My title is one of those adages I remember my father saying in my childhood. Dad wasn’t teaching me genealogy, but that lesson definitely should be applied to using the census. What were the instructions for the census taker, anyway?
Every ten years, enumerators knocked on doors and asked questions of the inhabitants of the houses. They filled in the responses on a one-page form. Before they began their duties, they were trained and given voluminous instructions.
For example, the 194 instructions to the 1910 census fill 11 pages. Regarding nativity and mother tongue, instruction #123 states “If the person was born abroad, but of American parents, write in column 12 both the birthplace and Am. cit.-that is, American citizen. If the person was born at sea, write At sea.”
A 1930 instruction regarding occupations states “Builders and contractors-Only persons engaged principally in securing and supervising the carrying out of building or other construction contracts should be returned as builders or contractors. Craftsmen who usually work with their tools should be returned as carpenters, plasterers, etc., and not as contractors.”
For the 1850 census there’s a specific instruction for men of the cloth, “When the individual is a clergyman, insert the initials of the denomination to which he belongs before his profession - as Meth. for Methodist, R.C. for Roman Catholic, O.S.P. for Old School Presbyterian, or other appropriate initials, as the fact may be.” That little notation may help you find a church record when you research the name of the clergyman on your ancestor’s marriage record.
The enumerators were given detailed instructions as to just what sorts of responses were acceptable. If you want to understand what they wrote, you need to understand what they were allowed to write as a suitable answer. A wonderful website, IPUMS, the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, holds lists of all the census questions and instructions for the US Federal Census from 1850 through 2000 and beyond. You can find it at https://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/tEnumForm.shtml. It will provide answers to questions you never knew you had.
Before you look at any census, be sure to read the instructions!
“Miss Rosella Graham, daughter of A. D. Graham of El Verano, was run down by a team of horses Tuesday while riding a bicycle. She is still suffering for the effects of the injuries, which will not prove fatal.”
Thank goodness those injuries did not prove fatal. Rosella, was my great aunt, and I have fond childhood memories of all 4’11” of this little old lady. She joined the Bradley family when she married my grandmother’s brother, Hilary Bradley, in 1913. Rose died in 1985, somewhere in her mid- to late-90s. It’s not clear exactly how old she was, because when she married Hilary, she was at least a few years older than he. She didn’t want anyone to know, so she burned, buried or otherwise destroyed any evidence, lying about her age… until she hit 90, when it because something of a status symbol to have lived so long. By then she wanted to take full advantage of the respect accorded to such a venerable character and she raised her age by 2 (or 3) years between the birthday celebrations.
I’m visiting California for “The Bradley Picnic,” a reunion of the Bradley family. I came a few days early and my dear sister, Diane, who knows how passionate I am about my genealogy, offered to drop me off at the Santa Rosa library while she ran some errands. Talk about hog heaven! And scrolling through newspapers, I found the above article about the bicycle and the horses.
At our picnic yesterday, I mentioned it to Rose’s granddaughter and her husband, Mary and Len. Mary recalled the story, remembering seeing evidence of the injury years later, a “hole” in Rose’s thigh that never quite healed. The story as Mary recalled was that Rose was hit by a car, not a team of horses. Rose never placed any blame on the driver, saying it was her own fault for riding into the road right in front of the vehicle. But the cool part of the story was the identity of the driver. Not mentioned in the newspaper, but according to Rose (well Mary’s recollection of what Rose told her), it was none other than Jack London. Rose reported that Jack London had the first automobile in Sonoma.
After the party ended, I spent a little time trying to research this. Could it have been Jack London? He certainly was in town that week, and he loved his horses. The Press Democrat from 9 June 1905, reported that London had recently ridden from Sonoma to Santa Rosa to see his good friend, Luther Burbank. “Frequently during the last two or three months, Mr. London and Miss Kittredge have enjoyed horseback rides all over the Sonoma Valley and to Santa Rosa, Altruria and other places. Both are passionately fond of horseback riding.” A few years later he spoke about his Sonoma farm to a reporter for the Sacramento Union, “’I’ve the finest lot of horses over there you’d see anywhere… just see’ – he rolled up the sleeve of his right arm and proudly exhibited a rigid muscle – ‘got that from driving a four-horse team. I’ve sailed a bit in my time and done other hard work, but I never developed that muscle until I took to driving. It’s great.’”
