Saturday, July 1, 2006

Census Errors - some examples

In the past four years, I've completed a one-name study for Seaver in the 1850 to 1930 (minus 1890 of course) census records. The first part of the project was easy - use the indices for the common surname variations (SEAVER(s), SEVER(S)) and collect them.

From that info input to my database, I was able to identify the families with "missing census years." So I went searching for the specific families in the "missing census years," using all of the search techniques in the books, articles, lists, etc. that I could find. I was able to find about 50% of the missing families. Nearly all of them had enumerator or index misspellings ranging from "understandable" to "how'd that happen?" Nearly all were due to poor handwriting, poor indexing, entries too light or dark, etc.

The more common SEAVER surname misspellings were LEAVER, SCAVER, SEOVER, SEANER, SEARER, SEAVEN, etc., and variations of them. There were only a few entries that had the name flat wrong in the index compared to the actual name on the image.

Not all names are like Seaver, which had about a 5% error rate (misspelled or misread relative to the total occurrence in the index) from what I could tell from my study. But it is not a rare name, just uncommon, with a lot of lower case letters without ascenders or descenders. Many names are more easily read, and some names are much more difficult.

Many names are easily recognizable even with poor handwriting. The HQO head of household index in 1900 for SMITH (292140 hits) has about a 0.2% error rate - check on SIMTH (80), SMTIH (313), SMTH (46), MSITH (34), SMIH (43), SMITHS (87), SMITHE (84), SMIHT (0), etc. These are likely just indexing typo errors, but the point is that even with a known and common surname, there are a finite number of unavoidable typing errors. 0.2% is one of every 500 entries. I found a typo rate of about 0.3% today on the 1920 census on Ancestry using the same process.

As you can tell, I've been spending way too much time on this...

Census Index Errors at Ancestry or HQO

Have you found every one of your families in the Ancestry or HQO census indexes and page images? There are many reasons why you may have not found your families in the census records, including:

1) The census taker did not enumerate the family (therefore they are not in the index)

2) The census taker did enumerate the family (and they are in the index), but:
* put the wrong surname on the entry.
* the person giving the information gave erroneous names, ages, birthplaces, etc.
* when he copied the data onto the federal copy of the census form, he left the family off the copy.

3) For the families on the census records, the indexer:
* Could not accurately read the handwriting of the enumerator, or any overmarks that might obscure the data.
* Could not read the page or image due to faded writing or a damaged, torn or soiled page.
* mis-typed the surname, given name, ages, relationships, birthplace, etc.
* skipped one or more lines on the census page, or a whole census page, by mistake

Based on my extensive use of the census indexes and images on both HQO and Ancestry, I believe that the error rate of the indexes is on the order of 15% to 25%. I have asked some professional researchers, and have gotten responses in that range.

I also believe that about 40% to 50% of those "errors" are for families that are actually on the census pages, but the enumerator or indexer errors are so bad that you have to use advanced search strategies to find them - just putting in the names and a state/county will not find them. A combination of wild cards for names, age ranges, birthplace, and specific locations often will result in success for those elusive census folks.

What is your experience?

1910 Census Search problem on Ancestry

I went to the FHC today to look at the 1910 Every Name Index on for some of my families. I didn't count on having problems with the Index, and am wondering if others have experienced the same thing.

If I put in a given name and surname, I get useful results.
If I put in the given name, surname and a state, I get zero results.
If I put in the given name, surname and birthplace state, I get zero results.
If I put in the given name, surname and a year of birth, I get useful results.
If I put in the given name, surname and gender, I get zero results.
If I put in the given name, surname and race, I get zero results.

I tried all of that with John Smith as the name. I get the same pattern of results if I put in just a given name or just a surname, or wild cards for either or both of the names.

Using the 1900 and 1920 indexes on Ancestry, I get results for every combination listed above.

I think that the Ancestry subscription at the FHC is different from the Ancestry home subscription that many of us have (but I don't have yet). I'm wondering if Ancestry has a problem with the library subscription part of their service.

