Census Failures and Barking Up The Wrong Branch

The 1940 U.S. Federal Census will hopefully be released on 1 Apr 2012. The list of questions asked on that census will be very useful to genealogists. You can see a list of them on the 1940 census website.

This means that some living genealogists will see their own names in the census release this time around. I suppose that means that we are either older than dirt or finally have the fame of having our names in print.

However you look at the excitement associate with the release, many of us will have parents and grandparents who will be listed on the pages and there may be some surprises included with their records. That information helps further ‘flesh out’ their story and our knowledge about them.

Genealogists cried in intellectual pain at the sparsity of meaningful questions on the 2010 census.  The questions were as poorly considered as those in the 2000 census.  Hopefully, we will leave additional records of our lives.  Absent those records, our descendants will be bitterly disappointed with the lack of meaningful information in the 2010 census.

There are several high water mark census years in the United States. The 1850 census finally listed the names of everyone in the family rather than just the count of males and females between certain age ranges.

The 1900 census included the birth month and year of those listed on the record. As a researcher, that information alone has jump started an untold number of ancestral quests for folks in this country.

I never cease to be surprised at the number of requests for genealogical help that I receive that can be jump started with just the information in the 1900 census. All too frequently, folks outside the genealogy community aren’t even sure of their grandparents full names or when they were born.

The recent airing of genealogy related programming on network television has ignited an interest in genealogy in the hearts of millions of Americans. They are flooding the net in search of their own ancestry. Unfortunately, they frequently copy information that someone has posted on a website and claim it as truth.

As often as not, the information in these family trees is inaccurate if not patently false. I’ve been in conversations with several well-known celebrities during the past months.  Unfortunately all of them wanted to claim online trees rather than doing research and proving it with source documents. For many, the excitement of the quest waned when I pointed out obvious errors in the online tree data. "TANSTAAFL" rules in accurate family trees.

TANSTAAFL = There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

We have to prove the data that mom, dad, aunt Julia or uncle Henry gave us. Just because they had the information in their genealogy files, that doesn’t make it true.  Few people included conclusive sources in their records in earlier generations.

Fortunately, many, many primary source documents are being scanned and published on the web today. We can do genealogical research from our homes that required significant expense and time a decade ago.

From personal experience, I know how much it hurts to discard an incorrect branch of our information. A few years ago, I had to prune a large branch from my database that contained thousands of records that went far back in time.

The originator of the initial error was none other than myself over three decades ago. Of the two men with the same name in the town, I chose the wrong one after considerable research but without final conclusive evidence.  Hundreds of hours of subsequent research were wasted because of this mistake. Other folks have benefitted from my work on ‘their’ line but the once populated list of names on my circular ancestor chart had a glaringly blank wedge where the incorrect branch once resided.

Subsequent research has partially repopulated the tree, but I wish I had the hours and money back from earlier work to invest in researching the correct lines.

Don’t find yourself in the same trap. Prove the data or don’t claim it other than it being only ‘possible’ lineal information that needs further research.

Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2011-04-26 01:58:00
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Family history research is a favored avenue of relaxation. It is a Sherlock-like activity that can continue almost anywhere at any time. By leveraging a lifetime involvement in technology, my research efforts have resulted in terabytes of ancestral data, earning me the moniker of Lineagekeeper. And yes - We are all related to Royalty.