Re: Wrong information on census records #general

Roger Lustig


To understand censuses, imagine the process of taking them. You don't
necessarily know who provided the information for the family. You don't
know what they might have been afraid of, or wanted to ignore in their
past. For that matter, you don't know what they *remembered* about their
past. People in those days didn't necessarily know their own dates of birth.

Now consider the census-takers. They may have spoken the language of the
residents, but perhaps they could only communicate directly with the
children who were growing up with the new language. They couldn't ask
for documentation, and had enough to do just getting to every door when
someone was at home and then copying the information they'd gathered
into the sheets we know today.

There were thousands of reasons, I'm sure, for fudging one's history on
the census. Some called themselves "German" when the German Jews of New
York tended to look down on their eastern co-religionists. Others,
having fled the Czar's army, used the names they'd used for cover--so 4
brothers might have 4 surnames. Still others simply didn't want to be
identified as members of their family any more. I've worked on a case of
this sort, and the fictions they told the census takers would take your
breath away. Most of these efforts were pointless--ever heard of anyone
arrested for fudging their census responses?

For that matter, try tracking several families through multiple
censuses. Then calculate the percentage of the time that family members
were reported as aging 10 years (or 5 in New York) between censuses.

As with any other document, you're best off approaching it as a piece of
paper with markings on it and going on >from there. Assume nothing unless
not assuming it would be absurd.

Tina Fey's Saturday Night Live census-taker sketch with Betty White is
actually something to keep in mind. I take no responsibility if it hurts
when you laugh.

Roger Lustig
Princeton, NJ USA

On 1/15/2017 6:42 PM, Tammy Weingarten wrote:
I am wondering if anyone else has encountered misinformation presented on a
census record. I have recently encountered two scenarios.

The first is a 1915 New York State Census in which the entire family (husband,
wife and 6 of 7 children) are listed. However, the wife's 1911 immigration
record states she was a widow at that time. In the son's 1918 WWI draft record,
he only mentions his mother's name and address. This WWI draft record lists the
son's birth date which is an exact match to his Bessarabian birth record, which
provides his mother and father's names as well as his paternal grandfather's
name. >from that information I found a 1910 Bessarabian death record for his
father which matches the names on the birth record, exactly. So, two records
indicate that the husband died before the family came to the US. The 1915 census
record is also odd in that the father's age is not listed. It's almost as if he
was not present for the census taker to get that information. I don't know what
to do with the 1915 Census.

The second scenario is for a divorced couple. The husband moved to another
state. His wife and child stayed behind. He divorced his wife in 1920, a number
of years after his move. Yet, I found a 1930 census record that matches the
names and ages of both the ex-wife and daughter in the original home state. The
ex-husband is listed there as the husband and his age matches, too. The only
thing that does not match is the husband's occupation. He is listed as a
plumber, when in fact, he was a sewing machine salesman. In 1940, the ex wife
lists herself and her daughter without the ex husband's name, but states
herself as married, not divorced. The surname is not common. It is hard to
believe that there could be two different families with the same surname and
same given names and ages for 3 people.

What have other researchers experienced and does anyone have suggestions as to
how to handle that information?

I would greatly appreciate input >from other researchers who have experienced
something similar.

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