Monday, September 3, 2007

The Ultimate "Dodging the Census" Puzzle

DearMYRTLE has three posts about "Dodging the Census" here, here and here. Ol' MYRT's first post provides some suggestions for solving these problems.

My post titled "Dear Genea-Man: Why Can't I Find My Ancestors in the Census" described my own tips and tricks for dealing with this problem. Read the comments on that post for additional tips from readers.

Many of us have experienced similar puzzles and problems concerning our own ancestry or that of colleagues. I want to resurrect my "ultimate" dodging the census problem:

I have posted several times about my love-in-law's Thompson family in Tennessee - see "The Robert Leroy Thompson Brick Wall."

Here is my research summary from that post:

Robert Leroy Thompson (born 12 Aug 1880 in Huntland, Franklin County, TN, died 26 Sept 1965 in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, NC). I have the data from his death certificate. He married Lillian Russell Daniel (born about 1900) of Anderson County TN in about 1917. In some records, he is known as Leroy Thompson - no Robert. I do not have Robert Leroy's Social Security application.

The family had military records from World War I and memories from his four daughters, one of whom is still alive. The four daughters included Gwen Margaret Thompson (born 7 May 1921) and Lois Elizabeth Thompson (born 18 July 1926).

The family said that after Robert left the Army, he attended college in Georgia and the family reportedly lived in southwestern Virginia and in Kingsport, Sullivan County, TN where Lois was born in 1926.

Robert Leroy Thompson's parents, according to all the family records and the death certificate, were William A. and Lydia (Childress) Thompson. They had at least one other child - William Thompson - before Robert's birth. The family says that Lydia died when Robert was 3, and his father married again. The family records also say that William A. Thompson's parents were William S. and Parthenia (Dean?) Thompson.

I cannot find ANY census record for any of these three families.

I started in the 1930 census, hoping to find Robert Leroy and Lillian Thompson somewhere with their daughters Gwen and Lois. I've used wild cards extensively for the surname (e.g., Thomp*, Tomp*, Thom*, Tom*, etc.). I've tried looking for just the children - for each of them with either their given or middle name, etc. I've tried searching for just Robert (or Leroy, Rob*, Lee*, Ler*, R, L) and Lillian (or Lil*, Lel*, L) as husband and wife, using wild cards and spelling variations, without success. I searched the Kingsport TN census for 1930 line-by-line hoping that I would find the family there. There is one Robert L. Thompson married to a Lila living in Guilford NC with an 18-year old daughter, Hazel. I don't believe that this is the right family, although they came from eastern Tennessee. The 1930 census is more difficult to work with because the birthplace of dependents are not indexed - only the head of household (and those with another surname in a family) are indexed.

They are just not in the 1930 census records with any of these names. I have expanded the search to surrounding states and have been unable to find them using all of the search techniques I normally use.

I also can't find them in the 1920, 1910 or 1900 census records. Same process, same results. In 1900 and 1910, Robert Leroy Thompson was not married, according to family memories (but who knows?). For instance, there are 25 Rob* Thomp* born 1875-1885 in TN (but no Ler* Thomp*) in the 1910 census.

In the 1880 census, there are Thompson families in Franklin County TN, but none with a son William or parents William and Lydia Thompson. I estimated that William and Lydia are in the age 20 to 40 range in 1880. Robert Leroy was born in August and therefore is not likely to appear on the 1880 census, although I've looked for him! I've looked for parents named William and Lydia and son William (using wild cards) without success. I have expanded this search to surrounding states without success.

In the 1870, 1860 and 1850 census, there are no entries for a William and Parthenia Thompson - with alternative spellings, using wild cards, etc.

So there are 7 sets of census data without a hint of three generations of this family. What are the odds for that? If the chance of an incorrect census index entry is 20% (my guess), then 0.2 to the 7th power is 1 in 78,125. Those are pretty long odds!

Did this family change their name at some point? Did they hide from the census taker every year? Were they dropped off from a UFO?

I'm now thinking that perhaps Robert Leroy Thompson was adopted by another family after his mother died, and that he took their Thompson surname. If that was the case, then William and Lydia's surname might not be Thompson but some other name. That would reduce the "dodging the census" to 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 only - the odds are still 0.2 to the 4th power, or 1 chance in 625.

Another possibility is that Robert Leroy's birth parents had the surname Thompson, but that he was adopted by a family with another surname, and when he became an adult (say before 1910) he changed his surname back to Thompson.

I would appreciate any suggestions that readers have - please help me think outside the box!


Anonymous said...

Can't help you with your problem Randy, but My WATSON great grandmother and her family were listed as WATERS in the 1910 Census... So I know the frustration you are feeling! Have you looked for Robert as Rbt or Robt in the Census? I notice in lots of Census' that I look at Robert is not often spelled out, same for William and James LOL. When write what you see, not what you think the census taker was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

I am having a similar problem. My maternal grandfather's family went by two surnames. I have searched all surnames (alt. spellings, etc...)I CANNOT find them anywhere. THere are no birth records, no obituaries, nothing. The only thing I did find was stuff from 1950-1960.
According to family members my ancestors used a different name during the 1920-1930's for illegal reasons, (working under the table, and prohibition raids). They were raided and forced to move and change their names again in order to avoid tax evasion charges as well as prohibition charges. So if one wanted to I believe they could "hide from the paper trail" so to speak. The only problem I am having with their explanations of me not finding any paper trails is that they told me the names that they used and I still can't find them. I don't know what could explain any of this. Please HELP!