Monday, April 12, 2010

Madness Monday - Lost Ancestors

I've titled today's posting "Lost Ancestors" because, as many of you know, I recently found a "lost" ancestor of mine, William Lewis DeSpain. While finding him has solved one question, "Where/When did he die?", it also opens up a host of new questions/avenues that will guide me to researching in a new county/area that I have not researched before....I'm like a kid in a candy store! But it also started me thinking about all of those years I had looked for him in the 1880 census (being the next census available after he left the family in 1872) and was never able to find him. This makes me
wonder: Is he really not there or has he been mis-indexed?

This idea occurred to me because over the years I've heard other researchers talking about not being able to find an ancestor or a whole family in a particular census year. They often follow up this statement with "you know they were probably hiding from the census taker/government." Having heard this on more than one occasion I wonder, "does everyone want a moonshiner or rebel in their ancestry?" Or is it just an easy answer to the problem of not being able to find them? Maybe a little bit of both. ;)

I know there are instances where people really were missed by the census takers. But I wonder how many times did that actually happen vs. them being mis-indexed? Now when I say mis-indexed, I don't mean mis-enumerated. That is something totally different. I'm talking about someone reading the name...Slemmons and entering it into an index as Slemens. And with so many of us depending on census records that, although digitized, relied on a human to read the old writing and type into an indexing program correctly what they read. Now I don't know about you, but I am a firm believer that the probability of a mistake being made every time a human interprets an old record is very high. I am not a scientist or professor of anything, just a genealogist that has found some of her surnames misspelled in numerous indexes a multitude of ways.

With all of that said, I come to the reason for this posting. I love making lists, so when I kept coming up with names that had been mis-indexed I couldn't resist but make a list showing the original name and how it had been mis-indexed. You will see in the examples below names that have been TOTALLY screwed up.

Name it was indexed                                    The REAL name
Hingdly                                                              Kingsley
Lera (it's a first name)                                       Seth
Orsborn                                                             Osborn
Funmtine (I couldn't even make something this silly up)           Turrentine
Iervin                                                                 Irwin
Turn                                                                  Gum
Porhua Crofs                                                      Joshua Cross

(side note: none of the names in the list are in my lineage - just names I have noticed that are messed up)

So when all else fails think outside the box. I often think to myself, "If I were going to mess this up, how would I do it?" If you know that your ancestors are living in a specific area, but can't find them on the census, try expanding your search parameters. Everyone of the examples listed above was found by doing just that. When a typical search turned up a negative result, I kept expanding the search parameters. Taking out the surnames and looking for just the first name in the particular county and state. If that had too many results, I added the birth year or birth place. If I still couldn't find them, I took out the first name and searched the county and state with just the birth year and birth place. If that had too many results I added if they were male or female.

As I was preparing this posting I had a perfect example of using the above to find someone. In the 1880 Census I was looking for Garland Slemmons born in Kentucky in 1824. From information that I had, I knew he was living in Nevada but couldn't find him. I took out the first name, leaving in the last name, birth place and birthdate. BINGO! The result was G. Slemmens in Douglas County, Nevada.

I look for him again in 1870 trying state of Nevada and I first try his full name. Result nothing. Second I replace Garland with G....result nothing. Next I try taking out the first initial and leaving in the last name of Slemmons. Bingo. They had him indexed with no first Madonna, Elvis or Cher! Anyway, I was able to find him just by opening up the search parameters.

I have tried this with my William L DeSpain looking for him in the 1880 Williamson County, Illinois census. Unfortunately, I haven't found him there, but I'm not giving up hope. After all, it is 19 years between that census and the time he dies and is buried there. So he could have been anywhere, but I truly believe that he is listed on that census. He's just not where I think he should be and his name has been messed up somehow.

So don't give up when you think that the ancestors are hiding from the census taker!

Hope you enjoyed, glad you stopped by and please come back again ;)


  1. Good points, and you gave me an idea to also make a list. Now, I am working on a Cross line (Ct, Vt and Canada), poss. your line? Do you think they spelled DeSpain as D. Spain? We really have to play detective don't we? Good luck.

  2. I think I tried with just the last name of Spain. But I'm not for sure, I will have to go back and make sure.

    Unfortunately, none of the ones that are in the list are my families. Of course, as bad as they were messed up maybe I should say fortunately. :) After your posting I did go back and add that little disclaimer. I should have thought about that before, thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    As far as being a detective, yes many times I feel like Columbo looking for people. HEEHEE!



Related Posts with Thumbnails