When you’re looking for someone on the census, and you can’t find them, but you know they MUST be there, be willing to expand your search a little. You can expand the age range. You can expand the geographic parameters. And maybe, when all else fails, try to expand your gender possibilities. Such was how I finally found my great-grandmother, Frances Springer.
I was pretty sure the family had to be in Onondaga County. The record in her bible said that my great-grandmother, Frances Abelone Springer was born in Liverpool, New York on 13 February, 1857. Her father’s Civil War draft registration from June, 1863 indicates he was living in Salina, Onondaga, New York. The family should be pretty easy to find on the 1860 census, right?
Part of my problem might have been the names and the date of death for Johannes. The family genealogy done by a distant cousin (not sourced, of course) showed my great-great grandfather as Johannes Springer, born 1835, died Oct 3, 187_ at age 42, married to Louisa Caroline Hartman, born June 3, 1836. And I think at one time I had heard that my great-great grandmother was known as Caroline (but in retrospect, I think I must have been under a wrong impression. My bad.)
In any event I looked for Johannes and Louisa and their daughter, Frances, in the 1860 and 1870 census, and try as I might I couldn’t come up with the family. But then I found the Civil War registration for John Springer, and I knew they had to be somewhere in Onondaga County, so I expanded my search. Often when I can’t find a family in the census under the parents’ details, I look for the children.
There are several reasons this trick works for me. For example, an adult of age 30-ish could “look” somewhere between 25 and 40, a 15 year spread. But a three year old child is not likely to be listed as age 1 or age 10. She might show up as age 2, 3, 4 or maybe 5, a considerably more precise age than her parents.
Place of birth is easier to pin down, as well. Perhaps the parents were born in “Germany.” But the census might show Bavaria, Hannover, Germany,… who knows. But with the child who is only 2 or 3 years old, she is likely - not certainly, but likely - to be living near where she was born, and appear on the census with a birthplace near where she was living. So if I know my great-grandmother was born in Liverpool, NY in 1857, she’s probably going to show up as born in NY on the 1860 census.
So I begin to look for a 3-year-old girl, Frances Springer and there are none to be found in Onondaga. OK, maybe try the middle name, Abelone. Maybe she’s Abby or some variant. Nope. But… but… but, they HAVE to be there (says the genealogist, stamping her foot!) So… maybe Johannes is something else… hmmmm…. John? And could I let go of the “Caroline” and try Louisa?
In 1860 I did find a family, John and Louisa, both born in Germany, and their 2-year-old son, Frank. A son. Not my family.
Then I checked the 1865 New York state census. John and Louisa Springer, both born in Germany, and now three children appear – sons, Frank and Charley and daughter, Amelia. My great-grandmother had a brother, Charles, and a sister, Amelia. This is looking more like my family, but my great-grandmother is still a boy. Interestingly, the household enumerated immediately prior to John and Louisa on the 1865 census is headed by a Nicholas Springer, born in Germany. And finally, on the 1870 census, Louisie Springer is the head of household (that family genealogy I talked about earlier was wrong – John died in 1864) with her three children. Nicholas Springer, again, is right next to her on the census. And her children are now two daughters, Francis and Mina (Amelia) and only one son, Charles.
Why all the confusion? Maybe my great-great grandmother told the census taker her child’s name was Franke in her German accent, and the enumerators assumed Frank must be a boy. I don’t know… but I’m glad she finally turned out to be a girl, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to tell this tale.
So, when you’re stuck and can’t find that family on the census… Hey, babe. Take a walk on the wild side. Maybe that she was a he. On the census, anyway.
 Die Bibel, gift to Frances Springer from her mother, December 1872, in possession of Mary Kircher Roddy, Seattle, Washington
 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshall General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record group: 110, Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War); Collecioin Name: Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865 (Civil War Union Draft Records); ARC Identifier: 4213514; Archive Volume Number: 3 of 3. Record for John Springer, 23rd Congressional District, Salina, Onondaga, New York. Accesses from Ancestry.com
 Year: 1860; Census Place: Salina, Onondaga, New York; Roll: M653_829; Page: 99; Image: 18; Family History Library Film: 803829, household of John Springer, family #106
 "New York State Census, 1865," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVNJ-NRGX : accessed 13 July 2016), John Springer, District 01, Salina, Onondaga, New York, United States; citing source p. 29, line 19, household ID 214, county clerk, board of supervisors and surrogate court offices from various counties. Utica and East Hampton Public Libraries, New York; FHL microfilm 860,900.
 FindAGrave memorial for John Sprenger, date of death 3 October 1864, Find A Grave Memorial# 23987756.
 Year: 1870; Census Place: Salina, Onondaga, New York; Roll: M593_1061; Page: 622A; Image: 81217; Family History Library Film: 552560, household 108
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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.