Diane Mague Stanley
The Story's in the Big Picture
Updated: Feb 18, 2018
Week 5 has us thinking about the Census; one of the key resources for any genealogist to track family composition and change through time. While the census is chockfull of useful information, I am benefitting this week from standing way back from the details and thinking about the importance of the census in shining the spotlight on family questions. How many times have I discovered something not quite right or unexpected among the chicken scratched rows on the census forms? Admittedly census records mostly reveal mysteries rather than solve them. But where would my understanding of the family be if I remained unaware of the incongruities I’ve only discovered in a census?
Consider, for example:
Who was the twelve-year-old girl, Elizabeth, residing with my German immigrant family in New Jersey’s Great Swamp in 1860, and where did she disappear to?
Did the shared maiden name of my second great grandfather’s second and third wives mean they were related?
Why was my fourth great grandmother, an elderly (West) Virginia widow, heading the household of a group of mulatto women for over ten years when family members lived all around?
Where was my other second great grandfather in 1850, farming out his first children to relatives, and disappearing with his second wife, a number of new babies, and a disabled daughter, only to resurface right where we left him in 1860?
Was it significant that, as a baby, my grandfather lived next door to his parents, with his brother and wife and their young children?
The answer to these questions is a resounding, “I don’t know!” but what fertile ground for my family research. Without these census records, I would have no idea these were even relevant questions. Don’t get me wrong. The names, ages, occupations and birthplaces are highly important pieces of information. But it’s these little inconsistencies that don’t shout out at you from the page, that make you say, “Wait a minute,” what’s the real story here?
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