Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips on Census

The Eleventh Census of the United States taken in June 1890 would have provided a wonderful study of our country if available today. Over 47,000 enumerators usually chosen by political appointment, distributed the schedules in advance to give the residents time to complete the forms. Once completed the population of the US topped over 62 million individuals.

Shortly before publication in 1896, the original 1890 special schedules for mortality, crime, pauperism and benevolence, special classes, and portions of the transportation and insurance schedules were damaged and finally destroyed by the Department of the Interior. According to a 1903 census clerk the general population schedules seemed to be in good shape at that time. However, disaster struck in the afternoon of January 10, 1921, when a building fireman reported seeing smoke in the Commerce Building where the schedules were located in the basement. The fire department was called and the fire was contained to the basement level of the building. However, water flooded most of the area. After the fire was extinguished, no immediate surveys were done of the damage. The records were allowed to remain soaking in water overnight and the next morning when the damage was assessed, the census director, Sam Rogers sent a note to the Secretary of Commerce reporting:

...a cursory examination show that the census schedules from 1790 to and including 1870, with the exception of those for 1830 and 1840, are on the fifth floor of the Commerce Building and have not been damaged. The schedules of the censuses of 1830, 1840, 1880, 1900 and 1910 have been damaged by water, and it is estimated that ten percent of these schedules will have to be opened and dried and some of them recopied. These schedules were located in the basement in a vault considered at the time to be fire and waterproof, but the archivist discovered a small broken pane of glass, which allowed water to seep in damaging the schedules located in low shelves."

The 1890 schedule did not fair as well as it was located outside the vault. Approximately 25 percent of these schedules have been destroyed and it is estimated the 50 per cent of the remainder have been damaged by water, smoke and fire.

The cause of the 1921 fire was never determined. Although some speculate that a worker in the basement was smoking and set off the blaze, others believe that bundles of papers spontaneously combusted causing the blaze.

The remaining schedules of the 1890 census abandoned by the government, survived for many years. Rumors speculated that Census Director Sam Rogers had recommended that the schedules be destroyed. The public and historians were outraged and began a letter writing campaign which resulted in everyone being told that the records were NOT going to be destroyed and plans were being made to provide a suitable archive. In May of 1921, the census remained in temporary storage and the new census director William Steuart reported that they would gradually deteriorate, so they were returned to the census building for storage at his order.

Ten years would pass and finally in December of 1932, the Chief clerk of the Bureau of Census sent the Librarian of Congress a list of papers to destroy. Included in the list was Item 22, "Schedules, Population-1890, Original." The librarian gave the OK to destroy these records including the 1890 Census Schedule. Congress authorized the destruction. Sadly, just one day before Congress authorized the destruction of the census, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the permanent National Archives building.

Many researchers fail to realize that some of the original schedules still exists. In 1942 during the move to the new building, a bundle of the Illinois schedules appeared during a shipment. In 1953, more fragments were discovered including those from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and the District of Columbia. The remnants of the 1890 census have been filmed and are available through many sources. There are only three rolls of microfilm containing the records. Only about 6,000 names are listed on these precious pieces of our past.

According to the National Archives, the ONLY surviving U.S. census records for 1890 are as follows:
ALABAMA-Perry County; two precincts only.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA-two precincts only.
GEORGIA-part of Muscogee County- town of Columbus only
ILLINOIS-only one precinct in McDonough Co.
MINNESOTA-Rockford precinct in Wright Co.
NEW JERSEY-Jersey City in Hudson Co.
NEW YORK-two townships in two counties: Westchester and Suffolk.
NORTH CAROLINA-two townships in Gaston Co, and one in Cleveland Co.
OHIO-Cincinnati in Ellis Co, and Wayne township in Clinton Co.
SO DAKOTA-one township in Union Co.
TEXAS-three precinct is Ellis Co, one in Hood Co, parts of two precincts in Rusk, two in Trinty Co, and one in Kaufman.

In 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, census enumerators were directed to secure in addition to the usually required census data, information as to all persons dying within the 12 months preceding the census taking. These lists became known as the "Mortality Schedules".

SOUNDEX FOR 1880, 1900, 1910, & 1920:
These 4 sets of records were turned over to the States in 1918-19 and those few states that did not want them had theirs sent to the National DAR Library who in 1980 turned them back over to the National Archives. These are not on the same roll of film as the regular census records and must be consulted on either microfilm or in the location at the state level where they were deposited. NYS Mortality Schedules are at the State Library. The type of information typically found in Mortality Schedules is the name of the person, his age, sex, state of birth, month of death and cause of death. The 1880 schedules also included the state of birth of each parent of the deceased, but not their names.

To find an individual name among the millions listed in the 1880, 1900, 1910 (Only 21 States were indexed in 1910, New York not included) or 1920 Census records you must use the Soundex. The 1880 Soundex was limited and only indexed families that contained children under the age of ten. If the child was not a child of head of house hold, he and the family were indexed on separate cards.

