Thursday, May 14, 2015

1920 U.S. Census Errors for SMITH Surname

I wondered just how many errors were made in spelling names in the United States census.  How would someone ever figure that out, with all of the known spelling variations of surnames.

Then I thought - what about SMITH, how badly could the enumerators mess that name up?  Even the indexers shouldn't be able to mess it up, right?

I used the 1920 U.S. Census for no particular reason.  Here are my results:

1)  SMITH spelling:  1,148,776 indexed entries (including corrections)

2)  SMIHT spelling:  85 indexed entries

3)  SMTIH spelling:  1,341  indexed entries

4)  SIMTH spelling:  457 indexed entries

5)  STMIH surname:  2 indexed entries

5)  MSITH spelling:  14 indexed entries (all corrections)

6)  SMTH spelling:  457  indexed entries

7)  SMHIT spelling:  3 indexed entries

8)  SNITH spelling:  632 indexed entries (but is SNITH a real surname?)

Assuming all of those alternates are wrong, they total to 2,991.  That is .00260 of the correct SMITH name, or 0.26%.  That's one in every 385 Smith listings.

The numbers don't include other legitimate alternate spellings like Smithe, Smyth, Smythe, etc.

What other surname could be used?

My view is that at least 0.2% (i out of 500) surnames in the U.S. census are misspelled by the enumerators or the indexers.

This doesn't surprise me, because I've seen SEAVER badly mangled by enumerators and indexers.  By far the most obvious is the alternate name LEAVER caused by confusion of the script upper-case S for script upper-case L.  But LEAVER is a legitimate surname in its own right.

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Cathy P said...


Diane Gould Hall said...

I've certainly seen a lot of errors Randy. It seems like a small percentage, unless it's someone your researching and can't locate. Good post. Thanks.