Friday, March 13, 2015

Dear Randy: Why Do You Use a Census Fact Instead of a Residence Fact?

Jane asked an interesting question in a comment to my post Trying to Keep the FamilySearch Family Tree Profiles Updated (12 March 2015), saying:

"I do have a question about your choice to use a custom fact for the census data vs. a residence [fact]. Any thoughts?"

My response is:

A lot of Fact/Events in a family tree database are by personal choice.  I find it easier to use one Census Fact/Event for a person in my RootsMagic program rather than use a separate Event for Residence, Name, Age, Gender, Marital Status, Marriage Year, Birthplace, Years of Education, Literacy, Citizenship, Occupation, Industry, Salary, Home Ownership, Radio Ownership, Property Value, etc. (depending on census year) for each person in the family.

The Census is a "snapshot" event - the information was told to the the enumerator by an informant on the day the enumerator came around nosing into other people's business by government edict.  There is no guarantee that every bit of information is accurate.  But the information is very useful as a snapshot Fact/Event, with the understanding that it may be inaccurate.

Rather than make a number of Facts/Events based on one census enumeration, I choose to create a Census Event to capture all of that information in one place.  Note that it is on the list of Fact Types in RootsMagic and other programs, and there is a CEN tag in GEDCOM, so it's not a "custom" event any more than "Residence" or "Occupation" are.

Here is a screenshot of my grandfather's "Edit Person" Fact/Event list:

As an example, here is the 1940 U.S. Census record for my grandparents' family in San Diego:

I create the Fact/Event for the person, date it, source it, and attach the record image.  Yes, this operation is "Conclusion-based" rather than "Evidence-based" -- that's how I choose to enter information into my software.  I also create a Fact Note, and then extract the information in the census record into the Fact Note, for example for my grandparents' family, the 1940 Census Fact Note is:
In the 1940 U.S. Census, this family resided at 2130 Fern Street in San Diego.  The household included:
*  Lyle L. Carringer - Head of household, male, white, age 48, married, 4 years of high school, born California, lived in same house in 1935, worked the last week of March 1940, occupation is office clerk, Industry is Retail Dep[artmen]t Store, worked 52 weeks in 1939, earned $1475 in 1939, did not make over $50 in other income,
*  Emily K. Carringer (provided information) - Wife, female, white, age 41, married, attended school in March 1940, 3 years of high school, born Illinois, lived in same house in 1935, did not work the last week of March 1940, had a job, occupation is clerical & saleslady, Industry is Retail Dep[artmen]t Store, worked 52 weeks in 1939, earned $269 in 1939, made over $50 in other income. 
*  Betty Z. Carringer - Daughter, female, white, age 20, single, attended school in March 1940, 4 years of college, born California, lived in same house in 1935, did not work the last week of March 1940,  in School, occupation is student art clerk, Industry is College, worked 6 weeks in 1939, earned $100 in 1939, made over $50 in other income. 
*  Georgia K. Auble - Mother in law, female, white, age 71, widowed, 4 years of high school, born Ontario, Naturalized citizen, lived in same house in 1935, did not work the last week of March 1940, did Housework, occupation is housewife, Industry is own home, earned $0 in 1939,  made over $50 in other income.

The same Fact/Event type, date, source, image and note are used for each person in the Census record of interest.  As an alternative, I could create a Census (Family) Fact/Event and attach it to all the people, but I'm not sure how that transfers in a GEDCOM export/import process. 

If I read that Fact/Event Note in a narrative format, relative to other Facts/Events, then I think I have a better understanding of who fits into the family, what their role in society is, etc.  Those Fact/Event Notes can go into a narrative report to create a chronological narrative of the life of the person.  

If I did it with separate Facts/Events, then I could create Facts/Events, just for my grandfather, for:

*  Residence in 1940:  2130 Fern Street, San Diego
*  Sex:  Male
*  Birth:  about 1892 in California
*  Marital status:  Married
*  Education:  4 Years of high school
*  Residence (in 1935):  2130 Fern Street, San Diego
*  Occupation (in 1940):  Office clerk in retail department store
*  Salary (in 1939):  $1475

Of course, I would have to create many more separate Fact/Events for the other persons in the census record.

I admit that using the Census Fact/Event is done partially for convenience - it's faster - but it's also "neater" in my mind - it's an information snapshot tied up in one bundle that can be used in a narrative to convey what was told the enumerator.  

I use the "Residence" Fact/Event when I have City Directory information, or personal knowledge, and usually include a span of years rather than just one year.

I also use an "Occupation" Fact/Event to highlight the occupation found in different Fact/Events, including the Census Fact/Event, so I'm inconsistent in that regard.

I use the "official census date" for the Census Fact/Event (e.g., 1 April 1940 for the 1940 U.S. Census) rather than the enumeration date because the enumerator instructions say that the information should be as of the official date.  It's another personal choice.  It's also easier to remember the official date rather than find it on the census page.  

I hope that answers Jane's question!  Thank you for providing blog fodder on a busy genealogy day!

How do my readers use the census information in their genealogy management program?  What Fact/Event types do you use, and what is your data entry content and process?

Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver


bgwiehle said...

I too use census events (although I also cite the census record for other events). I consider census record as documenting the enumeration, and always look at the whole household.
Residence events can't adequately decribe blended families, foreign workers boarding with their countrymen (who is sometimes also a relative), fostered orphan children, people in hospitals and hotels or military service, and duplicate enumerations, all of which I've run into.
I use the official date for the event, but include the actual date in the notes, as this is sometime needed to explain discrepancies, such as a new immigrant, or a recent birth, death or marriage.
An additional practice of mine is to have placeholder census events to document missing enumerations. Initially these are reminders of as-yet-unsuccessful searches, but they can be explanations of why this person or family was not enumerated. I may prove that the address was skipped by the enumerator, or a passenger list may show they weren't in the country until a month later.

Unknown said...

Thank you Randy for such a thorough explanation. It is really helpful looking at how others track their information. Learning all the time!

I have been using Family Tree Maker and am still learning all the ins and outs. Sometimes my challenge is that I enjoy the searching more than the recordkeeping ;-).