A Soundex code is a four character representation based on the way a name sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Theoretically, using this system, you should be able to index a name so that it can be found no matter how it was spelled. The WPA used the Soundex coding system in the 1930s to do a partial indexing on 3x5 cards of the 1880 (all households with a child age 10 or younger) and 1900 censuses and a nearly full indexing of the 1910 (not all states completed) and 1920 (not yet released to the public) censuses. The Soundex indexes of the 1880, 1900 and 1910 census records are available on microfilm at the National Archives (and its branches) and many libraries or other archives these microfilms also can be purchased from the National Archives. The names are arranged on the Soundex indexes by first letter, then numerically within that letter, then alphabetically by the first name of the head of household within each different Soundex code. There is usually a separate card for each individual within the household whose surname is different from that of the head of household. Besides telling where the original record can be found, the microfilmed Soundex cards give basic information about each person in the household, such as place of residence, age, sex, relationship to head of household, state born, state where parents were born, etc. However, all of the information that is contained in the original census records is not included.

The Soundex Code consists of the first letter of the surname followed by 3 numbers. These numbers are figured according to the Soundex coding guide listed below.

SOUNDEX CODING GUIDE - The number represents the letters.
1 - B P F V
2 - C S K G J Q X Z
3 - D T
4 - L
5 - M N
6 - R

Disregard the letters A E I O U W Y H.

Most surnames can be coded using the following 4 steps. See the three special easy rules below that apply for surnames with double letters, letters side by side that have the same number on the Soundex Coding Guide, or surnames that have prefixes:

Step 1 - On line 1, write the surname you are coding.

Step 2 - On line 2, write just the first letter of the surname.

Step 3 - On line 1, disregard the first letter and slash through the remaining letters A, E, I, O, U, W, Y, and H.

Step 4 - On line 2, write the numbers found on the Soundex Coding Guide for the first three remaining un-slashed letters Note: Since there must be three numbers, use only the first three code numbers in long names.

Names that have less than 3 code numbers, simply add "Zeros" to the end to obtain your three numbers.

If your surname has double letters, they should be treated as one letter. Slash out the second "r" in the name "Burrows" and the second "l" in Lloyd.

If your surname has letters side by side that happen to have the same number from the Soundex Coding Guide, keep only the first letter and slash out the remaining side by side letters that have the same code.

Slash out the "K" and the "S" in the name "Jackson" It does not matter where the side by side letters are located. Even if the first two letters of the name such as "Pfister", the f would be slashed out.

If your surname has a prefix such as Van, Von, De, Di, or Le the Soundex Code should be figured both with and without the prefix because it might be listed under either code. (Mc and Mac are not considered prefixes).

Thus, variations in spellings or misspellings should produce the same code number:
SMITH = S530
SMYTH = S530

Note, however, that some names which are pronounced essentially the same produce different codes. An example is the "tz" sound in German names, which is normally pronounced the same as "ce" or "se." Also, the German "B" is often pronounced as the English "P." Thus the German name Bentz could be spelled that way or as Benz, Bens, Bents, Bennss, Bense, Bennss, Bants and Banz, or as Penz, Pentz, Pence, Pens, Pense, Penz, Pents, Penns, Pense, Penze, Pentze, etc. It has been found in census record indexes under all of these - and more. Remember: Those making the index have as hard a time reading the handwriting of census takers as we do. They will sometimes mistake an script "z" as a "y" and record Penty instead of Pentz, or mistake a "c" for an "e" and record Penee, for examples. Therefore, to make sure you don't miss finding your ancestor, you may have to look under a half dozen or more different Soundex codes:
BENTZ (and equivalents) = B532
PENTZ (and equivalents) = P532
PENZ (and equivalents) = P520
BENTY (and equivalents) = B530
PENTY (and equivalents) = P530
PENEE = P500

Think through the possible variant spellings (and misspellings and misreadings) of the surname you are searching before concluding that it can't be found in the Soundex listings. Use your imagination. No mistake is beyond possibility! For instance, the name Pence has been indexed as Peirce (the reader mistook the written letter "n" for an "i-r" combination) and vice versa.

NOTE: A researcher found that some names of men who were Sr. (as in John Jones, Sr.) have been filed under the Soundex code of S600 for Sr. instead of the codes for their actual last names. So if any of you have trouble finding your Sr.'s, try S600.

An unknown soundex rule that may effect about 1% of population. It is: "that if two or more equivalent key letters appear separated by an h or w, the two or more letters are encoded as one letter, i.e., by a single number." Example: Ashcroft correctly encoded is A261, NOT A226 produced "by Soundex rules which omit the unknown rule." Another example given was for the surname SCHKLAR...Correct Soundex code is S460, not S246....last example: ACHZEHNER is A256 not A225. According to a recent article, even the NARA Soundex machine does not use this rule.

