I’ll bet you thought I had forgotten to finish this. You’re partly right. “Forgot” wouldn’t exactly be the right word…more like “snowed under”…with no snow but wheat harvest and cakes and another harvest…well anyway, I thought I’d best get on with this!
So when last we spoke, I was going on about the glories of DSL and its lightning fast ability to find Granny Miller and her whole clan in the mountains of Tennessee! Yep, that hookup with DSL opened up a whole new world for me in the realm of family histories and the like.
I found that slowly but surely, more and more genealogy sites were coming online and they were beginning to connect with each other. Many counties, say in Texas, had their own genealogy websites, complete with county marriage/death/birth records and some even had…gasp..the Holy Grail of Researchers…CENSUS RECORDS transcribed on-line. All of this was too good to be true! And it was.
In those early days of internet census records, try as hard as they might, transcribers misspelled or misinterpreted names and numbers. For example…the transcriber might type the surname “Dendy” as “Dandy”, so you had to be careful. Tricky business this was. And that was good because it taught me pay attention to the small things!
Then there was the fallibility of the census taker. Sometimes they just spelled things as they sounded re: Maas became Moss, Henrietta became Henryetter or Ritter or Ritty. Or if the 6-year-old sister couldn’t remember the new baby’s name and Ma was out picking cotton, the census taker just went with “Boy” and left it at that.
One of my biggest finds was a search for my paternal great-great grandmother’s name. A great-aunt had written that her name was Annett. Well, that looked right. No “e” on the end but that was explainable. Then, I started going through census records which is a long, long story so we’ll just cut to the chase. I went from “Annett”, to “Senett” to “Hersynith” to “Sceny” to “Acinis” to “Hercinthia”…with the possibility that this lady could actually have been dubbed “Cynthia” at birth!! Seriously. In other words, I have not a clue what my great-great granny’s name is for real! What I really wanted was her maiden name and with only one clue in hand, nothing has come of that. Yet. 🙂
The census taker’s handwriting played into the project big time as some of the early census takers wrote with artistic flourish, which looked nice but deciding whether that first letter was an “N” or a “S” took on the importance of an algebraic formula, therefore North Carolina did NOT equal South Carolina . Interpreting those two letters correctly could be the difference of hundreds of miles of travel if a genealogist wanted to do some on site research on Grand Pappy Fisher who either lived in North Carolina or South Carolina. Or, somewhere in between…
That problem birthed a whole new specialty among genealogists…handwriting experts. These are the folks who walk around with a magnifying glass in hand and spend hours, yea, days, perusing original census records comparing “I”s to “F’s with the concentration of a bomb disarmer!! Bless their hearts.
To further complicate the matter, I learned that the census taker might have visited Great-great-granny Smith at a time when Granny had gone berry picking and left Matilda Jane, the oldest of her bevy of children, in charge of the household for the day. Matilda Jane gave information about her siblings ages and her Daddy’s folks and unless she was exceedingly sharp and paid attention when her mother talked about such things (if she did talk about them), data had a high probability of getting really, really messed up.
Think about it. Do you know any teenager, or for that matter, most adults who can give birth years and birth places for say, a dozen people, how long their parents have been married, where their grandparents hailed from, the approximate dollar value of the home, who was head of the household, do I count Grandma too, when they immigrated from the old country, whether Pa served in the military and which branch…see where I’m going with this? Most of us would struggle with known information about two people much less a huge family living in the isolated plains of the Midwest!
And when, as a researcher, you realized that the 1870 census said Pa was born in Georgia and the 1880 census said he was born in Alabama, you frantically headed for the 1900 census (no, I did not skip 1890. There is NO 1890 census as it burned in Washington D.C. much to the eternal agony of all serious genealogists. I will never…nay, never, get over that.) to see if Alabama won or Georgia won! Have mercy if that third census said Missouri was his place of birth.
Most of the above research was accomplished while using the internet indexes for census names, court records, church records, etc. Once you found a name on the index, then a trip to the nearest library was imminent! Once you arrived at the library, you sat transfixed to a microfiche projector, rolling through names until tears flowed…either from exhaustion or frustration.
And lo and behold….Ancestry.com came into being. Color me thrilled!