealogy research in mind. It was taken for congressional representation. Over time added to that was information the government wanted to know about its citizens, i.e. where our ancestors lived, how their families grew, if they rented or owned their dwelling, if they had a radio, their month and date of birth, whether they were naturalized or not, when they entered the country, and on and on. All good information for genealogists.

There are other less known census that I admit I have not taken advantage of—Agriculture, Defective, Dependent, Delinquent classes, Mortality Schedules, Veterans Schedules, Social Statistics Schedules to name a few.

We are also instructed to put on our creativity hat when searching the census. Census takers were human. They did the best they could in their best handwriting, which often left a lot to be desired. When coming upon a name that was foreign to them, and if the person being asked couldn’t spell it for them, they wrote down what they heard. Remember that the person providing the information might be a neighbor or a child who didn’t know information about the family.

And that brings me to my census dilemma. My maiden name was Nunn. When the census taker in 1900 Manhattan asked for the last name – they heard “none.” “Well, you gotta have a name.”

For years I could not find the Joseph Nunn family in the 1900 census. Not until I learned the name of one of their neighbors. In checking that name, I finally found my family. When the census taker gave up getting a last name, he must have asked for the husband’s name. (Joseph was deceased at this point). The informant said, “Joseph.” So the Nunn family in the 1900 NYC census is listed in a scribbled over so it can barely be read is – Joseph Catherine. (Last name is indexed as Joseph). Listed below was my grandfather and his siblings. Yes!!

I ran into the same problem in the 1940 census when my grandfather’s sibling, Joseph Nunn was listed with the last name of “Joseph.” So he is listed as Joseph Joseph. Not much progress, right? But a reminder to think outside the box when doing census research.

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