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Census records can clear or muddy family search

Census records are probably the single most valuable resource in genealogical research. However, the census records have many pitfalls you need to be wary of.

Census takers were usually people in the community that were unemployed and were in need of a temporary job. They weren't necessarily the brightest people around. Their command of the English language might not have been the best. They also might not have taken their job as seriously as they should have. If there was no one home at a particular house, they may have relied on the testimony of a neighbor instead of coming back to interview the occupants. Even if someone was home, they may not have questioned the occupants properly. If the parents were out in the field working and a six-year-old child answered the door, the census taker may have just taken the word of the child.

However, we cannot put all of the blame on the census taker. Sometimes the occupants intentionally lied to cover up illegitimate births and people living together out of wedlock. Sometimes the occupants were illiterate and unable to give correct spellings of the names. In very large families the ages of the children could be confused, especially if the census taker did not speak with the mother.

Another problem you might see is a family omitted or a family recorded more than once. This was a frequent problem when families moved. If the census had not been taken at their old residence, but had already been taken in the new area, the family would be skipped. On the other hand, they may have been enumerated before they left and then again in their new home.

Never take for granted the relationships given on a census record. For example, in the 1920 census my grandfather was living in the household of his uncle. My grandfather's mother had died in childbirth, and his father was unable to raise an infant. His brother and his wife took in my grandfather. On the census record my grandfather is listed as a son of the head of household.

If I did not know the entire story, I could have made a very wrong assumption. Whether or not the census taker assumed my grandfather was a son, or the uncle declared him as his son, we will never know.

As valuable as the census records are, you must always look at them with a skeptical viewpoint. You must consider all possibilities and not make any hasty assumptions.

The family reunion announcements have started to trickle in.

I am sorry that I did not receive the information for the Ansley Family reunion in time to get it in the paper. The Ansleys met at White Columns April 15-17.

The Dozier Family will be having their annual reunion at the White Oak Campground Saturday, July 23. The contact person for this event is Roger Dozier. You can reach him at home at 595-4203, by cell phone at (706) 831-5559, or by email

Web posted on Thursday, April 21, 2005


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Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01

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