I searched the newspapers to see if I could confirm a story about London owning an automobile but I found nothing. A man of his means could very well have had the first auto in the town. Maybe London was driving an auto and spooked a horse-drawn wagon causing the collision with Rosella. But it’s also clear London enjoyed driving a team of horses. So maybe Rose did collide with Jack. And knowing me, this is probably not the end of my research into this story. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m sure glad I found that article about Rose and the bicycle just in time for the Bradley picnic and the opportunity to hear a bit more about it from her granddaughter. Do you have a family story about a celebrity? Have you proved it or disproved it? Feel free to post a comment below and tell me your story.
 Petaluma Morning Courier, 3 June 1905, page 4, col. 3
 Press Democrat, 9 June 1905, page 7, col. 2
 “Jack London Fulfills His Youthful Vows With Sutter Fort Pilgrimage,” Sacramento Union, 9 December 1912, page 1 col 5 and page 3 col. 5
I recently presented “Censational Census Strategies” for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. In it, I mentioned the second enumeration to the 1870 census.
The 1870 census is purported to be the worst US census ever taken. There were enough people missed and enough errors that a second enumeration was ordered for a few large cities, including New York City. This second enumeration was taken in January of 1871. How can you find this second enumeration?
If you have an Ancestry.com subscription, you can do a search for the 1870 census. Once you get there, on the right side of the screen you will see "Browse this collection" and you can specify your state (NY) county (NY) and then use the dropdown for the town and you will see something like: “New York Ward 1 District 1,” then ”New York Ward 1 District 1 (2nd Enum).” You can then browse through the pages. However, you may not know the Enumeration District (ED.)
If you don’t have an Ancestry.com subscription, you may have access to HeritageQuest databases from home using your library card. This is one of the databases many libraries provide to their patrons, for free, from home. Look on your library’s website for something like “Research“ or “Databases” and then for a Genealogy or History category. Again, if you don’t know your ancestor’s ED, this might not be so useful.
I would suggest you just do a straight up name search for your ancestor, and try to find them on both enumerations. If you can only find them on one, pick 3 or 4 neighbors on that enumeration, and then look for them on the other enumeration, and see if you can't find your ancestor. Hope that helps!
When you’ve found your family on the census, do you look at the last page in their Enumeration District (ED)? Maybe you should.
When the census enumerator completed his rounds and had a list of every name in the district, often he had to make a copy. But what if he missed a name when rewriting the list? He might have listed all those missing names at the end of the ED.
You can get to these final pages of an ED on Ancestry by looking at image numbers. Here’s an image from an ED in San Bruno, San Mateo, California in 1940.
You can navigate to any image within this ED simply by typing the image number in the box at the bottom. You can see I’m on Image 54 or 55, so right near the end. Look carefully at this page, and you will see that the third and fourth columns, “House No.” and “Visited No.” are quite out of order. Almost everyone on this page “belonged” in a household which was enumerated on a previous page. Perhaps the enumerator forgot to write them down on his original list and had to “catch up” at the end.
If you are using FamilySearch for your census images, you also have an option to select a particular image in the set.
Some enumerators even used the last page of their counts to write some notes about what they encountered while performing their census duties.
Make sure to check the last pages for all the enumeration districts you look at. You just never know what you might see there!
For more census tips, check out my "Censational Census Strategies" webinar on Legacy Family Tree webinars, or look for the category "Census" here on my blog.
I wrote a blog post in February, “No Image Available? Maybe There is One!” In it, I described searching on FamilySearch and coming with a hit on an index record, complete with the dreaded “No image available” message. I outline a workaround where sometimes you can find the image on FamilySearch.
A similar situation sometimes happens with an Ancestry.com search. I recently found a result on Ancestry for an 1885 Iowa census record.
In my search for John Goodall, I got this screen on Ancestry. Note the “No Image – Text-only Collection” notation on the top left. But near to the bottom are two important notations – “Family History Film: 1021457” and a few lines above that “Page Number: 363.” Let’s see what I can find on FamilySearch!
On familysearch.org/catalog/search, I typed the film number in the box labeled “Film/Fiche Number” and clicked “Search.”
I got one result.
When I clicked on “State census, 1885” I got a couple of options.