Has anyone else experienced this, or know what to do about it?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Top Ten Lists for Genealogists

I still think that Chris Dunham is the funniest genealogy blogger I know. He's on vacation this week somewhere in the wilds of central Maine, so what he doesn't see is all good for us stuck blogging away looking for content. One of his many themes is Top Ten Lists - the link to all of his Top 10 lists is here.

My favorite top ten list is The Top Ten Reasons I Love Genealogy, below:

10. All the women are hot and willing to share.

9. Helped me discover my dust allergy.

8. A head start toward becoming a Mormon.

7. Keeps me from wasting time on living people.

6. Free pencil sharpenings at the archives.

5. Cheaper than space travel.

4. More lucrative than etymology.

3. Fills the empty hours between waking and falling asleep.

2. Provides a good excuse for loitering in graveyards.

1. The only one of my hobbies for which a DNA sample is voluntary.

Like that one? Agree with me? Read them all!

"I Am My Own Grandpa"

There aren't really many songs with a genealogy theme. The most well-known is "I Am My Own Grandpa" written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, and performed by several artisits in the 1950's and 1960's, including Lonzo and Oscar and Homer and Jethro. The lyrics are:

"I Am My Own Grandpa"

Many many years ago, when I was twenty three,
I got married to a widow, who was pretty as could be.

This widow had a grown-up daughter, Who had hair of red.
My father fell in love with her, And soon the two were wed.

This made my dad my son-in-law, And changed my very life.
My daughter was my mother, For she was my father's wife.

To complicate the matters worse, Although it brought me joy.
I soon became the father, Of a bouncing baby boy.

My little baby then became, A brother-in-law to dad.
And so became my uncle, Though it made me very sad.

For if he was my uncle, Then that also made him brother
To the widow's grown-up daughter, Who, of course, was my step-mother.

Father's wife then had a son, Who kept them on the run.
And he became my grandson, For he was my daughter's son.

My wife is now my mother's mother, And it makes me blue.
Because, although she is my wife, She's my grandma too.

If my wife is my grandmother, Then I am her grandchild.
And every time I think of it, It simply drives me wild.

For now I have become, The strangest case you ever saw.
As the husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa!!

When I played a tape of this at my genealogy society, I also showed the home-made pedigree chart below and pointed out each relationship - it all finally made sense!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Are You My Cousin? Probably...

There are math experts who assert that everyone is a cousin of every one else, mainly because there had to be a Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) - someone who "fathered" or "mothered" the species as we know it. See this article for further discussion.

Jack Lee makes an interesting analysis that shows that the odds are excellent that every person with European ancestry has Charlemagne in their ancestry. His point is:

My conclusion, which was surprising (to me at least), is that there is virtually no chance that anyone of European ancestry is not directly descended from Charlemagne.

Here's my reasoning. Charlemagne was approximately 40 generations back from the present day. Each person has 2 parents, 2^2 = 4 grandparents, 2^3 = 8 great-grandparents, ... and 2^40, or approximately 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) 40th-generation ancestors, which means half a trillion male ancestors. Of course, since the entire male population of Europe at the time of Charlemagne was only about 15 million, these half trillion ancestors cannot all have been different men -- obviously there has been a lot of cross-breeding, and many of our ancestral lines cross and re-cross, eventually ending up at the same person.

He then uses probability theory to show that the odds that Charlemagne is NOT one of your half-trillion male ancestors is an incredibly small number: about one chance in 10^15,000 (thats 10, followed by 15,000 zeroes). Read the whole article.

Our challenge as genealogists, of course, is to find a line back to the "giants of history" - Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, Niall of the Nine Hostages, etc.

Have you found the link yet? If not, keep searching. There are several books out about descendants of European royalty and nobles, and there is a thriving interest in medieval genealogy. If you can find a link to one of the persons mentioned in these books, you're in luck.

You can legitimately walk up to Buckingham Palace and ask for dear old cousin Elizabeth, asserting your relationship. She would probably send out her lowest footman to see you, since you are certainly his cousin too. And, very likely, the homeless person in the park downtown is too.

