Monday, July 27, 2009

Tracking Torger in the Census Records

Since I added my wife's ancestry to my genealogy database several months ago, I wanted to add notes about these people. So I started finding census records on and extracting the information (into Notes) from them for her ancestral families.

Linda's great-grandfather is Torger Sjurson Leland (1850-1933). He was born in Norway to Sjur Torgerson and Britta Olsdatter, and he married in 1876, as Torger Sjurson, to Anna Ellingsdatter in Dane County, Wisconsin. Before 1880, Torger and his parents changed their surname to Leland, which was the farm that Ivar Torgerson's (Ivar was Sjur's brother) wife came from near Voss in Norway. The Sjur Torgerson family came to Wisconsin in the 1850's, according an article in a county history book about Torger's brother, Ole Sjurson Leland.

Tracking Torger Sjurson Leland through the census records was a challenge due to how his name was enumerated and indexed. I found him in all available census records from 1930 back to 1860. Here are the names I found for Torger (and his parents) in the U.S. census indexes on

1930 -- Targer Leland, age 80, in Grange, Chelan County, WA, with nephew Isidore Dykkesten's family and sister Isabel Dykkesten.

1920 -- T.S. Leland, age 69, in Spring Coulee, Okanagan, WA, with son A.H. Leland and his family.

1910 -- T.H. Leland, age 59, in Deerfield, Dane County, WI, with wife Annie and children Mabel, Arthur and Ruth

1900 -- Torga S. Leland, age 50, in Deerfield, Dane County, WI, with wife Anna and children Berthina, Theodore, Mable, Franklin, Arthur, and Ruth and brother Ole.

1880 -- Torger S. Leeland -- age 30, in Deerfield, Dane County, WI, with wife Anna and children Edwin, Sivert, Bertina and brother Ole.

1870 -- Lerger Severson -- age 20, in Dunkirk, Dane County, Wisconsin, boarding with Andrew Less family

1870 -- Seaver Torgerson -- age 67, in Deerfield, Dane County, Wisconsin, with wife Betsy and children Ole, Anna and Isabella.

1860 -- Tangor Fargason -- age 10, in Deerfield, Dane County, Wisconsin, with parents Seva and Bridget Fargason, and siblings Ole, Isabel and Ann. (This record definitely has a capital F for the surname!) I wonder if this was an enumerator from New England?

I learned some things here. It is apparent that the name "Sjur" is pronounced with an "e" or "i" sound for the "j" and a "v" sound for the "u," thereby rendering "Sjur" as "Seaver" or something similar. Granted, there are some entries for "Shurson" in place of "Sjurson" but there are no entries for "Sju*" in the Dane County 1870 census!

Another thing I learned is that sometimes a name is NEVER indexed correctly in the census records. Torger Sjurson Leland's name was never indexed correctly between 1860 and 1930. The only correctly indexed record was T.S. Leland in 1920. Seaver Torgerson's name was spelled phonetically correctly in the 1870 census.

Reading all of these records, I can understand how the written name Torger can be indexed as Tangor, Lerger, Torga, and Targer. Likewise, I can understand how the name Sjur can be spelled and indexed as Seaver and Sever. It is easy to understand how the name Leland can be spelled Leelend, but how did they ever spell the name Torgerson as Fargason?

I find these things fascinating! It points out the need to have advanced searching tools in order to find census records for our target persons, especially those that immigrated from non-English speaking countries. Using wild cards for names, being able to specify birth years and birth places, and to narrow searches to a state, county and township, are very useful tools for the census researcher. I appreciate that Ancestry has these search tools - when properly used they overcome the indexing quirks and problems.

This study will be one of the examples of my forthcoming presentation on "Why Can't I Find Them? Census Search Techniques That Work!" I hope to check the other available indexes (on HeritageQuestOnline and FamilySearch) and will try to report on them also.


Brian said...

I have that problem a lot. It comes with the territory when searching for Polish/Prussian family names. I've been "honing my craft" over the last few years, so I have a lot of little things I try and it usually helps a lot. It helped when finding that passenger record last week for ZALEWSKI.

Anonymous said...

Randy, I've sure been there. The worst is when they mess up the first letter of the last name, because that makes it even harder to find. You are correct in that looking for the phonetic helps. But sometimes the handwriting is just bad and that's how Torgerson is Fargason and my Pluta became Fluta!

Charles said...

I was asked by our congress woman's office to look up a Walmaki family in the 1910 or 1920 Washington census. I tried the soundex we have at the library for 1920 and nothing, also the index on CD for 1910, still nothing. 1930 one Walmaki family but not the one I was looking for. I tried Google for both families and found a website for the Walmaki family, contacted the E-Mail listed and the nice lady said they used the English translation of Walmaki for their surname in the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census. Note Walmaki is Finnish for Hill so I found them quickly under surname Hill.

Lynn said...

Don't know if you've gotten into Norwegian records before, but you'll go back quickly from there. The Norwegian archives is putting all of the parish books on-line for free access -- many are already done. It's a fantastic resource that's easy to use!!

lyn said...

I was about to totally give up on finding g-grandpa John C. Swan in the 1880 census. I knew he was in one of two states but even knowing that didn't help. It never occurred to me Swan would be easy to mis-read. I was about ready to start searching for him under Goose or Duck! Finally found him - he was indexed under Luan and Snow. The Luan I can sort of understand but Snow? Nah......

Lynn said...

Reading the names in the actual census is a good exercise in knowing why it is a benefit that various companies are transcribing them. Some writing is so hard to read that the various transcriptions (ancestry, familysearch and so on) are good to have -- you then have more than one set of eyes doing the reading. The different sites may give you very different spellings. I'd recommend that you don't just stick with one on-line site!

Geolover said...

Sometimes a totally incorrect surname is given for families in US Federal Census enumerations. One way this happened was when the enumerator's (or agents') notes were recopied onto the Census forms for the version sent to the Census Bureau.

Seen: reversing surname/firstname, so there was a Richard family instead of a Moore; a Noah family instead of a Baird.

Seen: ancestor's surname Shaver very plainly written) instead of Shearer.

Seen: cousin's surname 'Pennybaker' instead of Atkinson; there were Pennybakers earlier on the same page, possibly the person who made the original notes failed to write in the actual Atkinson surname, or the copyist was interrupted and returned to work having lost his place.

Existing search engines do not do well being 'fuzzy' about misreadings of initial letters of names, so the S/L, J/T/F and M/W H/N misreadings can be very hard to find in already-indexed documents.

So many quirks, so little time!

Ambar said...

It is easy to understand how the name Leland can be spelled Leelend, but how did they ever spell the name Torgerson as Fargason?

Capital script T and capital script F can look very similar.... take it from someone who's spent a lot of time researching TIERNEY and finding it under Fearney or worse!