by Juliana Smith
Last year when my mother-in-law visited, she pointed out a pest in my spruce tree in the front yard. The little sacks made of pine needles hanging from half-bare branches apparently contained bag worms. This year, the worms are back. Since I donâ€™t like to use pesticides, I was relieved when she told me the most effective means of control is the â€œpick and stompâ€ method. Simply pick them off and stomp on them.
One day when I was out â€œpicking and stomping,â€ I saw my neighbor sitting down on his lawn with a bucket pulling up crabgrass. Since Iâ€™ve had a recent infestation too, I will probably be doing the same over the next few weekends. (I actually tried to use some weed and feed mix on it once and it killed everything but the crabgrass. I had these huge brown spots dotted with bright green crab grass. I swear I could hear it taunting me!)
With landscape chores, sometimes the simplest methods, although possibly a bit more time-consuming, are most effective. I had a similar experience last week with family history research. I got a note from a reader who was looking for an ancestor in New York City. She had an address and knew he had been in the same location before and after the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. However, Soundex and other search techniques failed to locate his enumeration. On that particular day, I needed a boost in morale, so using the information she had provided, I set out in search of him. (Yes, even chasing other peopleâ€™s ancestors can pick up my spirits!)
Finding a Bit More
She was looking for her great-grandfather Conrad Textor, who was a brewer living at 332 W. 39th, New York City, in 1880. While having an address is definitely a plus, I needed more information to go on. Once I had a clearer picture of the family structure, ages, etc., I would have better luck in 1880. To get a better feel for the family, I began by searching for the family in the 1870Â and 1900Â censuses, as well as in the 1890 New York City Directory.
I didnâ€™t have immediate success with 1870, so I jumped to 1900, where a quick search for Conrad Textor in New York, New York, (using the Soundex option), turned up the family. It listed the wifeâ€™s name as Barbara (born 1851) and his year of birth as 1847. The entry also listed their years of immigration as 1873 and 1874, respectively, so that explained why I had been unable to locate them in the 1870 census.
The 1890 New York City Directory at Ancestry.com showed a listing for Textor Conrad, brewer, h 350 W. 39th–the same address as was given in the 1900 Census. This was off a little from the 332 address included in the e-mail, but itâ€™s possible that the streets were renumbered around that time.
Now that I had a better feel for the family, I decided I had enough to search for them in 1880. I did a search of MapQuest for the address, hoping that the street name was the same and that the numbering was close enough to get a general idea on a map of where they lived. It showed a map with that address between 8th and 9th Avenue.
The online censuses at Ancestry.com beginning in 1880 and continuing through 1930 include enumeration district descriptions if you go through the browse function. I went to the 1880 search pageÂ and from there selected New York from the list of states, found below the search box, and then â€œNew York City-Greaterâ€ from the list on the subsequent page.
This brings up an important point for those who are looking for ancestors in New York City and surrounding areas in 1880. This index lumps Kings County (Brooklyn), New York County (Manhattan), Queens County, and Richmond County (Staten Island) into this heading of â€œNew York City-Greaterâ€ at the county level, as opposed to listing each county separately. This can cause problems for people searching in any of these counties as the search structure is thrown by this larger category, pushing the county name down to the township level. You will want to specify â€œNew Yorkâ€ in the county box for any of these four counties. If you want to specify one of these counties, enter the name of the county in the township field of the search box.
So, back to our story. Once you get to the township page, you can select the area you are interested in and get another page that lists the enumeration districts, along with a description of the boundary streets. This is one of the reasons why it is helpful to have a copy of a historical map of the area in which your ancestor lived. They are available from bookshops and I have got several for the New York City area that I reference frequently.
I browsed through some of the enumeration district (ED) descriptionsÂ and noted that as you traveled further north in Manhattan, each ED was about one block. In other areas, you might have to try several nearby street names to locate the desired district. Using my browser’s “Find” function, I searched for â€œ39thâ€ and found two districts that looked like they might include that area:
- District 397. All that part of the 1st Supervisor’s Dist of New York bounded by and lying within W. 40th St., 8th Avenue, W. 39th St., and 9th Avenue and known as the 21st Election Dist of the 15th Assembly Dist.
- District 398. All that part of the 1st Supervisor’s Dist of New York bounded by and lying within W. 39th St., 8th Avenue, W. 38th St., and 9th Avenue and known as the 22nd Election Dist of the 15th Assembly Dist.
ED 397 only had the odd numbered houses on 39th street, but ED 398 had the even and I was able to locate 332 rather easily. (The family was there, but the way the name was written, it looked more like â€œDexsterâ€ and Conradâ€™s name wasnâ€™t very clear either. It was easy to see why this family had remained so elusive.
Comment Now Added
When I wrote to tell my friend about finding her family, I suggested that she use the Comments and Corrections feature to add the correct name. She did this and added Textor as an â€œalternate name.â€ Now if you search for Textor, the correct entry will come up showing both versions of the name.
To add a Comment or Correction, simply go to the index entry in question and click on â€œComment and Correctionsâ€ in the â€œPage Toolsâ€ section on the right side of the page.
Re-Using Old Research SkillsÂ
Not all that long ago, this was the only option for locating your ancestors in the census. If you had an address, you could use it to look at enumeration district descriptions on microfilm, and use that information to locate the film that you would need to search. While entering a name in a search box is typically quicker, just as in my gardening experience, there are times old tried and true methods are most effective.
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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 wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook of 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.