Re: reading census last name help #names


Hi Trudy,
People have forgotten how census records were researched before the Internet behemoths.

For ferreting out vague, ill-formed names on U.S. census records, nothing beats the Soundex system created by the WPA during the Great Depression. The Soundex name indices to U.S. census records held by NARA are far better, far more accurate, far more complete, and often far more fruitful than the everyname indices created for Ancestry (non-English-speaking foreign labor) and FamilySearch (Utah volunteers). Contact NARA or your local reference librarian to see how to access this microfilm collection.

Professional genealogy firms like Accelerated Indexing Systems (AIS) published volumes with indices to names in U.S. censuses. FamilySearch has an article in its Wiki. Again, speak to a reference librarian.

Check other online name indices to the U.S. census to see if their transcribers had better luck in reading names. Might provide a clue. One good feature of these online databases is the ease of searching by first names. Then look at records in other census years to identify a cluster containing the same or several of the first names you found.

Can you read the names of neighbors? Look them up in other census years. Chances are the families may still be neighbors and this time the handwritten names are legible.

Look at directories and other records of that era. City directories often enumerate all adults living at an address and usually offer a reverse street directory. Other sources you can cross-reference to the census include property records, voter rolls, school yearbooks, and state census records.

Don't forget, too, census records are frequently woefully inaccurate. It didn't matter if names were misspelled, relationships faulty, origins mis-identified, or that women lied about their ages. Didn't impact the legal purpose of the enumeration. Furthermore, records are sealed for 72 years.

So, in general, it's good practise to check whatever you find in a census record to other sources for confirmation.

- Pat Weinthal
Massachusetts, USA

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