Census Searching: Ancestor Not Home? Ask the Neighbors

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

I finally had a chance to do some personal genealogy research last night and so I headed to Ancestry.com to look for tidbits. While researching my paternal line, I found Benjamin William Franklin CORLEY (my great-great-grandfather) and fam in the 1880 and 1860 censuses in Tower Hill, Shelby Co.,  Ill., but had no luck finding them in 1870. I was relatively sure that they hadn’t left the area only to return again before 1880. I decided to look for one of my ancestors’ neighbors in 1870 instead and then check the nearby pages to see if my fam turned up.

I went back to the 1880 census and looked to see who their neighbors were that year.  A NICHOLS family was the next on the census sheet. That’s a rather common name. Next was John SHARROCK. Perfect!

Benjamin William Franklin Corley and fam in 1880. John Sharrock is two households down. Click on the image for a larger version.

I searched for John Sharrock in the 1870 census and was able to find him in the same town and county. The censustaker there that year seemed to have some creative spelling ideas and his handwriting left quite a bit to be desired. No wonder I was having trouble finding my family!

The censustaker wrote “Spirock.” His handwriting/spelling left a bit to be desired.

I scanned a couple of pages back and forth and then found what I was looking for (sort of). Due to his lengthy name, Benjamin William Franklin Corley often appears as B.W.F. Corley in various records. Well, I found what looked to me like a B.W.F. CANBY, but was indexed as CAULY two pages past Mr. Sharrock/Spirock.

Below the scan of the image on Ancestry is a typed index of the information appearing on the page. In the bottom left-hand corner is an “Add Update” button. I clicked on this to update the spelling of the household surname in the census index.

Any index is going to have inaccuracies, especially one that is based on sloppy handwriting and questionable spelling. I’m glad to see this feature on Ancestry that allows for researchers to help contribute to making the index more accurate!

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7 thoughts on “Census Searching: Ancestor Not Home? Ask the Neighbors

  1. Regina says:

    Well done, Missy!! Excellent search and blog post.

  2. I’m going to remember this one. In most of my census records the folks in the neighborhood never changed. In fact, in some the same families STILL live there 100 years later. And often they were relatives, too, with other surnames (which why I sometimes look at the neighbors family trees). I love cluster genealogy!

  3. [...] writing the last week.  If you have had problems finding family on Census records, please read Bayside Blog for a great article called Census Searching: Ancestor Not Home? Ask the Neighbors, on finding that [...]

  4. Kevin says:

    I’ve also used this technique before with lots of success. I don’t know if I could even count how many times I’ve added an alternate spelling to census records because of poor transcription/sloppy writing/bad spelling. This is a good one to remember for any census search.

  5. baysideresearch says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Kevin! Glad that you’re correcting those records when you come across them!

  6. [...] knew a good place to start would be to try and find their 1920 neighbors in the 1910 census. I’ve had success with this method before. I struck out with the first two families that I tried, but I hit paydirt on the third [...]

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