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My Recent Experience with Census Searching

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  • Jan Ammann
    Hello Bill and Slovak Group.... I do quite a bit of nobility research for other people and also for myself. At the present time I am researching a noble
    Message 1 of 3 , May 17, 2005
      Hello Bill and Slovak Group....

      I do quite a bit of nobility research for other people and also for myself. At the present time I am researching a noble family named von Bentinck from the Netherlands. A part of this family broke off and came to USA. And I know what I am telling you here of this family is of no real value to the Slovak Group. However, I am using them as an "example".

      I wanted to talk about some interesting things I found that may be useful to anybody searching the census....regardless of ethnicity. I use Heritage Quest for my census searches. And I have ALWAYS put in the year and then the surname and the state. Most of the time, these people popped up in the "names and pages" the search engine brought up.

      But I had NEVER used the Browse Search for the census. I was forced to do this when I was searching in the 1930 census year which is not yet indexed on Heritage Quest. It asks you for the year.......the state.........and then the county.....and then the township (and does give you choices to choose from). Now.......if you have been following a certain family in a certain place since........say 1900.......you will probably know the county and the township. So it will be easy for you to be taken to that part of the census. (Or you can just take a stab at it if you don't know.)

      And much to my amazement, I found the two families I was searching for in this way. And in the first few pages. Yes........sometimes "miracles" do happen when you are searching....smile. So........a light bulb went off in my head. Why don't I try the Browse Method for the years that are indexed where I had not been able to come up with a certain family or name.

      So..........1910 here I come.......I clicked "Browse"...then Missouri.....then Franklin County......then Washington TWP. And after awhile of strolling through the pages I found the family I was searching for.........Wellenkamp......and some of the von Bentinck children living there with their mother Laura who was now divorced. Arthur Wellenkamp was the divorced mother's brother.

      So......this is just a bit of information that I wanted to share with the list. Try the Browse Method.....it does work. And foolish me........after so many, many years of doing genealogy I had never even tried it. So......we can also learn something new.

      And, of course, I always take the time to thank Bill Tarkulich. His notes on the US census below this post are excellent and informative. I wish I had known him those many years ago.
      So........for those of you out there who are having trouble finding your surname in the census index, try the "Browse Method". I am really glad I did.

      Good luck to all of us who are always searching.........always seeking. And of course......always sharing. Because it is in sharing our newfound knowledge with others, we can all "give" and also "receive". The best of both worlds!


      Bill Tarkulich <bill.tarkulich@...> wrote:

      While many generic genealogy groups have discussed the utility of the data contained in the US Census document, I�d like to begin a discussion here about how these data have been useful in our area of research.

      Until now, I dismissed the usefulness of the US Census in my research, simply because I knew pretty much who and where all my Tarkulich relatives and immigrants are/were. Thanks to the generosity of Kathy Dorsam, who looked up some family data for me and got me started. As I read the data, it begged further questions. I found myself becoming more interested in the sociological aspects of my family and their friends. I began to find �boarders� living with them, some with the same family name. Each incremental ten year period uncovered movement and patterns which became quite interesting to follow. What started as a casual inquiry soon turned into another interesting detective story.

      Listed below are my observations thus far. I�ve still got a lot of work to do, but am interested in comparing notes thus far. My observations will be somewhat fragmentary, and perhaps we can discuss each issue separately.


      1. Ancestry.com has really come a long ways in providing useful data. In particular, the 1930-1920-1910-1900-1890-1880 Federal Census, which capture the peak immigration period of our ancestors. It�s still not particularly �searchable�, I find their search engines to miss more than they find, even when using their �Best Matches (Ranked)� feature.

      2. A census is but a snapshot in time. It shows only one �day in a life.� You have to be careful not to read too far into it.

      1. As Rich Custer suggests, census data varies a great deal from decade to decade. Not only because of country changes, but it appears that the education and training of the census takers varied widely. Understanding of various ethnicities, and political makeup (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bohemia, etc.) of the time.
      2. Transcription (reading the handwritten census page and typing it into a computer database that can be searched) quality (and thus errors) varies greatly. The variation appears to be even greater than that which we see in the Ellis Island manifest transcriptions. The usual looks-like letter substitution strategy even fails me here.

      1. Based on the technical limitations described above, I found it nearly impossible to search for my surname using the Ancestry search tools. What I resorted to was a search by city/town and neighborhood, which turned out to be quite productive and successful. To do this, I needed to know what city/town my ancestors lived it. While it was a challenge at first to determine the appropriate ward and district, once I uncovered the correct volumes, paging through them yielded some delightful results.
      2. Immigrants tended to cluster together. From the first arrivals in the late 1800s, until WW2, my immigrants clustered together for the obvious social benefits. Knowing this made my search infinitely easier.
      3. Since our ancestors seemed to cluster, the job of deciphering the data was eased a bit by the good fortune that the same census taker usually handled most of the same area. That allowed me to compensate for the failing of the taker�s understanding of ethnic characteristics, especially involving name spelling.