Where it says “Records of Iowa State Census, 1885 are available online, click here” I clicked and entered John Goodall and Crawford in the name and residence boxes. My first hit looked like the one I was looking for:
When I clicked on the document icon, I get a transcription of the record, a source citation, and a link to the census image.
Here's the image
In this case, FamilySearch had the “Records of Iowa State Census, 1885 are available online, click here” button, which took me to a search page. If they hadn’t had that direct link, I could have scrolled further down the “State Census, 1885” page until I got to film number 1021457.
Again, with the magnifying glass image, I was able to search the film, but even without the search capability, the presence of the camera icon is a clue that I can browse the records. I’ll be linked to the correct film and will just need to poke around until I find page 363.
Note that sometimes when you click on the camera icon, you’ll get a message that the records are only available for viewing at a Family History center. It all depends on the agreement that FamilySearch has with the agency who owns the records. I like to save these searches up, and monthly or so make a trip to my local Family History Center and look at all the images I can’t get from home.
But remember, when you’re searching on Ancestry and they won’t show you the record image, if you see a reference to a “Family History Film” follow my steps and see if you can find the image on FamilySearch. For free, even! Score!!!
Say what?!!! I’d never heard the word “Yeomanette” before today. But, with highway projects, lane closures, and the Pride Parade in Seattle today, my husband and I decided to take the ferry home from our weekend getaway, rather than driving. And that set me off on a whole new research adventure. As we pulled into the ferry waiting area in Bremerton we noticed the “Navy Museum” right next door. Neither of us had ever been and we had a few minutes to kill before the boat arrived.
It’s a charming little museum, with an exhibit on aircraft carriers on the second floor and an exhibit about the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on the ground floor. And that’s where I learned a new word, "Yeomanettes." During World War I, the shipyard’s workforce grew from 1,500 in 1916 to over 6,500 by late 1918. Many of these new hires were women who worked in offices as clerical personnel as well as in the shops and docks. These Yeomanettes “filled navy clerical shortages and received the same pay as their male predecessors.”
As part of the exhibit, the museum has displayed the uniform of Gertrude (McGowan) Madden, along with a group photo of Gertrude and a couple dozen of her colleagues. I admit I the type of genealogist who, when she sees a person’s name on an exhibit, I am compelled to then do some sort of research. Who was she? Where was she from? What can I find?
And true to my addiction, I came home and set to work to discover a little about Yeomanette Gertrude McGowan. She was the middle of three daughters and a son of Irish immigrant Michael McGowan and his wife, Mary. On the 1920 census, Gertrude, a typist, and her older sister, Elizabeth, a clerk, both worked at the navy yard, along with their father who was an inspector there.  Gertrude lived to the ripe old age of 95. Quite something.
As I researched her more, I found a BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) death file indicating Gertrude indeed enlisted in the Navy 19 October 1917 and was discharged 2 August 1919. I suspect she wore this uniform with pride. Thank you for your service, Gertrude.
Any other fellow geeks out there compelled to research those random folks you find on your travels? I’d love to hear your story. Reply in the comments below.
 Text of exhibit at the Navy Museum, Bremerton, Washington. 25 June 2017
 "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHFJ-RPW : accessed 26 June 2017), Gertrude Mcgowan in household of Michiel Mcgowan, Bremerton Ward 4, Kitsap, Washington, United States; citing ED 52, sheet 12A, line 6, family 273, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1931; FHL microfilm 1,821,931.
 Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011. Number: 348-30-0914; Issue State: Illinois; Issue Date: 1953-1955. Accessed 25 June 2017
 Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
I’ve recently been searching for a family with the surname “Thomas” and discovered a quirk with Ancestry’s search filters. Ancestry does not appear to be using a Soundex system for name searches.
Soundex is a code based on the first letter of the surname and the next three consonants. Consonants are divided up into six groups of letters that sound similar to each other. Vowels and the letters “H,” “W,” and “Y” are not considered in the Soundex system unless they fall at the beginning of a name. So two names with the same consonants in the same order should be found on a search.
I was searching the 1940 census on Ancestry for Cordelia THOMAS born in Nebraska. I could not come up with her. I finally had to resort to a first-name only search and use some additional first names of other people I expected to see in the household. With that grouping of names, I eventually hit upon Roy THOAMS and family.
