Monday, October 9, 2006

Overcoming Enumeration and Indexing Errors

One of my presentations is about "Finding Your Elusive Ancestor in the Census Haystack." As part of this talk, I show some of the surname variations I've found in my own research that resulted from either enumeration errors (written wrong on the census pages) or indexing errors (reading the handwriting wrong or misspelling the index entry).

Some examples:

1) In my SEAVER surname research, I've found that almost every letter in the surname can be read differently, resulting in about a 10% error rate. The obvious enumeration or indexing errors (not counting Seavers, Sever, Severs, Seever, etc.) include Seaven, Seamer, Seaner, Sener, Seanr, Searer, Scaver, Scover, Seover, Seuver, Seaves, Seaber, Seeber, Seavar, Seavor, Seeva, Seave, Siever, Severe, Siever, Slaver, Sedver, Seaser, Saever, Saver, Seavor, Seauer, Seaur, Searn, Sraver, Leaver, Leaves, etc. Some, but not all, of the people with these spellings are actually Seaver/Sever, based on the family structure and other records. Most of them are logical - the capital S looks like an L; the small v looks like m, n, s, r or u; the letter r looks like n or s, the letter e looks like c, l or r; you get the idea.

Some of the other spellings for known Seaver/Sever names include Ceaver, Deaver, Seavey, Seavern, Seavert, Sears, Seares, Searl, Seriver, and Stevenes. Some of these are understandable, some arent't, at least to me. Perhaps the enumerator guessed or the indexer guessed at something unreadable.

2) One of my ancestral surnames is AUBLE, pronounced like "awe-bull". I've found this name as Aubel, Able, Abel, Cuble, Huble, Suble, and Aubbe. These are all understandable to me - the capital A, C, H and S have similar handwriting strokes and can be miswritten or misread. Just today I solved a research problem for a correspondent who was trying to determine if HC Auble was really Herman C. Auble. He is Herman in 1860 and 1880, but is enumerated and indexed as Cuble in 1870, when the list of children matches the 1880 list.

The point here is to think creatively - how can your ancestors surname be misspelled or misindexed? Write it out in long hand and figure out what the misspellings might be. Then go look for them in the census records on Ancestry or HeritageQuestOnline. Think about other records too - who knows if the church clerk, the town clerk, or some other scribe wrote down the name correctly?

If you are in the San Diego area, I will be presenting "Finding Your Elusive ancestor in the Census Haystack" at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting on 11 November at 12 noon at St. Andrews Methodist Church in San Diego (Lake Murray Blvd and Jackson Drive in the San Carlos area).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This might explain why I can't find my elusive non-ancestor, Tillotson M. Neaves. In the one census where I found him, he's indexed as Silatoon. Given a line-by-line search of every possible census record, maybe I could find the dude. Or software that showed every possible transliteration or misspelling. Or, then again, maybe he just never bothered to participate in a census after the age of ten. I have a page about him at