Monday, June 24, 2013

Two questions about how to record a date

Mercy asks:
”Do I use the official date of the census or the date the enumerator actually recorded the information?”

If the enumerator recorded a date then I use it, if he/she didn’t then I use the official census date.


Rebecca asks a related question:
”I looked at some tax records on microfilm at the state archives.  The records were labeled 1826 but on the documents themselves there is no date.  Should I assume that these really are from 1826?”

I would put 1826 as my date but in my source citation I would put an explanatory note stating that the Archives have this filed as 1826 but no date was found on the actual documents.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Michele, I have to respectfully disagree about the dates on the census records. The enumerator instructions state that ages are to be calculated using the official enumeration date. You can assume that the family was living there on the actual date visited by the enumerator, but that's all.

    Sure, an argument could be made that the enumerator didn't follow the directions about using the census date to calculate ages, etc., but we can't speculate whether the enumerator was or wasn't following directions. That is something that should be addressed in your analysis, not in the information given in the record.

    Just my 2 cents.


  2. I understand your point. This issue has been discussed on the TGF mailing list (also possibly the APG list?) and there seems to be a 50-50 split in opinions. Maybe it is because most of my research is in rural farm country where the enumerators weren't necessarily the most educated but when doing the math, more often than not the numbers correspond to the actual date and not the census date.

    However,I am not using the date to precisely calculate ages but rather to put people in a certain location at a certain time. Either way you go there are going to be errors. If the enumerator went out to the house on the first of October, I can be confident that the family was there on the first of October even if the official census date was the first June.

  3. For the tax records, I don't know that it is safe to assume anything regarding the date, especially if more than one year appears on the same roll of film.

    The best way to be sure is to work backward to the first page of the individual tax list. Even if the title and date do not appear on the page of interest, there may have been a cover page.

  4. You would definitely need to check what years are in the document set as well as checking the order and for any gaps. This too would give you a clue. The Mississippi tax rolls are notorious for missing years and undated rolls. The MS Archives has dated them (they put them in labeled jackets). I would think they were privy to some insider info (like the courthouse transferring them along with a cover sheet that we don't see). In my MS example, I can see where their might be a problem when you have something like this...

    1820, 1821, 1824, 1825. 1820 has an actual date on it but 1821 doesn't other than the Archives labeling it as such. You could make the argument that perhaps 1821 is really 1822 or 1823 since those years are missing from the set. In this case I would defer to the Archives knowledge and label it 1821. As I previously said, I would add an explanatory note to the citation so that the reader understands the situation and they can assess the situation for themselves.

    I definitely recommend checking every single page in the tax roll, not only for that elusive date but for other names you might recognize. If you find your person of interesting on page 3 that doesn't mean you stop there! You need to check pages 4-12 (or whatever) scanning those names for clues. The MS rolls are on FamilySearch as browsable images. There is no index. In the very earliest years, for the counties I am most interested in, I have written my own index to save me some time. As I get further in my research and new names pop up I can scan my index.