Saturday, November 11, 2006

my talk at SDGS today

I gave my "Finding Your Elusive Ancestors in the Census Haystack" presentation today at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting. We had about 80 in attendance, and they mostly sat with rapt attention (I didn't see anybody nodding off) as I fought through my stack of 60 overheads to bring them pearls of wisdom and shovels of experience.

I did a little survey at the start: everyone had done census research, and most had done it with index books, Soundex cards and microfilm cranking - the "old way." About half had used online resources, but none of them had found "all" of their ancestors in the census.

My main thesis in this talk was that errors inevitably cropped up during the census enumeration and indexing processes - they were done by humans. Consequently, perhaps 15% to 25% of the people in each census were either not enumerated at all, were not enumerated correctly or were not indexed correctly. However, by applying "advanced search techniques" (using combinations of given name, last name, age, birthplace, etc., and using wild cards for the names) in the Ancestry and/or HQO census indexes, perhaps half of the "needles in the haystack" can be found.

I received some feedback from several attendees that they got some good ideas and encouragement for further research in Ancestry's census indexes and images.

One of the members attending had read my blog post from Friday about looking for data on Edward and Elizabeth Simes, and had found their cemetery records online and provided a printout to me at the break. Amazing. I was thankful - it had Elizabeth's maiden name on it!

The sound equipment at the SDGS venue (lavalier mike, receiver and sound board tweaking) is very touchy - it seemed like every time I wandered around in front of the audience that it would buzz a bit, so I tried to stay put and not give everybody an ear jolt. We had one of those when I first turned the mike on - ouch!

This may be the last presentation I do with overheads - I won't miss them! I should be able to use the laptop (my wife's birthday present!) early next year if the society has access to an LCD projector.


Tim Agazio said...


I find it interesting that only half of your audience have used online census resources. I have to admit that when I started my genealogy quest in 2002, Ancestry had a good portion of their census holdings already up so the online method is the only one i've used. One thing I really like about Ancestry now is that you can "correct" errors in the indexing efforts. Of course, this means you have to find the errors before you can correct them...but at least this feature will help future genealogists. I've used the "old way" for other types of records, but not the census.

Randy Seaver said...


I wasn't surprised. The folks who attend the SDGS Saturday meetings are fairly elderly - very few younger than me (I'm 63). And these are the 20% of the society that attends the meetings!

I'm going to take another survey of my CVGS group and get better data on Internet use. We have run an "Internet Basics" class the last two years - many of them have a computer, but use it only for email.

Cheers -- Randy