After last week’s column,Â I was determined to go back and find my Kelly family in some missing census years. I decided to focus on pre-1850 records, which I often find myself shying away from, and since I had found part of the family in 1850, I decided to move back methodically and began with 1840.
Since these earlier census records (pre-1850) only list the head of household (and identify other householders by age group and occasionally some very basic information), locating your ancestors in them can be challenging to say the least. In today’s column, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve found helpful in using these early enumerations.
Set Up a Sample Census Entry for the Family
In last week’s article, I referred to a form I created in a spreadsheet to keep track of census records I found for the family. I used the estimated ages for the family from that form to fill in a blank 1840 census form showing what the family’s entry in the census might look like. (Blank forms for all U.S. federal census years can be found online at Ancestry.com.)
So for example, using the estimates I had, I would expect to find under males, one in either the “5 and under 10” or the “10 and under 15” listing (his birth year is estimated as 1830), one in the “20 and under 30” listing, and one in the “50 and under 60” listing, doing the same with the females in the family. This sample entry can be used as a guide now when I browse through the entries for James Kelly in New York City that year. Much easier than trying to do the math for each entry!
Here’s the Tricky Part
The proverbial fly in the ointment comes in trying to figure out what family members were still at home at the time, or whether there was more than one family in the household.
With my Kellys, I found a potential match that would seem to indicate that the latter was the case. The match was in the same ward where I found part of the family in 1850. To sort out who may have been included, I transcribed the entry into another census form and then below it added the names of the family members with their estimated ages marked in the appropriate fields. As I tallied the results, I found that all of the children in the household fit neatly into their categories. There are discrepancies as to the age of the head of household, but only by a few years. In another conflict, his wife doesn’t appear in any of the columns, although there is a much older woman (aged eighty to ninety) enumerated with them. There are also additional children in the house, one matching the age of a known grandchild of the head of household. There are also several “extra” males in the house with ages ranging from around twenty to forty. These could be spouses of the grown daughters or perhaps cousins.
For my Kelly research, I have gathered city directory listings for the 1830s through the 1850s. For many of those years, our Kellys are easy to pick out because of their occupation of manufacturing artificial flowers. (The 1840 census entry mentioned above also notes that six of the individuals were engaged in “manufacture and trade,” which would seem to fit.) Using the directory entries and plotting them on a map for census years is helpful in narrowing down my search and determining whether I have the right ward. I’m also looking at other Kellys who share that address to try to identify the extra people in the enumeration.
Clearly, I will need to locate more records to identify my Kelly relatives, but locating them (or at least some likely suspects) in these early enumerations will help me to determine where to begin my search during those years. I’ll be looking at churches in the area and doing more extended research on individuals who share a connection, whether it is an address, a workplace, or an occupation found in directories. I’ll be looking for these individuals in both earlier and later enumerations as well. With a little patience, I will hopefully be able to sort out the pieces for this interesting family. Sure, it’s a challenge, but the thrill of finding them at last and filling in those blank spots makes it worthwhile!
Juliana Smith has been the editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than seven 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: [email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.