Increased search functionality is the latest improvement to the 1820, 1830, and 1840 U.S. Federal Census databases, each of which has several new search fields. And when I thought of how I might use the new options, I remembered a project I was working on last fall.
I was researching abolitionist John Brown and learned that he moved to Pennsylvania in 1825. Assuming he was still there in 1830, I needed another fact or two to narrow down the 263 possibilities that came up in my search of the 1830 census for a John Brown in Pennsylvania. At the time, I had one real option: location.
The new search fields in the updated census databases would give me another: I could narrow my search by numbers of household members. I admit, this is fairly detailed information, but if I knew that John and Dianthe Brown mostly likely had their five children and two others living with them in Pennsylvania in 1830, I could now narrow my search down from 263 to 13 results by typing “7” into the Free White Persons Under 20 field (and restricting both this field and my PA location to exact matches).
Restricting my search to Crawford County, without household numbers, gives me eight results. Combing both gives me one: the correct one, in this case.
I’m not related to John Brown, and it took me longer to find out that he had five children in 1830 (I’m not sure who the other two young folks were yet) than to discover that he had a farm and tannery near Richmond, Crawford County, PA. But facts are fickle things—you can’t always say which are going to turn up—so I figure, the more options, the better.
And for more on all the census updates at Ancestry.com, check out the new Enhanced U.S. Census Collection landing page.