Cluster Genealogy

One of our CVGS society members asked me last week about how to solve a brick wall problem for one of her family lines in the mid-1800's. The family showed up in the 1850 census in Ohio, and the parents had a New York birthplace. The surname was fairly common, with many entries in the 1840 NY census, but not for this family.

My response was to try to find the New York location by using "Cluster Genealogy" techniques. Of course, she asked me to define "cluster genealogy" and I'm not sure I did the term justice.

I found several articles on the topic, and they are all worth your time to read:

1) Rhonda McClure's article on Her definition:

Cluster genealogy is a term that is not used very often because people are not practicing it as much as they used to. Cluster genealogy is the practice of branching out beyond your ancestor to research those individuals and families that were are connected to your individual. These connections may be as tight as a marriage or as loose as a witness on a land deed.

2) Kimberly Powell's article on Her introduction:

Our ancestors did not live in isolation, although we often research them as if they did. They were part of a family, with siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other relatives. They were also part of a community, with friends, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers. This "cluster" of family, friends and neighbors can provide valuable clues to the lives of our ancestors.

3) A FEEFHS presentation by Lis Aalzo on "Cluster Genealogy." This presentation (in PDF format) shows how the author solved research problems using Cluster Genealogy techniques.

How about a book? Try this one: Emily Ann Croom, "The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research", Betterway Books, 2000.

There are several other books that include "Cluster Genealogy" as a chapter or topic.

Have you practiced "cluster genealogy?" Maybe without even knowing it, but read the articles and maybe even buy the book and learn how to use it effectively.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Missing Friends" Irish database 1831-1921

I don't have any Irish ancestry, and haven't done any research in Irish resources. I was aware that the Boston (MA) Pilot newspaper had a column called "Missing Friends" for a long period of time, but I didn't know that the transcribed data was online. I saw the link while perusing the web site.

Boston College has online transcriptions of the "Missing Friends" columns here. The database is summarized below:

From October 1831 through October 1921, the Boston Pilot newspaper printed a “Missing Friends” column with advertisements from people looking for “lost” friends and relatives who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. This extraordinary collection of 31,711 records is available here as a searchable online database, which contains a text record for each ad that appeared in the Pilot.

The advertisements contain the ordinary but revealing details about the missing person’s life: the county and parish of their birth, when they left Ireland, the believed port of arrival in North America, their occupation, and a range of other personal information. Some records may have as many as 50 different data fields, while others may offer only a few details. The people who placed ads were often anxious family members in Ireland, or the wives, siblings, or parents of men who followed construction jobs on railroads or canals.

These “Missing Friends” advertisements provide a window on the world of Irish immigration. For further resources and more about the history Irish immigration, the Great Famine, and the Pilot, visit the History or Resources pages.

This database seems invaluable for researchers looking for their Irish ancestry.

Outstanding Canada Genealogy site

There is an outstanding web site for Canadian, American and British Isles genealogy at The main page has links to genealogy resources, genealogy software, and genealogy books and other products.

They also have a free genealogy email newsletter called "Global Gazette" that you can sign up for.

However, the real prize for me was the online Canadian resources on this page. The Canadian census records available online arel isted by year - some of them are free sites and some are paid sites, and not every year has a name index or the census images. The point is that all of the years are in one place and easily accessible.

There are links to online data for each province and for a number of research topics (e.g., vital records, military records, immigration records, etc.).

If you have Canadian ancestry, this site looks like a gold mine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Historic Pennsylvania site

Do you have Pennsylvania ancestry? I do - in York, Lancaster, Westmoreland, Lawrence and Mercer Counties.

I ran across the web site recently, which has:

1) Biographies from 18 counties, with more being added. For the counties on the list, they don't have the complete set - my Carringer ancestor is in the Mercer County book and is not listed yet at the site.

2) PA History Books - a list for each county of the books avaialable either online for free, on Ancestry, or only in book form. You might check the USGenWeb sites for your County of interest, also.

3) PA Yearbooks - links to school yearbooks and the like. This actually leads to an Old Yearbooks site for all of the USA.

4) PA Old Photos - links to county pages with old photos. This leads to a site called with links to every state.

