Using About the 1910 Census, by Juliana Smith

Dyer Family Portrait ca. 1910When launched the new every-name index to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, I went in to play around a bit and look for my ancestors’ entries.

For three of my four great-grandmothers, this would be the last census in which they would appear. My dad’s grandmother, Julia Mekalski, died of cancer in 1917 at the age of forty-three. On my mother’s side, her paternal grandmother, Emma Chouanniere, died of pernicious anemia on 12 July 1911 (only thirty-six years old), and her maternal grandmother, Margaret Dyer, died of typhoid fever, said to be contracted from eating shellfish from Sheepshead Bay in March of 1911. (She was thirty-nine years old.)

To make matters worse for that family, Margaret Dyer’s mother-in-law (also named Margaret Dyer) contracted a cold at the funeral from which she was unable to recover and she died in July of 1911. The 1910 census gives us a snapshot of these families before their deaths, and perhaps your family as well. Let’s explore it a bit.

Enumerator Instructions
If you’ve never actually read the enumerator instructions for federal censuses, they are definitely worth a look. They are available online at the IPUMS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) website.

The census was begun on 15 April 1910 and it’s important to note that answers to census questions were to reflect the status of the household as of that date. For example, those who had a birthday on April 16, would be listed with their age as it stood on April 15th, making them appear to be a year younger–regardless of the fact that they may have been counted on April 17 or later. Ages for children less than two years of age were to be “given in complete months, expressed as twelfths of a year.”

Marriage Dates and Status
Using the new index, I was able to find two previously missing siblings of my ancestors, one living in Massachusetts in the Puritan Hotel in Boston. A particularly helpful aspect of the 1910 is that it asked how many years couples had been married (current marriage). This is helpful in narrowing down marriage dates. Mae (Dyer) Hutchinson is enumerated with her husband Hiram and the census notes that they have been married for two years. I also found her brother Edwin, who had also evaded me in previous attempts, and have already noted microfilm numbers to search for both of their marriage records.

Another ancestor is listed twice, once in Brooklyn with his wife and family where both are listed as “married” and once in Idaho, where his marriage status, interestingly is “divorced.” Enumerators were instructed to indicate first marriages with “M1” and for a “second or subsequent marriage, write ‘M2’ (meaning married more than once).” This would suggest that an M2 designation could actually mean a third or fourth marriage.

Make note of your ancestor’s address. This may help you to identify your ancestor in other records created around that time. In addition by plotting it on a map, you can zero in on where to search for other sources, such as church, school, or cemetery records.

Other Items of Note
~ Number of children born. The enumerator instructions read that “This question applies to women who are now married, or who are widowed, or divorced. The answer should give the total number of children that each such woman has had during her lifetime. It should include, therefore, the children by any former marriage as well as by her present marriage.”

It goes on to say that, “It should not include the children which her present husband may have had by a former wife, even though they are members of her present family. Stillborn children should not be included. If the woman has never had any children, write ‘0’ in this column and also in column 11.” (Column 11 notes the “Number of children now living” and also includes all children which the woman herself has had, whether in this household, district, or otherwise.)

These are important facts to know when you are trying to assemble and account for all members of a family, living and deceased.

~ Places of birth and mother tongue. There is a long list of instructions covering how places of birth and native tongues were to be listed. The birthplace was to be listed, but should be abbreviated for space, and the language was to be spelled out, such as “Russ.-Polish,” or “Switz.-German.”

~ Year of immigration to the United States. This is particularly helpful in finding passenger arrival records and possibly naturalization records as well. Enumerators were instructed that “If he has been in the United States more than once, give the year of his first arrival.”

~ Whether naturalized or alien. The instructions state that “This question applies only to foreign-born males 21 years of age and over. It does not apply to females, to foreign-born minors, or to any male born in the United States. If the person was born abroad, but has become a full citizen, either by taking out second or final papers of naturalization or through the naturalization of his parents while he was under the age of 21 years, write ‘Na’ (for naturalized). If he has declared his intention to become an American citizen and has taken out his ‘first papers,’ write ‘Pa’ (for papers). If he has taken no steps toward becoming an American citizen, write ‘Al’ (for alien).”

