Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Right? Wrong?

W. C. asks:
”How do I know if a census record is right?  I found my ancestor in the 1850 census but he has different parents than I thought.”

  • The 1850 census did not name relationship so you cannot assume that the two adults are a married couple nor can you assume that the children listed are their children.  I have an example from my own file where a man’s wife had died and his unmarried sister moved in to help him with the children.  If you didn’t know that you would think that the two were married.  It was also common for people to take in their nieces and nephews or even younger siblings if their parents had died. Even if this had been a later census and the relationships were listed, you still can’t assume that they are correct.  My grandfather’s mother died in childbirth.  He was raised by an uncle and an aunt even though his father was still living.  On the census he is listed as a “son” of the aunt and uncle.  Don’t take anything at face value.  Always assume there are other possibilities.
  • Could this be an entirely different person?  You need to look around a bit and see if by chance there are two people with your ancestor’s name.  This child may not be the person you are looking for.  Did you find the other set of parents in the census records? 
  • What is your other evidence?  You apparently have some information that leads you to a different set of parents.  You need to evaluate each piece of evidence separately. 
  • Don’t look at this census record in isolation of other census records.  Follow the parents as well as the children through the census records.  Compare and contrast what you find. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

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