Tips from the Pros: Disappearing Ancestors in Census Records, from Michael John Neill

You have found your ancestor in the 1820 and 1830 censuses, but he cannot be located in the 1840 census. What can you do? There are several approaches, but one idea is to locate his 1820 and 1830 neighbors in the 1840 census and see if your ancestor is nearby with his name woefully misspelled or written in a barely legible fashion. It is possible that your ancestor moved out of state; locating those 1820 and 1830 neighbors in that “new” location may allow you to find your ancestor living there among them.

Of course, it is always possible that your ancestor is dead in 1840 and not enumerated at all. And there is always the chance that if he is living with one of his grown children in 1840 that the grown child is listed as the head of the household. In this case, the ancestor is there, but just one of the “tic” marks for an older family member.

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13 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Disappearing Ancestors in Census Records, from Michael John Neill

  1. The 1830 US Federal Census for Frederick County, VA is by alpha (all the M’s together, etc.), not neighbors. Why?

  2. I suppose it could appear that someone did not live in a certain place at the date of the census. Some took census in June, some in August, etc. That also holds true to birth dates. If someone had a birthday in December, but the census was taken in earlier months, it would appear they were one year younger. Sort of simple, but easy to overlook.

  3. I have had a siyuation that a person disappeared for 2 Census returns ,and reappear 20 years later.
    This was due to incorrect spelling of his Surname

  4. My GGFather, Elijah Hopper, was born in 1838 in Scott County Indiana. His father was Samuel Hopper. The 1840 census does show that Samuel have several boys less than 5 years of age.
    In the 1840 census, Samuel does not have any boys between the ages of 10 to 15 years.
    Elijah Hopper appears in the 1860 Census for (Hendericks), Shelby County, Indiana where he is staying with a family whose last name is (LAW) (I think).
    It is my belief that Elijah’s mother died when she gave birth. Samuel remarries in 1838 and has more children. There are too many children for his new wife and some of the children are ORPHANED off to relatives, friends, neighbors.

  5. This comment is very helpful because I have found this to be true in my research and also gives one the chance to perhaps find the maiden name of a female ancestor that you perhaps don’t know the last name. Just watch for a married daugher and son-in-law that might be living with her parents and this will give you her maiden name.

  6. If the area is small enough, just post the state, county, district and go thru all the names. I was looking for Beekman in Oregon and couldn’t find the family in either 1900 or 1910 even though I knew they were there. Lo and behold: Buckman and Bac were how they were listed.

  7. I found the original census in 1880 for my family. Then the 1880 Index came out and I wanted to try that. I could not find my family! Because my folks often mentioned names of those who lived within a mile or so, I looked up one of those surnames and there was my family’s name. Instead of spelling it Kuen… it was spelled Guen…

  8. I did like this article. I had forgotten about trying to find someone by their neighbors and will definitely go back and try this. My only complaint about the article…I wish it had been longer and more in depth. I’m sure there are more suggestions!

  9. My ancestor was found in 1860 census and in 1880. He had 3 girls by the 1880 so I knew he surely was somewhere in the area. I had a researcher help me and she found it spelled right in the original but someone misspelled it in translation.
    So we did find him in 1870 with my grandmother but it surprized me that instead of Emma Jane as her name she was Emily instead. I had just not thought of that being a nickname for Emma. I was more inclined to think of Emmy instead.
    My ancestors didn’t go by their real names in the census so that was difficult to track them down.
    I really liked this article and appreciated the reminders.

  10. I have found my grandfather, Walter E. Petry, in 1880 in Abbeville, Louisiana, the town of his birth. Based on the family Bible, he and my grandmother moved to Texas with their older children between 1894 and 1897. Again based on Bible records, they moved to New Iberia, Louisiana, during 1899. I can’t find him or the rest of the family in the 1900 census even though I have been through each page for the town and surrounding area. There are two pages with large blots on the page, but there aren’t enough illegible entries to cover the entire family. I find him 1910 and 1920. Any suggestions?

  11. I had trouble finding my husband’s great grandfather in the 1900 Staunton, VA census. He was a widower at the time. I found his house and his grown children. After looking page by page, I still could not find him. Then I looked at the top of the census page carefully and there he was – the enumerator – and his signature appeared on every page in the district! I now believe he forgot to list himself in the census!

  12. i has truobe findin my aunt and my auncle they are twins. my grandfathet tell my dad minutes before he died that he gots 2 more brothers. and my dad is serching for more then 20 yeas ….i have my alll mygrandfather information.

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