Monday, November 18, 2013

Coming To Your Census

With the advent of the digitization and indexing of the census pages from Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland and United States we have been spoiled in comparison to what researchers even ten years ago had to go through to find ancestors and relatives. Now we can visit many online sites that have made available those images and indexes. Some of those sites are free while others may require paying a monthly or annual fee to access the records. Even some of those pay sites may be freely available at your local archive, library or Family History Center.

Yet even with the indexes that are available some family members seem to be impossible to find in a census. There are many possible reasons they can't be found. Some of them are:
  • the hand writing by the enumerator is atrocious
  • the original microfilm was of poor quality
  • the original pages were damaged
  • the enumerator had no clue on how the name was spelled by the family
  • the person of interest has left the country or has died
  • the person's name may have changed due to marriage or due to "legal" issues
So what can you do to find them?

Some possible suggestions are:
  • Search for the household as a group but leave off their surname. 
  • Search for the youngest member of the household at the time of the census. Usually their age will be the most accurate.
  • Don't include the age or birth year of the person. For some reason it is not uncommon for women to not be exactly truthful when answering questions about their age.
  • Restrict the search to only a specific district, sub-district or town where they are believed to be living at the time of the census. This may reduce the number of possible names to look at to a manageable size.
  • If all else fails a page by page examination of the digitized images of an area may be necessary. Sort of an old school/new school approach.
For example, I was looking for the family of Arthur Finnie and his wife Elizabeth Ann (nee McMullen) yet I couldn't initially find them in the 1921 Census of Canada that has been made available on Ancestry. In this case I knew that they probably lived in Windsor and most likely had their 3 year old daughter Margaret living with them. So for the search parameters on Ancestry I specified the following details:
First & Middle Name: Elizabeth Ann
Birth Year: 1881
Birth Location: Ontario, Canada
Spouse: Arthur
Child: Margaret
Keyword: Windsor  [Exact match checked]
Gender: Female
Note that in this case I left off the surname for Elizabeth Ann Finnie but I did include her known birth year. The first match returned was a transcription for the household of Arthur Francise with wife Elizabeth, daughter Margaret and lodger Thompson Officer.

This is why being able to examine the image of the census record in question is so important.

1921 Census of Canada, Ontario, district 77, sub-district 41, Windsor, p. 17, dwelling 182, family 193, household of Arthur Finnie; RG 31; digital images,, ( : accessed 17 Nov 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada.

Looking at the image, at least to my eyes, the surname isn't "Francise" but is "Finnie", the family I am looking for.

So don't give up when searching for those family members apparently missing from the census. You may just need to be a little creative in your searches.

1 comment:

  1. One further tip. If looking for a family in an urban centre, check the relevant city directory for neighbours of the family you are looking for -- search for the neighbours (more names, more possibilities). I found the family I was searching for and discovered that the father's first name (Thomas) was recorded as the family surname!