03 February 2012

US Census 101

Happy Season 3 of Who Do You Think You Are?!!! 
Really looking forward to tonight's episode :-)
"Martin Sheen, a longtime activist, sets out on a journey to find out if his ancestors shared his greatest passion. His search leads him to Ireland where he investigates his uncle's ties to the Irish Civil War and his devotion to activism. He continues his journey in Spain, where he uncovers another relative who also fought for social justice and was wrongfully imprisoned during Franco's fascist regime. As he continues to trace his Spanish roots back to the 1700s, he unearths an unexpected family secret." (from NBC press release) 

 Census Tip #1

Be open to different spellings of names.

I was helping someone once and found a census entry I was 99% sure was the correct family. The person I was attempting to help said it couldn't be them because they didn't spell their last name that way. This was on a popular Facebook page and no matter how many people agreed with me the person refused to believe it was their family. AAAAHHHH!!! 
Census enumerators had a lot of ground to cover and did not usually ask how to spell every name. In some cruel cases they didn't even bother with first names and just used initials but we won't go into that because it makes me want to throw things.
How would your ancestor have pronounced their own name? Remember that they may have pronounced your surname much differently than you do. Did your ancestor have an accent? Now imagine you're from a completely different part of the world than your ancestor. What does the name sound like to you? Gillespie could end up as Galespy, Villagran as Viagran or Hochstetler as Hostetler. Even without an accent some names may be difficult to determine and an enumerator may have asked how to spell them but many people couldn't spell their own names. So be flexible and creative when spelling names. 

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1 comment:

  1. There was also the issue I ran into in one area my family lived in. I found info that stated that the enumerator never went out and actually spoke to anyone for the census. He sat at home and in his office and did it all from memory since he knew all the families in his area. :( Well he did not appear to know them as well as he thought.
    There is also the fact that sometimes neighbors were allowed to answer the questions for a family if the enumerator stopped by and did not find them home. I have seen actual notes on census records that state that.