~ Other fields of interest include occupation and the character or industry in which they worked (e.g., merchant, grain; stenographer, dept. stores); whether out of work during the year 1909; and whether a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.

~ Be creative with searches. If you’re unable to locate an ancestor, try using only given names and other information that is available. Wildcard searches can also turn up instances where names were misspelled or transcribed incorrectly. (For more on wildcard searches, see the Library.)

~ This is an every-name index, so you can look for any family member, possibly one with an unusual name, even if they’re not the head of the household.

~ Check pages before and after the pages you find. You may find other family members living nearby. If you are looking at a page with all the odd numbers on a street, browse that district or a nearby district to find the other side of the street with the even numbers.

~ Get everyone. Even if you think your research has progressed back beyond 1910, it is important to gather as much information as possible. Locating cousins, siblings, and other collateral relatives in the census may yield important information and lead to other records that can help you past those brick walls.

Juliana Smith has been the editor of newsletters for more than eight 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.

Photograph: The Dyer family, ca. 1910. (Back) Madelon, Edwin and Raymond Dyer, (middle) Muriel, Margaret and Marjorie Dyer,(lower right) Ethel Dyer.

A printer-friendly version of this article can be found in the Library.


11 thoughts on “Using About the 1910 Census, by Juliana Smith

  1. Nice job on this article. I have been researching the LEYENDECKER family from Lorraine, France for about 35 years and hadn’t thought about how a census taker was to perform his or her job. I know I have found many mistakes in the census over the years. I’m sure it had to do with how well the census taker performed the job. Thanks again for the interesting article.

  2. How can you find enumerations of institutions, such as colleges, schools, the various census years?

  3. The new index is great, but when will the “Exact Search” be functioning? It is so much more time-consuming to have to use the “Ranked Search” method as the only option.

  4. As a newcomer to the amazing world of Genealogy, I am finding that any little bit of help is welcome. The new 1910 Census has helped a great deal. Thanks a lot for all your comments and tips on how to read a census.

  5. I have found many of my lost family in the new 1910 census. I have been so pleased with this addition. I’ll bet a lot of people feel the same way! Charlotte Harris

  6. Well so far I cannot access this census at all if I use the actual 1910 census only index. Therefore I cannot put in specific searches as I am dying to do. I have to use the initial index on the main page or the complete census index both of which yield far less specific matches. I can access everything else at Ancestry and am still waiting for an answer to my third e mail about this. Every time I try I get no hits at all. So I hope that soon Ancestry will fix this for me and I cannot understand why this is happening to me and not other people.

  7. I’m having the same problem as Karen Conroy states in her letter. It is very frustrating.

  8. An outstanding article. Have been doing census research for years and served as Genie Aide at National Archives but never read Instructions to Census Takers. Learned a great deal from the article. Plan to read all intos in future.

  9. Hi I am still having problems locating all my ancestors on both the 1910 and 1920 census; and as to when they arrived, nothing. Your articles are inspiring and motivating but I still do not have answers. I am living in the U.S. trying to find answers about my puertorican ancestors. I sure can use some help from your articles.All my ancestors came to the island from Corsica(french) and Spain. Mercedes Gonzalez Santoni

  10. I am fairly new to genealogy and have found censuses a great help. I have found most of my family – but – after that, other than using the information to fill in family members and their information in my software ( I use PAF), what do I do with them? I have saved them all and transcribed them onto census forms – now what? Do I just file this information away for reference? Do I transcribe an abbreviated narrative in ‘Notes’ in my PAF? What do other genealogists do? Also, I have the same questions for other documents – birth, marriage, death records, wills, obituaries, etc? How and where – if you do – do you transcribe these documents?
    Thanks, Deana

  11. Juliana,

    Is there a permanent fix in the works for the 1910 census problems that Karen and others above have reported – not being able to use the state, birthplace, age, gender, race boxes with only a surname or a given name, or no name?

    This is not a problem with the other years – surely 1910 can be made to work similarly.

    I access Ancestry at the FHC and they won’t let me empty the temporary Internet files.

    Cheers — Randy Seaver

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