Forgotten Trails: Backwards works in genealogy

Published 8:32 pm Wednesday, June 18, 2008

By Staff
We are still working our way backward on the census records. After the 1900s we would expect to go to the 1890 census, but alas it's not there. Most of the 1890 population schedules were destroyed or badly damaged by fire. The few remaining pieces have been microfilmed and contain the following: Perry County in Alabama, part of the District of Columbia and part of Georgia.
There is also a special 1890 census for Union veterans and Union widows of veterans of the Civil War. Speaking of the Civil War, there was a special census taken in 1907 of the Alabama Confederate veterans. This gave the following: name, place of residence, birth date, birthplace, date of entering the service, name of service unit, and date and place of discharge. This census is good, not only for surviving veterans, but also for family members. Find a brother, uncle, and etc. of your ancestor and it could tell you where the family came from.
The 1880 census was the first to be put on the Soundex system. The code is the same as I have already given but there is an important difference from the 1900 and 1910. The index cards made were only for households with a child with a different surname from the head of the household. I'll give you an example of what this means.
Recently I was called by a reader and was told the story of one of her ancestors. I remember the girl was an Arnold and because I can't remember the first name we'll call her Mary. Mary was born in the early 1870s and her mother died while she was very young. Mary's father left her with relatives and went to Texas to seek his fortune. The reader didn't not know where to find Mary in Alabama as a child. I suggested that she go to the 1880 census Soundex. The name Arnold would be coded A-654, roll # 3 Microfilm. Mary should be listed with the family she was living with. Her birth state should be listed and if the reader is lucky, the county might be. This would narrow the area that the reader would check in 1870 for Arnolds.
The 1880 census is very similar to the 1900 as to the content. It was the first to ask for the birthplace of the parents of the head of the household. Just remember what I told you earlier. Be skeptical about the information. Try to back it up with additional information. Maybe it's the same today, but it always surprises me to realize that some of these people knew very little of the background of their ancestors. This census also was the first to ask for each person's relationship to the head of the household.
The 1870 census contains the following: name, age, sex, color, occupation, value of real estate, value of personal property, birthplace, whether mother or father were foreign born, if born or married in past year, the month in which marriage took place, whether a person was in school that year, whether they could read or write, whether they were impaired, and number of males eligible or ineligible to vote.
The 1860 census contains the following: name, age, sex, color, occupation, value of real estate, value of personal property, birthplace, if married within the year, and whether the person could read or write.
Now we get to one of the first census records to be really informative -the 1850. This is the first census to record the name of everyone in the household, their age, occupation if over 15, and place of birth. For the first time you can find children by name and separate families. You have to remember that this was in the days when two or more families might be living in the same household. Children often grew up, married and raised their families in the same house with their parents. The 1850 census is the first hint that someone has more than one name. In 1850 my great-grandmother was listed as Serina Peacock but as she grew older, she became known as Jane. Her full name was Serina Jane Peacock. Nicknames also start to show up.
When I was very little I always disliked my name. It was so old-fashioned and I was the only one I knew named Lydia. We moved to another town for a short while when I was in the 10th grade so I decided to become known as Barbara, which is my middle name. Needless to say, I didn't answer too well to Barbara, so I was soon Lydia again.
Today, I appreciate my name because I have come to realize where it came from. My grandmother was Lydia Jane Marshall Snell. She was named for her aunt, Lydia Ann Narcissa Marshall Long (born 1834). Lydia Ann may have been named for another relative who lived in the 1700s. My name took on a new meaning for me, especially when I saw my grandmother listed as a four-year old Liddy on the 1880 census. My nickname was always Liddy when I was younger and people that knew me then still call me that.
I hope that my providing this information to you is serving a purpose. The information from census reports can be invaluable when doing research on any family history.
The knowledge I've gained from being involved with census records has been most interesting and has proven to be information that I wouldn't have been able to find in any family Bibles lying around.
N ext week we'll continue with the rest of the census records.
Until then, happy hunting!

Email newsletter signup