      The Data
      The Census Data provides a bit more than the name, address and age that I had presumed. Some very useful components include:
      1. Year of Immigration � useful to validate what you know from other documents, or use this to find that �missing manifest.�
      2. Year of Naturalization � or not. Helps you know whether it�s worth looking for Nat. data.
      3. Age at marriage � Lets you back into a year of marriage, if you don�t know this data.
      4. Place of birth � of the subject and that of their mother and father. Usually shown as a country name only, but this can be helpful.
      5. The spelling of the names during that era. It always begs the question, �who was doing the spelling?� I found in one census, everyone was called by nicknames (Suzy, Mike) while in others, the given name is used.
      6. Did they rent or own? How much was the house valued at? Helps you to understand the economic circumstances of the times.
      7. What type of job did they hold � Coal miner? Cigar Roller? Laborer in a foundry?
      8. The nuclear family � Who was living in the house or apartment on that date? Had adult children moved out? Do you see small children that perhaps you heard about but died in their youth?
      9. The extended family � who else was living with this family or did they live alone?

      Much of these data is repeated over the decades. It�s interesting to compare the data given from census to census and see the variation or consistency. It helps you understand better the nature of errors that are introduced.


      Based on the techniques above, combined with some grass-roots digging with city historians and immigrants who lived in particular locales, here are some specific observations. My Rusyn immigrants tended towards places that didn�t have huge Rusyn populations, but the observations are instructive nonetheless.

      1. Corning, New York � Passenger manifests from about 1904 to 1909 suggested that many of my Rusyn immigrants had gone to Corning. A 1905 local census confirmed dozens and dozens of Rusyns (I recognized all the names) were living a stones throw from the glass works. They were all single men, most of them from villages not far from each other. Examining the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census found nearly none of these names earlier or remaining in Corning, nor any other Rusyns or Slovaks. Since many of my earlier immigrants had started in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I can only conclude that this was an opportunistic, short term move. Perhaps the money or working conditions were better? When I explained this discovery to my Aunt, she expressed delight, since she always knew about a friend from Corning that my GF had and never could understand the connection. I was pleased to find several of my GF�s cousins had come to work in Scranton. But it appears that they all went back to Zboj,
      Ulic and Nova Sedlica shortly thereafter. All except my GF. So don�t count only only on Federal Census. Sometimes the local census can hold the data you need.
      2. Scranton, Pennsylvania � Where many of my Rusyn immigrants initially settled. Some remained, some moved on. The population was quite small, with comers and goers. Immigrants arrived as early as the 1890s, mostly living on East Drinker Street, in the borough of Dunmore. Watch your surname -- The DZUBA family changed their surname to JUBA which made the search more challenging. Watch your street name -- The street names and building orientations also changed over the decades. On one census the house was on East Drinker, on the next the house was on Erie. Not because the street was renamed: it was on a corner lot, and they changed its orientation. Most of these Rusyn men worked in the coal mines. It turns out the coal they mined was literally beneath the city, so they didn�t have far to work! In the 1930�s, a miner bored underneath the river and it soon collapsed into the mines. This effectively ended mining in Scranton as the mine chambers were filled permanently with
      3. Rochester, New York � Rochester had an extremely small Rusyn settlement. Perhaps a dozen families at most, from a range of Rusyn villages.. After WWI the area filled with immigrants from Ukraine, who were in fact, ethnic Ukrainians. They went to church and socialized together mostly because their customs were similar and their numbers small. I was always puzzled by one of my father�s baptismal sponsors, whom no one in the living family, including my Dad at the time, had ever heard of. While there was a record of Michael Ladomirak�s immigration (he came from the same village as my GF), there was no trace of a family or descendants. In 1920, I discovered he was living as a boarder in my GP�s house (My father was born in 1919.) Along with him was another boarder also named Michael Tarkulich. So the Ladomirak mystery was somewhat solved another mystery uncovered. Watching my grandfather�s progression of jobs was equally interesting � Foundry laborer, Metal works laborer,
      Blacksmith at a wheelwright�s shop. Looking for patterns amoung like immigrants was also educational � most of those families tended to have similar jobs in similar factories. I was also able to find all of my Grandmother�s friends, streets they lived in and employment.
      4. Another interesting Rochester phenomenon was the annexation of neighboring villages. My GPs lived originally in the town of Gates, on streets that no longer exist. In the 19-teens it was annexed by the city of Rochester. Subsequent census showed them living at different addresses, but the same house number. This led me to dig up some old maps of the towns from the 1880s to the 1930s. Luckily for me the Rochester Public Library digitized these maps and put them online. In examination of the 1920s maps, I noticed the present-day street name along with what appeared to be the old name placed parenthetically. I was subsequently able to verify this was indeed the same place, different street name.
      5. Binghamton, New York � This turned out to be the mother lode of census data, though little of it is related directly to my family. By 1910, I estimate there was between 2,000 and 3,000 Rusyns and Slovaks all living in the Clinton Street area. God graced this area with an excellent Census enumerator, Walter E. Dewey. I will certainly be the first to nominate him for sainthood. He apparently had an excellent understanding of ethnicities, nationalities and the current-day state of politics. He was able to describe families quite accurately. He knew the difference between and documented languages of Magyar, Slovak, Ruthenian, and Bohemian. He documented place of birth as Hungary-Slovak, Russ-Polish, Hungary-Ruthenian, Austria-Moravia, Austria-German, and Austria-Polish. He did this on over 58 pages with 50 entries per page.

      So I ramble. I am extremely interested in hearing about your observations and insights you have gained when examining these data. It adds a whole other level of information of what life was like then, at least in a small snapshot.

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