By Barry J. Ewell
Place a piece of white paper directly on the microfilm viewing surface or printout and trace over the image. This will help you to decipher the way the census taker formed the letters so as not to misinterpret spelling of names and other data recorded in the census. Become familiar with the names in the locale you are searching. Make good guesses from even partially illegible entries. If needed, enlarge the image on screen or via magnifying glass to interpret what you see. You can enlarge or reduce the image as needed for clarity. Another idea is to turn the digital image from a positive image to a negative. Or lay a pink or yellow piece of paper on the viewing surface of the microfilm reader to enhance contrast. Copy entries exactly as you find them, even if you suspect they are incorrect.
- If you are having a hard time reading the census takers handwriting, take the time learn how he formed his letters such as a, f, h, j, p, and s. This is where I have found the most transcription errors. I will look for names/words that I know containing these letters and then compare how the census taker wrote the names of my ancestors.
- Search every line of the census district
- Look carefully at other people with same surnames
- Search all individuals living in the same household
- Search the state census