When I looked at the census image for the family, the enumerator wrote THOMAS – however the indexer for Ancestry transposed the “M” and “A” and indexed it as THOAMS.
THOMAS and THOAMS have the same consonants in the same order. In a true Soundex system, they would be indexed in the same group of names. But Ancestry does not always put them together. I have found dozens and dozens of THOMAS families indexed as THOAMS. And in my spot check of people listed with the surname THOAMS in Ancestry, every single one I looked at on the census was a THOMAS.
A couple of takeaways –
If you know other family members in the household, try searching just by first name. Unfortunately, I don’t always know other household members.
Remember that Ancestry doesn’t use a straight-up Soundex. You might have to think of alternate ways to spell even simple surname. And be sure to consider transposition errors.
if you are interested in more strategies for finding people on the census, check out my "Censational Census Strategies" talk. You can see when I'll be giving it presentation schedule on the "Lectures" tab of my website.
I love teaching! It’s great to be able to share what I know, and a wonderful bonus when one of my students teaches me something.
About a year ago I wrote a blog post, “Spreadsheet Magic - Importing Data from Ancestry.com.” Importing data from a website into an Excel spreadsheet can give you the chance to play around with it, make notes, and manipulate the data to help to see patterns and find more about your ancestors. I demonstrated this at a recent presentation I gave at King County Libraries, and Marvin, one of my students, taught me a new trick. Seems my way of importing is “so 2016.” There a new tool on the block, Power Query, that whittles the importing process down to one quick step.
Power Query is a Microsoft tool, included as part of Excel 2016 and available as a downloadable add-on for Excel 2010 and Excel 2013. You can download it here:
Once you install Power Query on your computer, it will show as a new tab on the Ribbon at the top of your Excel Window. When you open that tab, you will see several icons. In the left most section, “Get External Data,” there is an icon, “From Web” which will allow you to import data quickly from a web page.
I am curious why my husband’s Irish immigrant ancestors settled in Madison County, Ohio in the early 1850s. If I research some of the early Irish settlers in that community, those who were born in Ireland and lived in Madison County by 1850, I may find one who was from the same place as Mark’s great-great grandfather, Bartley Roddy. I’d like to do a search on Ancestry to find a list of these people, and then use a spreadsheet to track and study them and record my research notes.
I did a search on Ancestry for everyone born in Ireland and living in Madison County, Ohio listed on the 1850 census.
I could type all that data in, but it would take me quite a bit of time to record all 130 names. But with Power Query, I can copy the URL from the top of the page and get a direct import of the first 50 names. (For the remaining names, I can copy the URLs for the second and third pages of results, and repeat the process explained below)
To do the import, open up the Power Query tab, click on the “From Web” icon, and a pop-up window appears with a box where you can paste in the URL you copied from your Ancestry search.
Click OK. A new pop-up appears where you can click on “Table 0” and the “Load” icon at the bottom.
And voila!!!! An Excel table I can sort, filter, and manipulate to my heart’s content with space to record my findings. I’m going to crack those Roddy origins, yet!
Have fun importing web searches of your own. And thank you, Marvin, and all my other class participants who have taught this teacher such great stuff!
My family tree grew another leaf today. Pardon my inattention to my blog while I hold this bundle of joy, Leila Rose Roddy. I'll be back next week....
So you’ve found your relative on FindaGrave. And there’s even a picture of the grave marker. Score! But could there be another relative buried nearby with no marker, or with an illegible stone? As far as I’ve been able to tell, many FindAGrave memorials are created because someone walked through the cemetery and wrote down the graves that they could see. Nothing to see - no memorial. So of course, you’ll want to contact the cemetery sexton or other official to see if the cemetery has records on who else might be buried in the plot or elsewhere in the cemetery, perhaps in an unmarked or illegible grave.
I have not had great success in googling the cemetery to get contact details for the sexton. Yes, I can perhaps get a satellite image of the cemetery, and probably a link back to FindAGrave, but no contact information.
And then I got an idea. Who would have reliable contact information for a cemetery official? Why, the local funeral home, of course! If the cemetery is still taking new burials, the local funeral home is certain to know how to get in contact with someone in charge of the graveyard. Just do a Google search for funeral homes in your town of interest, and give ‘em a call. They’ll point you to the cemetery director and you’ll be on your way to getting your questions answered about just who might be buried there.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.