Using Ancestry.com: Simple, But Effective

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 don’t like to use pesticides, I was relieved when she told me the most effective means of control is the “pick and stomp” method. Simply pick them off and stomp on them.

One day when I was out “picking and stomping,” I saw my neighbor sitting down on his lawn with a bucket pulling up crabgrass. Since I’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 people’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 1870 and 1900 censuses, as well as in the 1890 New York City Directory.

I didn’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 wife’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 it’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 page and from there selected New York from the list of states, found below the search box, and then “New York City-Greater” 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 “New York City-Greater” 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 “New York” 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) descriptions 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 “39th” 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 “Dexster” and Conrad’s name wasn’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 “alternate name.” 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 “Comment and Corrections” in the “Page Tools” section on the right side of the page.

Re-Using Old Research Skills 
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.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

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.

10 thoughts on “Using Ancestry.com: Simple, But Effective

  1. The following website http://stevemorse.org/ has wonderful finding aids for most major US cities for the later 1910-1930 federal censuses. If you have the address, the site can provide the enumeration district(s). The site also includes finding aids for addresses in the NYC area in the early 20th century.

    Tom White
    Paris, France

  2. Clarification to my earlier e-mail:

    The Steve Morse website also has finding aids for addresses in the local NYC censuses in the early 20th century (in addition to the finding aids for federal censuses).

  3. Juliana,

    Thanks for this article. I may now be able to find my elusive ancestor Elizabeth Ann Davis in New York City. Oneproblem is renters tended to move a lot, but maybe.

    Now, to bag worms. (I guess I get hung up on your analogous introductions.)I’ve never heard of bag worms on a conifer. In BC we get them on deciduous trees, especially fruit trees. For really terrible infestations, there is a wasp that lays its eggs on the head of each caterpiller not stomped on. Apparently, this renders that caterpiller an ineffective reproducer. I can’t remember all the specifics, but I think the wasp larvae eat the caterpiller before it can reproduce, or something like that. Anyway, if your neighborhood has a huge infestation, you might talk to the city about introducing this wasp. Of course, you may not want the wasp.

    Helen

  4. Someone has made a correction to one of my ancestor’s information on Ancesrty. In fact, it is a complicated but true correction. I have aften wished that I could contact that person. Does anyone know if there is a way to do this?

  5. I’m a bit lost or just “thick”, where is the find function? I use the enumeration district (ED) descriptions all the time, but can’t seem to search them using a find function.

  6. For Susan — Look in the edit menu of your browser. There should be a FIND, mine is at the bottom of the menu. When you click on that a box pops up, enter in the term you wish to search for on that page and then click the FIND NEXT button, it will take you to the text and highlight it, when there isn’t anymore to find on that page, it will say so. This saves a lot of time, I was so glad when I learned of this tool.

  7. Why does the Weekly Journal have all those 3=D lines running through it? It is very difficult to follow the train of thought and get anything out of the information.
    Is there something wrong with my computer or is coming from your end?
    Thank you for your response

  8. I tried to find the comment and correction section and never could find it. I wanted to make a correction to a 1910 Ohio census index entry. I followed the instructions but the only thing under the tools page was printer friendly version.

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