In last weekâ€™s column, we talked about various search techniques for the U.S. federal censuses at Ancestry.com. If youâ€™re still looking for that difficult someone, you might want to check out the comments that have been added to the blog.Â A number of readers added their own search tips and reading them has inspired me to delve into my family history again. This week I pulled out one of my tougher lines–the Howleys.
I have to admit, that although I periodically work on this family, it typically gets thrust back into the recesses of my cabinet because itâ€™s so darn frustrating! These people really werenâ€™t very good with dates. In the few census enumerations Iâ€™ve been able to find for my second great-grandfather, Thomas Howley, he only ages five or six years between the ten-year federal enumerations. Quite a feat, but he makes up for it by aging seven years between the 1880 census and his death in 1884. Argh!
His wife Jane wasnâ€™t any more consistent. I have her in every available federal census between 1860 and 1910 and using the ages given, her dates of birth range between 1831 (which is correct) and 1840. Her immigration date, where given, is also â€œgive or take ten years.â€ (You can see why they tend to get put back in the cabinet!)
I resisted the urge to file them away this time. As I browsed through the binder that holds all the records Iâ€™ve found on that family, I noticed that I only had scattered information on Thomas and Janeâ€™s children, with the exception of my great-grandmother, Margaret. I have a few census listings and my mom was fortunate enough to obtain correspondence from family members confirming several of the daughtersâ€™ married names. But a glance at a timeline of the family reminded me that in several cases the children carried on the tradition of â€œblurry dates.â€
I set out to fill in the blanks as best I could with missing census records for each family member. As I went along, I was reminded of how important it is to complete census work on each and every family member. We should be gathering every single clue from these records that are now so readily available.
Of course I had census enumerations for the siblings for the years they were at home with the family, but in most cases, once they married and moved on, I stopped looking for them. Duh! These are the children of my â€œbrick wallâ€ ancestor too. I need to be collecting all of their vital records too, and the census is a great place to start that search. Letâ€™s review…
Weâ€™ll start with the obvious–births. In most families, the ages given are a good indicator of around when a person was born. (Clearly this doesnâ€™t include the Howleys.) The 1900 census even goes so far as to include the month of birth.
The 1900 and 1910 U.S. censuses also include fields for â€œMother of how many childrenâ€ and the â€œNumber of these children living.â€ In Jane Howleyâ€™s case, I realized this week through this field that I was missing a child. She is noted as having had seven children, with four still living in 1910, but through cemetery and census records, I only have record of six.
Most of the Howley children were born in predictable intervals, but looking at the estimated birth dates for all of the children, I see a gap between 1866 and 1870. Iâ€™ll start my search for birth and death records for that child who may have been born and died within that time frame.
Letâ€™s move on to marriage records. While enumerations between 1850 and 1880 all include a field to note couples that were married within the census year (1870 even requests the month), that only accounts for a small percentage of the population who happened to get married in a census year. But the 1900 and 1910 censuses also include a field for the â€œNumber of years of present marriage.â€ Doing the math, we can estimate when a couple was married and start our quest for a marriage record that may contain helpful information like motherâ€™s maiden name, addresses, and possibly relatives mentioned as witnesses.
In 1930, â€œAge at first marriageâ€ gives us another way to get at that information, based on the current ages given (provided your ancestors werenâ€™t Howleys, that is). If the bride and groomâ€™s year of marriage doesnâ€™t match, this can also be a tip-off to a previous marriage.
In 1910, M1 was used to denote first marriage, and according to the enumeratorsâ€™ instructions, they were told that â€œif this is the second or subsequent marriage, write “M2” (meaning married more than once).â€ So if the enumerator followed these instructions to the letter, M2 could also mean more than two marriages. Good to know. Enumerator instructions are available online at the IPUMS website.Â
Obviously, the disappearance of a person from a household could mean a death, but it can be tough to tell. With the death of a spouse, it can be a little easier since a surviving spouse would be noted as widowed in the following enumeration. In other cases, it can be a bit more difficult to determine.
Some U.S. federal censuses from 1850 through 1880 included a mortality schedule enumerating the individuals who had died in the previous year and some of these are available at Ancestry.com. But again, not all are available, and for those areas that are included, they will only include those persons who died within the previous year.
Beginning in 1900, the year of immigration to the U.S. is given for those not born in the U.S., and naturalization status is noted which can narrow your search for passenger arrival records and naturalizations. (Again, unless your ancestor is a Howley and gives a different year in each available enumeration and another one entirely on her death record. Thanks Jane!)
Whereâ€™s All This Going to Take Me?
Thomas Howley died at a relatively young age, as did his daughter who was my great-grandmother. But as I gather more information on her siblings, tracing them forward into enumerations that provide more detailed information, I am getting leads to other records that may eventually help me past this stumbling block.
In some cases, you may find that a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle has moved in with another family member. Addresses found on censuses, birth, marriage, and death records can help you follow the familyâ€™s movements through the years. Knowing where they lived can lead me to church records, which can be a goldmine of information. Sponsors and witnesses may turn out to be cousins, aunts, or uncles, and knowing more about the expanded family structure is key to moving beyond your brick wall–fuzzy dates and all.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.