In the previous article, we talked about finding clergy in the census by using titles in place of a given name. This can also be a solution for lay people. Search for Mr. or Mrs. and youâ€™ll turn up plenty of hits. (Click on the image to see an example from the 1930 census for Boston, Massachusetts.)Â And the town doctor could be listed with Dr. as his first name. Dr. and Mrs. Cooneery of Chicago, Illinois, are a good example of this situation. Here are some more tips for census searching.
Search for Initials
Sometimes the census taker decided that listing an initial was enough. In searching for my Kelly ancestors in New York City, I was repeatedly frustrated in my attempts to locate one familyâ€”until I left out the given name. When I saw the results I noticed an abundance of initials in place of given names. Once I entered the appropriate initial, I found the family I was searching forâ€”with every family member listed with only an initial.
Leave Out the Name
While it might seem a long shot, sometimes the best way to search is without a name. If you know where your ancestor lived, try leaving out the name entirely and use other facts you have to narrow your search. For example, I know my grandparents were living in Parma, Ohio, in 1930 and had been recently married. By entering my grandmotherâ€™s birth year, birthplace of Ohio, residence of Parma, Ohio, and relationship to head of household (wife), she comes up as the thirteenth record on the list of results for that search.
Search for Siblings
Try searching for various siblings. While your direct ancestorâ€™s entry may be hard to read or transcribed incorrectly, the siblingâ€™s entry may be correct. I was helping my uncle find his parents in 1930. The last name was mangled, so I entered his brotherâ€™s given name, specified the county, and added in the given names of his father and mother. Even though all three had common given names (Charles, Henry, and Mary) those names, relationships, and the county were enough to allow me to find them.
When youâ€™re working with names that have prefixes like Mc, Oâ€™, Van, or De, try searching for the name in various waysâ€”all one word (McDonald), separated with a space (Mc Donald) or without the prefix (Donald).
Browse the Area
You can get a good feel for any idiosyncrasies in a particular census year for a particular location by browsing through some of the images. Just go to the census page and then scroll down to the listing by state and click through to the county and local levels. Look for the types of things mentioned above. This will help you tailor your search.
Start Wide and Narrow Your Search
Start your search with only a few facts and narrow it gradually. Donâ€™t check the box to â€œMatch All Terms Exactly.â€ Give yourself a little wiggle room. Once youâ€™ve entered information, you can start narrowing your search by selecting the fields you want to match exactly by clicking the box for each field.
Keep a list of the various searches youâ€™ve tried so you donâ€™t end up repeating, and it can also help you to determine whether there are search options that remain to be explored.
While weâ€™ve come a long way since the days of scrolling though unindexed microfilm to locate our ancestors, online census records and indexes can still present challenges. But through the creative use of the technology we now have at our fingertips, our chances are good for locating those elusive ancestors.