Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who's your Daddy?

Have you ever looked at an early Census record? Looks a bit like chicken scratching. The early Census records were used to count the population in the US and it was done every ten years as it is today. In the Early years, the free persons and slaves were not counted together. For the 1790 and 1800, the census listed the male head of household and a count for each of the male children from 0 to 10 years old in column one of the record. In column 2, a count was entered for the male children from 10 – 20 years old. A count is entered for each of the males for each ten year increment after that until age 100. The second half of the form was for listing all the females in the household and each column was 10 year increments too.

As the population grew, the government decided to break down the children into smaller groups so beginning in 1820 the male head of household was listed and the first column was for males under the age of five years old or 0-5years, then 5-10 years, 10-15years and then 15-20 years and from there it incremented every 10 years until the age of 100 years old. I have seen very few persons listed after the 70 to 80 year column in the early census records.

So in the early census it was difficult to determine a person’s parentage. It was a bit of a guessing game. I would write down the children’s names and year of birth and tally them up in 5 year increments. Then find the father’s names and look at each of the column and see if they matched. Some times it was accurate and sometimes it was a little off. Sometimes a child would die from one census to then next and there would be no real way to know that. Some times you wondered if they could count. Was it the parent’s lack of education or was it the person doing the recording.

Looks like chicken scratching to me….

Some Churches were very good about keeping baptism records in larger cities but not in the small farming communities which dotted the American landscape. As families migrated westward, early churches services were often conducted in person’s homes by lay leaders. A Circuit Minister would come around on a regular interval to conduct a Church service and that was when a child or several children would be baptized. Records were rarely kept until there was a formal Church building in which the families gathered.

Starting in 1850, the US Federal Census required that all of the names of the household members be listed on the Census. Hurray! Now we don’t have to guess who is in the family. As a result, the 1850 census helped me early in my family history research.

In the 1850 and the 1860 federal census all the Smith children were listed in the Allen County Census. The oldest Smith children are in their late teens in 1850 and by 1860 they are in their late 20’s. I really had expect they would have been married and raising their own families by then. So as I searched for marriage records I looked for them after 1860. For years I looked for them, when I did not find them I began to think that there must be a mistake. Eventually I decided that the 1860 Federal Census must have been inaccurate. I suspect that Susannah did not understand what the Census taker wanted. I suspect that she thought that the census recorder ask how many children do you have. Instead of how many children live in your household.

 I would find that Margaret married Benjamin C Davis in 1851 and Mary Ann married Jonathan Kimble in 1853. Eventually I would find that Sarah would marry Robert Hood in 1861. William had moved on to Madison County, Indiana by the 1860 Census and he was counted in both Allen County and Madison Counties. Branson would be found in Madison County a short time after William. I had spent years looking for these children and their marriages in the wrong decades.

James Smith died in 1868 and is buried in the Nine Mile Cemetery with two daughters, a grandchild and two sons who died before him. By the 1870 Census, Susannah, and some of the younger Smith children, John F, Susan and Martha, are found living with Joseph, his wife Mary Catharine and their twin sons, Ashley and Ashland.  Henry C is now listed as Charles H. and he is counted with James W Smith and his wife, Oella and their son William F who live next door to Susanna and the other family members.

So now you know a bit about Census records. They are as accurate as they can be considering that so many woman did not receive and education. They are a tool to be used with other records.

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