Genealogy: When you can’t find your ancestor in the census

Find Your AncestorsBy Barry J. Ewell
Is there a chance the census taker missed you family in the census?  Possibly, but not likely. There could be a number of reasons why you are not finding your family in the census.  For example, your ancestor

  • May not have given the right answers to questions because they just didn’t know the answer
  • Wasn’t home and the census taker asked a neighbor for the information
  • Gave intentionally gave the wrong answer

Or when the census was being indexed or transcribed there was an error of omission but is actually listed in the actual census. It happens. In such cases I have searched line by line through the towns, cities, and sometime states.  Each time I have found the person I have searched.

In cases where you are searching for the hard-to-find ancestor, try the “Soundex” spelling option instead of the exact match option.  Searching phonetically is helpful because it helps compensate for census taker spelling errors or names that were “Americanized” from their foreign spellings.

When I have been searching my German lines, I have carefully considered how person whose mother lounge was German would say the name in English and how the census taker might write down what he heard.  For example:

  • Dorothea becomes Dor-o-taya
  • Georg becomes Gay-org
  • Michael becomes Meech-ah-el
  • Thomas becomes Tow-mas
  • Wilhelm becomes Vil-helm

I have also run into the situation where the German family took the liberty to change their first, last or both first and last name to the American version.  For example, the Americanized German first name of

  • Franz became Frank
  • Gabi become Gabriele
  • Karl became Carl or Charles
  • Lars became Larry
  • Renate became Renee
  • Rolf became Rudolph
  • Johannes became John

For example the Americanized German last name of

  • Alder becomes Eagle
  • Berg becomes Mountain
  • Grun becomes Green
  • Barth becomes Beard
  • Zimmerman becomes Carpenter
  • Zweig becomes Twig or Branch

Perhaps the persons you were looking for went by a nick name.  For example, a nickname for German first name of

  • Albert becomes Al, Bert, Bertie
  • Agnes becomes Aggie
  • Alfred becomes Al, Fred, Freddie
  • Elisabeth becomes Elsbeth, Else, Elsie, Lise, Lisbeth, Lizbeth, Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Belle, Bette, Betty
  • Florance becomes Flo, Floss, Flossie
  • Maria becomes Marie, Ria
  • Marjorie becomes Marge, Margie, Patty
  • Otto becomes Ott, Ottie
  • Peter becomes Pete, Petie
  • Sarah becomes Sara, Sadie, Sally
  • Wilhelm becomes Will, Willy, Bill, Billy, Helm

The concept is the same for American names.  For example:

  • Abigale becomes Abby
  • Christina becomes Chris, Tina
  • Frances becomes Fannie, Fanny
  • James becomes Jim, Jimmy
  • Margaret become Madge, Maggie, Midge
  • Mary becomes Polly, Pollie
  • Richard becomes Dick
  • Robert becomes Rob, Robbie, Robin