5) Men of the Cloth - PA Preachers and Pastors in Western PA - this is on a Rootsweb site.

6) Western PA Orphans - Western PA Orphan lists - this is also on a Rootsweb site.

By clicking through this site, I found several more useful sites. Isn't it great how the Internet works? You look for something pretty simple (in my case, PA biographies) and you end up reading hundreds of web pages over several hours, and then you wonder where the time went.

Go see the site, but come back soon!

Digital Photo Restoration

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society's monthly program was on Monday morning. We had an informative and interesting talk about "Digital Photo Restoration" by Claire Santos-Daigle, who has a business called "Photos Made Perfect" in Chula Vista.

Claire showed us examples of her work in restoring, cleaning, colorizing and retouching photographs, documents and artwork. She explained how she creates portraits using special effects to crop, blur, combine, colorize, remove glare, combine two pictures, isolate a person, put people together, create a collage - essentially whatever the customer wants. She demonstrated how she uses the JASC Paintshop Pro software to do the restoration work.

Most of our society members are seniors, and just about everybody has precious photos in frames or in shoeboxes that are waiting to be restored, enlarged, copied or modified. It was an excellent program for our society.

There are many photo restoration experts, web sites and businesses. If you live near Chula Vista, Photos Made Perfect may be a good option.

Are you using Bloglines?

There are now over 40 genealogy blogs on Cyndi Howell's list of blogs here. And there are more out there that she doesn't list yet.

So how do you keep track of them all? Is it worth your time to visit each one every day? I found that it was not worth my time, and Bloglines came to the rescue.

On the Bloglines home page, you will need to click on the "Subscribe" link and sign up for a free account (I have had no spam from this account). Then you can click on the "My Feeds" tab and then click on the "Add" link and insert the URL for every blog (one at a time) that you want to follow efficiently. You can put any number of them here, and they don't even have to be about genealogy.

I recommend that you save your Bloglines page as a Favorite or Bookmark and put it at the top of your blog list. When you next go to the Bloglines site, you can click on "My Feeds" and see all of your subscribed blogs and they will be highlighted if they have new content. Then you can click on the highlighted blogs and read their content without going to the actual web page. If you want to make a comment on a particular blog, you can click on the post title and go directly to the blog and make your comment.

Pretty cool.

For bloggers, the drawback is that using Bloglines probably doesn't show up in your hits count. On the other hand, the Bloglines list does show how many people are subscribed to your blog. Right now, I have 7 subscribers. Eastman has 146 subscribers.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Civil War Medicine

While trying to solve Colleen Fitzpatrick's latest puzzle, I ran across a very informative and intriguing site concerning Civil War Medicine. Who knew that there was a National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland? I didn't!

There are a number of pages on this site - check out the Exhibits button and take some of the Virtual Tours (you need a broadband connection). Also click on the Collections button for more detail about their museum collection of artifacts.

It's a great site. Any suggestions for more museum sites?

Genea-Musings returns...tired but happy

Well, I'm almost back to blogging. I wondered if I'd miss it - I didn't much!

We've had an action-packed and fun-filled weekend - the Padres game on Friday night, the SD Zoo on Saturday, both daughters went out Saturday night leaving the three little ones (ages 33, 16 and 4 months) for us to put to bed (and Lucas stayed up until 11 PM), then church and an ice-cream social on Sunday. Today they went out to visit friends, leaving Linda and I enjoying the peace and quiet of our messy house. They leave tomorrow, so we'll be back to our normal schedules soon, after we sleep 12 hours for about 3 nights. Whew - I've not been so tired in awhile. But I'm not complaining - this was more fun than I was hoping for, but it was also a lot of work.

I'll post some pictures of the little ones sometime soon - after all, it's genealogy related for me and them - they are the 14th generation in my Seaver line.

We had our CVGS society meeting today, and I'll blog about that soon. Also, I've actually had a few hours today to check my email, visit some web sites, figure out Colleen's latest puzzle, and in the process find some new and interesting genealogy and history things.

Did I miss anything important these 4 days?