Tuesday’s Tip: Five Drawbacks I’ve Encountered Using Census Records

Archives.com

Archives.com has recently added the complete 1790-1930 U.S. Census to its already billion-record database. This is great news indeed! And to help them promote this new addition to their service,  they have asked Geneabloggers (via contest) to share any tricks, tips, or words of wisdom for first time users, or, offer some sage advice on what to look for to solve those family mysteries via census records.

Using census records in family research is a MUST and is pretty much a straight forward process. But, there are times when using census records can be  down-right frustrating when there are transcription errors, not enough information, ancestors “twisting” the truth about their lives or they go MIA (missing in action) from one decade to another for whatever reason.

Below are five drawbacks I’ve encountered using census records. I know that my information below is not an exhaustive list of all the problems new users will face,  but they are basic and applicable enough for them to refer to as they seek to learn more about their families via census records:

  1. There’s inconsistent and/or phonetic spelling of surnames.
    These inconsistencies are probably due to the limited education of the census taker recording the facts, and/or the ancestors giving those facts (this is especially true with Emancipated African Americans who could not read and write due to slavery).
  2. The flourishes used in old handwriting sometimes make it difficult to read names.
    Distinguishing a capital “I” from a capital “J” when the name is written as initials, and when the open top of the letter “a” looks more like a  letter “u” or the loop top of the letter “a” looks more like the letter “o,” are just a few of the handwriting problems new users will observe in these records.
  3. Name changes by new immigrants in this county and newly Emancipated African Americans is a common occurrence too! In addition to name change dilemmas, the use of nicknames instead of actual birth names can also be a problem.
  4. Ancestors giving false information (such as their age, their ethnicity/race) for personal or political reasons is a common occurrence in these records.
  5. The 1850 Slave Schedules are one of the most important census records for African American researchers. Unfortunately slaves are not listed by their names;  they are listed by age, gender, and color.  And with regards to color, some slaves are listed as “Mu” for mulatto one decade and listed “B” for black in another decade.

Genealogists LOVE U. S. Census Records and use them regularly.  April 1, 2012 cannot get here fast enough for those of us waiting on the release of the 1940 records. New users of these records who are serious family historians will develop a love affair with them too. But as we all know, no love relationship is free of problems. But having a heads up about some of the most common drawbacks associated with census records is helpful!

 

Mocavo.com

mocavo
A new free search engine for genealogists and people interested in learning more about their family history launched Tuesday, March 15, 2011. According to an official press release on GeneaPress,

Mocavo enables the search of more than 50 billion words – including billions of names, dates and places, all within fractions of a second. Mocavo.com fills an important industry need by providing the first large-scale, free search engine for family history research. Coupled with the speed and accuracy by which search results are produced, Mocavo.com represents a major technological breakthrough within the genealogy world.”

I haven’t tried this specialized search engine just yet, but I plan to take it out for a spin very soon. For now, I understand that the search engine is FREE to everyone — YEAH!  So type a name you’re interested in, in the search field, then click search. If you plan to use this search engine anytime soon, let me know what you think. If you’ve used it already, please let me know just how successful you were with this tool!

FamilySearch.org

As you know, my genealogy road trip on January 1st was the result of my 2011 New Year’s resolution to return to genealogy and from some new information I uncovered about my grandfather (Joseph Chapple) and his parents (Louis and Carrie Blanton Chapple) in Ancestry.com. That road trip was very enlightening and provided me with more leads into the lives of the Chapples living in Houston, Texas during the early 1900’s.

Another online resource that I turned to after my road trip was FamilySearch.org. According to the website, FamilySearch.org is the largest genealogy organization in the world that has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for 100 years. This official website is the ministry of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are committed to helping people connect with their ancestors because they ” … believe that families are meant to be central to our lives, and that family relationships are intended to continue beyond this life.”

Well, I am very thankful for and to LDS for their commitment to preserving family history at FamilySearch.org. Because of their work, I learned that my grandfather wasn’t the only child born to my great grandparents as my mother and others believed all these years. A simple search of my great grandparents’ names resulted in me downloading, for free,  the death certificate of my grandfather’s little brother (my uncle) – Lewis Blanton Chapple. According to this certificate, baby Lewis was born October 19, 1910 and  he died at home (815 Schwartz Street in the Greater 5th Ward area of Houston) from congestion of the lungs on December 9, 1910.

This new information provided two important puzzle pieces with this family:
1) My grandfather wasn’t the only child of Louis and Carrie Chapple, but he was their only “living” child through the years;

2) When the 1910 US Census was taken in April of that year, this family was living in Freedman’s Town and Carrie was in the first trimester of her pregnancy with my uncle Lewis. But this death certificate verifies that this family had moved later that year to the 5th Ward area where their second child died from health complications. Knowing when this family moved is significant because it tells me exactly when they arrived in the 5th Ward area which is the community where my mother was born by mid-wife, lived, and thrived as a child, teenager, and young adult!

So consider making FamilySearch.org a part of your genealogy research this year and beyond too!

If you have the surname — Chapple–falling out your family tree (especially if they lived in the Houston area) let me hear from you because —  I’m Claiming Kin!

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Source Citation

“Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JF3Y-CJW : accessed 04 Jan 2011), Lewis Blanton Chappel (1910).

Ancestry.com

Ancestry is the world’s largest online resource for family history, with more than one million paying subscribers around the world as of December 2009.

Yep, I’m officially a paid subscriber!

I must say that my decision to use this paid service was a very smart move on my part because just entering a few family members for the past two weeks via their digital proprietary systems, have yielded some great information about relatives that would have taken me much longer to find if I was doing it via my paper-based research method.

So in 2011 I will blog about my genealogical journey with Ancestry.com and other online resources I use to shake down my family tree. So if you are an Ancestry.com user, connect with me and let me know your thoughts about this software and how your family research is going!