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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

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12. Is My Ancestor on the 1920 US Census?

     As you work in reverse to identify your ancestor on the 1920 Census, you will still need to rely on the family group sheet and what you discovered in 1930.  In the last post, an extraction of the 1930 Census lists the following individuals living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

1.  Earl Vance, head of household, 50 year old shipper, married at 21 in South Carolina, mother and father born in South Carolina.
2.  Clorena Vance, wife, 46 years old, married at 17 in South Carolina, mother and father born in South Carolina.
3.  Clarence, son, 25, born in South Carolina.
4.  Minnie, daughter, 22, born in Pennsylvania.
5.  Oscar, son, 16, born in Pennsylvania.

     According to the age of each of these individuals, this family group should be listed together on the 1920 Census.  Because Oscar was born in Pennsylvania, it is fair to assume this family may be living in Pennsylvania ten years prior.  The ages of the children in this family are spaced fairly apart, so it is possible Earl and Clorena had other children who are no longer home in 1930.

     An initial search for Earl Vance in Pennsylvania proves unsuccessful.  A subsequent search for Clorena Vance produces no result.  Widening the search for Earl and Clorena in the United States still proves unsuccessful.  According to the 1930 Census, the next person in the family group to search for would be Clarence Vance.  Clarence Vance was born in South Carolina, and no such person exists living in Pennsylvania during the time the 1920 Census was taken.  

     This would bring most family historians to the point of frustration.  Some of the most common reasons for not being able to locate an individual on a census would be:
1.  Names were not recorded correctly.
2.  The individual lived in a different location.
3.  The individual was not recorded.
4.  The area was redistricted creating new boundary lines.
5.  The individual was not alive during the time.
6.  The individual went by a different name.

      In carefully considering the above possibilities, you will be able to adapt by choosing a different search technique or resource. For example, you may search using a more limited amount of information which widens your online search, providing more results where previously no results existed. Perhaps you would rather order the microfilm for the location where you suspect the individual was living at the time.  Researching the census on microfilm allows you to become familiar with surnames and individuals who lived in the same area as your ancestor.  The actual census books which were published by state make it easy to locate individuals whose names were sorely misspelled.  The names are indexed, and it is much easier to spot a possible match from the alphabetical list.  Census books are available at most state archives.

     No matter which resource or technique you choose, you will be completely dependent on the family group sheet for identifying who you should search for to find the ancestor's family.  So far, a search for Earl, Clorena, and Clarence living in Pennsylvania has not worked.  Searching for Earl or Clorena Vance living in the United States does not help either.  Searching for Clarence Vance, born in South Carolina and living in the United States finally links the family:
      The primary reason this family was so difficult to find is that they actually were living in Baltimore, Maryland, and Earl is listed as Calvin Vance.  It is still to be determined whether his name was Earl Calvin or Calvin Earl.  His wife's first name is misspelled (Florina instead of Clorena). An older daughter, Angelina, appears home in 1920.  She was not listed with the family on the 1930 Census.  Clarence, Minnie, and Oscar, however, appear in the same birth order as they did on the 1920 Census, and the ages coincide for the most part.  Normally, there is a two-year margin of error for ages listed on the census, but you may discover huge discrepancies in age.  For this reason, it is best to search each census year when attempting to document age in addition to locating any available vital records.  

     Hopefully, this example illustrates the common pitfalls you may encounter in researching the census.  Aside from the challenges, it is exciting to learn more about your family as you move back in time where fewer family members are living to recount history for you. 


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