When Ancestry.com launched the new every-name index to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, I went in to play around a bit and look for my ancestorsâ€™ entries.
For three of my four great-grandmothers, this would be the last census in which they would appear. My dadâ€™s grandmother, Julia Mekalski, died of cancer in 1917 at the age of forty-three. On my motherâ€™s side, her paternal grandmother, Emma Chouanniere, died of pernicious anemia on 12 July 1911 (only thirty-six years old), and her maternal grandmother, Margaret Dyer, died of typhoid fever, said to be contracted from eating shellfish from Sheepshead Bay in March of 1911. (She was thirty-nine years old.)
To make matters worse for that family, Margaret Dyerâ€™s mother-in-law (also named Margaret Dyer) contracted a cold at the funeral from which she was unable to recover and she died in July of 1911. The 1910 census gives us a snapshot of these families before their deaths, and perhaps your family as well. Letâ€™s explore it a bit.
If youâ€™ve never actually read the enumerator instructions for federal censuses, they are definitely worth a look. They are available online at the IPUMS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) website.
The census was begun on 15 April 1910 and itâ€™s important to note that answers to census questions were to reflect the status of the household as of that date. For example, those who had a birthday on April 16, would be listed with their age as it stood on April 15th, making them appear to be a year younger–regardless of the fact that they may have been counted on April 17 or later. Ages for children less than two years of age were to be â€œgiven in complete months, expressed as twelfths of a year.â€
Marriage Dates and Status
Using the new index, I was able to find two previously missing siblings of my ancestors, one living in Massachusetts in the Puritan Hotel in Boston. A particularly helpful aspect of the 1910 is that it asked how many years couples had been married (current marriage). This is helpful in narrowing down marriage dates. Mae (Dyer) Hutchinson is enumerated with her husband Hiram and the census notes that they have been married for two years. I also found her brother Edwin, who had also evaded me in previous attempts, and have already noted microfilm numbers to search for both of their marriage records.
Another ancestor is listed twice, once in Brooklyn with his wife and family where both are listed as â€œmarriedâ€ and once in Idaho, where his marriage status, interestingly is â€œdivorced.â€ Enumerators were instructed to indicate first marriages with â€œM1â€ and for a â€œsecond or subsequent marriage, write â€˜M2â€™ (meaning married more than once).â€ This would suggest that an M2 designation could actually mean a third or fourth marriage.
Make note of your ancestorâ€™s address. This may help you to identify your ancestor in other records created around that time. In addition by plotting it on a map, you can zero in on where to search for other sources, such as church, school, or cemetery records.
Other Items of Note
~ Number of children born. The enumerator instructions read that â€œThis question applies to women who are now married, or who are widowed, or divorced. The answer should give the total number of children that each such woman has had during her lifetime. It should include, therefore, the children by any former marriage as well as by her present marriage.â€
It goes on to say that, â€œIt should not include the children which her present husband may have had by a former wife, even though they are members of her present family. Stillborn children should not be included. If the woman has never had any children, write â€˜0â€™ in this column and also in column 11.â€ (Column 11 notes the â€œNumber of children now livingâ€ and also includes all children which the woman herself has had, whether in this household, district, or otherwise.)
These are important facts to know when you are trying to assemble and account for all members of a family, living and deceased.
~ Places of birth and mother tongue. There is a long list of instructions covering how places of birth and native tongues were to be listed. The birthplace was to be listed, but should be abbreviated for space, and the language was to be spelled out, such as â€œRuss.-Polish,â€ or â€œSwitz.-German.â€
~ Year of immigration to the United States. This is particularly helpful in finding passenger arrival records and possibly naturalization records as well. Enumerators were instructed that â€œIf he has been in the United States more than once, give the year of his first arrival.â€
~ Whether naturalized or alien. The instructions state that â€œThis question applies only to foreign-born males 21 years of age and over. It does not apply to females, to foreign-born minors, or to any male born in the United States. If the person was born abroad, but has become a full citizen, either by taking out second or final papers of naturalization or through the naturalization of his parents while he was under the age of 21 years, write â€˜Naâ€™ (for naturalized). If he has declared his intention to become an American citizen and has taken out his â€˜first papers,â€™ write â€˜Paâ€™ (for papers). If he has taken no steps toward becoming an American citizen, write â€˜Alâ€™ (for alien).â€
~ Other fields of interest include occupation and the character or industry in which they worked (e.g., merchant, grain; stenographer, dept. stores); whether out of work during the year 1909; and whether a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.
~Â Be creative with searches. If youâ€™re unable to locate an ancestor, try using only given names and other information that is available. Wildcard searches can also turn up instances where names were misspelled or transcribed incorrectly. (For more on wildcard searches, see the Ancestry.com Library.)
~Â This is an every-name index, so you can look for any family member, possibly one with an unusual name, even if theyâ€™re not the head of the household.
~Â Check pages before and after the pages you find. You may find other family members living nearby. If you are looking at a page with all the odd numbers on a street, browse that district or a nearby district to find the other side of the street with the even numbers.
~Â Get everyone. Even if you think your research has progressed back beyond 1910, it is important to gather as much information as possible. Locating cousins, siblings, and other collateral relatives in the census may yield important information and lead to other records that can help you past those brick walls.
Juliana Smith has been the 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 “Genealogical Computing.” 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.
Photograph: The Dyer family, ca. 1910. (Back) Madelon, Edwin and Raymond Dyer, (middle) Muriel, Margaret and Marjorie Dyer,(lower right) Ethel Dyer.
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