Using Census Records to Navigate Gene Pool
Federal census records can convey more than names and ages. They can divulge the relationships between the people living in one household, and reveal information about individuals like citizenship status, military service, birthplace, parents' place of birth and even whether a family owned its home. They also confirm where a person lived at a specific time. Such diverse data makes census records a valuable resource. Savvy rooters glean every smidgen of data from these records and parlay it into substantial clues for locating other records.
Census records, for example, can be used to determine death dates. Hannah Penner appears as a widow on the 1900 Washington County , MD census. The oldest Penner child, Sherman, was born in November 1889. The youngest, John Penner, was born in April 1899. Chances are good the Penners married around 1888. And it's a fairly safe bet that Mr. Penner's death occurred between the time Hannah conceived John and the day the census was taken. So it's on to the courthouse in search of a marriage license application, death record and a will.
The relationship of each person living at a residence to the head of the household was noted on the 1880 census. James and Mary Mills can be found on the Washington County 1880 census, along with their children. Harry Otto lives with them. He is James' brother-in-law. Now Harry might be a widower, once married to James' sister. But more than likely, he is Mary Mills' brother. Eureka ! A maiden name is discovered.
After John Murray died in 1824, it became unclear what happened to his wife Catherine. She appears as a widow on the 1825 and 1826 tax lists for Fayette County , PA. She does not appear on the 1840 federal census, which gives the impression that she also died.
A tenacious rooter, though, found Catherine Murray living with John and Elizabeth Miller on the 1850 census. Elizabeth is one of Catherine's granddaughters. Had the researcher stuck with tracking only his direct line and not tried to locate all of Catherine's children and grandchildren, he may never have known what became of her. But this data indicates that Catherine probably moved in with the Millers within a few years of John's death.
The accuracy of much of the data gathered depends on the memory of the person giving it. Memory can be a trickster. One question on the 1900 and 1910 censuses is how many years a person has been married. Husbands and wives may give two different answers. Of course to one spouse or the other, it may just seem like he or she has been married 20 years instead of 15.
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