In the census returns that show the birthplace of an individual and the birth place of the individual's parents, much circumstantial evidence is present to the family structure. If it shows the mother of the household's place of birth as New York but the place of the birth of some or all of the children's mother as Massachusetts, one can start making other assumptions as to how many wives the husband had and which children if not all might be from another marriage.

The presence of an elderly person in the household of the same surname might indicate a parent, aunt or uncle of the husband. If the surname is different, it might be a mother or father-in-law and watch out for the remarriages of this newly found grandma before jumping to the conclusions that you have discovered a maiden name for the wife.

Always take note of the families nearby (census takers usually took the houses in order that they were situated) and also take note of any families that are housing one person of your surname of interest. The data you transcribe in doing this will very often reap rewards of family connections later down the line. Take note of the places of birth of your family and the other families in the area with the same origins whether it be the same state or the same country. You will often find people moved in groups or invited friends and relatives from their former home to join them.

Taking note of the places of birth of all the children can tell a story of family movement and judging from the length of time they lived in a particular area (perhaps 3 children were born in Vermont over a 10 year period) one can determine whether or not a search for a deed or other documents in that area would be worthwhile.

The education of a family can be determined from the number in the family who can read and write and if the children did or did not attend school.

The value of property and other monetary facts might give you a clue as to whether a will or other estate papers might be found. It could also help you determine whether they might be mentioned in a local history.

Due to the fact that federal census enumeration was not done until 1790, a large gap is open in American History and other records must be used for the colonial period. Ear census records give far less information than those taken in 1850 and later. Many families were missed completely and some were listed twice during enumeration because of the length of time needed to take a complete census combined with the mobility of American families.

Early censuses took 9 months to complete. In 1850 the time was reduced to 6 months and in 1870 it was further reduced to one month.

Many families that lived in multiple dwelling units were missed because the census taker did not know that a large house had more than one family.

Schedules for certain census years are completely missing for some counties or even entire states.

Many enumerators were not well qualified and did not follow instructions. Unfamiliar abbreviations and ditto marks (i. e. Conn., Ct., Cn., Cnct. were all used for Connecticut and I've seen IA for Indiana.

Poor quality paper and ink were used and difficulty in reading microfilm copies (due to poor photography, double papers or pages filmed, making writing too small, etc.). Filmers accidentally missed pages by accidentally turning two pages.

Incorrect data was given to enumerators by family members. Anyone who has researched multiple census schedules for a particular family can tell you of the inconsistencies in ages, places of birth and other important data. It is often hard to tell whether the errors were intentional or not and who made the errors..

Even though the census page you are researching was taken on a certain date, only the information for the census year was to be included. If a child was born on Aug. 2nd, the just before the census taker took the information, he would not be listed in the enumeration if the census date was June 1st. The census dates for various years are as follows: 1790 - 1820 First Monday in August; 1830 - 1900 June 1st; 1910 April 15th; 1920 January 1st; 1930 - present April 1st.

Do not stop with Soundex finds -- do look at the original record.

Do copy the information at the top of the page in the header.

Do not assume census indexes are correct or complete.

Do not assume spellings are as you think.

Do not assume relationships are exactly as stated.

Do not assume a wife is the mother of all or any of the listed children.

Do not assume ages listed are correct.

Don't forget to copy all of the entires for the surname in the county. And better look over the neighbors too! Four Smiths in a row with a Jones in between could mean Jones is married to a daughter.

Don't think the records before 1850 can't help. They may only have one name listed, but at least you'll know how many to look for in a family.

Do believe that all census records are important -- even the earlier ones.

Do make use of the Veteran's column in the 1840 census.

Do use the 1890 Veterans ( and widows of Veterans) Schedules.

Do use the state census records.

Do not believe all census data to be true and correct.

Do study the enumerator's handwriting so you can make comparisons.

Do watch for families split onto two pages with the surname not repeated at the top of the next page.

Do try to find your ancestors in every census taken in their life time.

Do check family histories and other sources of neighbors who might have come from the same state to locate a town of residence if you can not determine that information on your ancestor.

Do remember that when searching an entire town for ancestor, the town enumeration may be split and not be kept together on the film --- cities are often listed separately from the town they are connected with.

Do take note of real estate and personal property values to determine if a deed or will search is appropriate.

Do use maps in conjunction with your census searching.

Do search across state, county, and town lines if your ancestors lived near a border.

Do go back and look again at census records to see what you might have missed -- especially if you have learned of new surnames (maiden names) or other family connections.

Do consider typographical errors when using indexes -- know the keyboard and what letters could have been punched in by mistake.

Don't think census information gives all the answers.

Don't forget the 1900 veterans census if your ancestor was in the military. Widows are also listed.

Don't forget about state census records.
Be careful - "IA" on some census means Indiana and not Iowa.

Go back to the index page