A Copy is a Copy is a Coyp
When we are looking at a census image, the tendency is to imagine what we see is the original data the enumerator wrote on the form. But the census we see might just as easily be a copy of the worksheet an enumerator carried door to door as he went on his rounds.[i] And when information is copied from one form to another, the opportunity for errors creeps in.
Here is an image from the household of Douglas Church in Sonoma Township, Sonoma County, California. The household, listed on lines 12-16, consists of 5 people. Though the 1870 census does not list relationships, it appears to be a family – head Douglas, wife Margaret, daughter Anna and son James along with a teenage girl, Mary Laughlin, perhaps helping out as a domestic servant.[ii]
But as I look closer at the census, something doesn’t make sense. Douglas is born in Pennsylvania and Margaret and Anna are both born in California, but little baby James is born in England. Wow – so in 1869, a family in California packed up, crossed a continent and an ocean to England, had a baby and then decided they didn’t like the climate and returned to California? And if you keep looking at this census, and you might notice how precocious young James Church is as well – he attended school within the year!
Back to the copy business… it appears to me that the biographical details attributed to little James – birthplace of England, parents of foreign birth, and attendance at school – belong to the girl listed one line below him, Mary Laughlin. I suspect enumerator Alonzo Walker might have mixed up some of the details when he copied the names and tick marks to another form.
I spent a lot of time looking for my great-grandmother’s cousin, Mary Lockren, in Sonoma County in 1870. I was looking for a 14-year-old girl born in England, not one born in California. But when you run out of options, you need to expand your net. I found myself willing to look at a record with an entirely wrong birthplace and I believe I found my girl. And I learned a valuable lesson – don't assume those census copies are ever 100% accurate.
[i] Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright, Ancestry.com Wiki (https://www.ancestry.com/wiki/index.php?title=Overview_of_the_U.S._Census : accessed 16 August 2016), “Overview of the U.S. Census”
[ii] 1. 1870 U.S. census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Norfolk, p. 36, dwelling 281, family 233, Douglas and Margaret Church; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 August 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 91.
8/18/2016 02:47:09 am
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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.