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Overheard in GenForum: Enumeration District 0501
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

July 12, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am trying to locate my grandparents. According to the 1910 census they lived in Northumberland County, enumeration district 0501. Does anyone know what this means? -- Rose

A: Beginning in 1880, under the auspices of the Works Projects Administration (later known as the World Progress Administration), census records were indexed using a system called Soundex. A Soundex is an index based on phonics rather than spelling. Presently we have part of the 1880 and 1910, and all of the 1900 and 1920 census indexed this way.

Understanding the intricacies of Soundex codes and the manner in which the information was displayed on the cards does take a little getting used to. The 1910 sends us a further curve in that some of the states were indexed slightly differently than what we have come to expect when we hear about Soundex.

1910 Miracode supplies you with different identifying numbers.

The 1910 Miracode

In 1910, while still relying on the coding system devised by the Soundex, a number of the 21 states indexed were actually indexed by Miracodes. There are some major differences in the Miracode from the Soundex cards researchers are most familiar with.

The most noticeable difference is that the Miracode was computer generated. Instead of handwritten cards, each card or printout has approximately four or five entries separated by lines. Of course, the good news here is that it is much easier to read. Unlike a handwritten Soundex card, with the Miracode system there's no guessing as to what letter the Soundexer intended.

The next major difference is the organization of the families and individuals listed in the Miracode. In the Soundex, the cards are arranged first by Soundex code, then alphabetically by given name, and then (when necessary) alphabetically by place of birth. The Miracode cards are arranged first by Soundex code, then alphabetically by county, then alphabetically by given name.

The final major difference is in the identifying numbers for the location on the actual census page. The Soundex card records the census volume, the enumeration district, the sheet number and the line number. The Miracode system records the volume number, the enumeration district and the visitation number.

Enumeration Districts

While you now have an intricate understanding of the indexes used on the censuses, you may still be wondering just what an enumeration district is.

When the census began in 1790, the number of people living in any one county was not overwhelming and enumerating a county was the job of the assistant marshals. The assistant marshals were in charge of enumerating, or listing, the inhabitants. Prior to 1850 this was done simply by recording the name of the head of the household and tallying everyone else based on gender and age. In 1850 everyone in a household was recorded by name. That practice has continued ever since then.

As communities grew, the job of recording the census required more people and some manner in which to establish boundaries for each enumerator. So, each county and some large cities were divided up. In the case of some of the large cities, these divisions often paralleled the ward or precinct divisions already set up by the city government.

Because the individual recording the information for each household is known as an enumerator, the divisions are known as enumeration districts. They can range from ten to forty pages per district, and very often these large cities may have upwards of one hundred enumeration districts, sometimes more.

Your Ancestor

In searching the 1910 census catalog, I discovered that the only state with a Northumberland County was Pennsylvania. A search of the 1910 Miracode did not reveal an enumeration district of 501. There were four entries for a visitation 0501: Enumeration District 54; Enumeration District 74 (area known as Milton); Enumeration District 102 (area known as Shamokin); Enumeration District 125.

Depending on how you got the information, it is possible that the enumeration district and the visitation number were confused. Because these items are not identified with field names on the Miracode printouts, it is easy to confuse them, especially if you do not use the 1910 Miracode often.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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