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Overheard in GenForum: Census How-To
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.

August 30, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I know my great grandparents where living somewhere in New York City in 1910, but I don't have an address. Is there any way to find them in the 1910 federal census without going through every single page of the census? In 1920, I would also assume they were there, and I know I can look them up in the Soundex, but I can't find a Soundex index online anywhere. Anyone know where I can find one? -- Rick

A: One of the frustrations of working in the 1910 census is the limited soundex that is available. For its own reasons, the government decided to soundex only 21 of the states that were in existence at the time. Invariably the state we are researching was not one of those that were included.

When we discover that our ancestors lived in one of the un-soundexed states, we first hope that a local genealogical society has compiled an index. These are usually done for an entire county, usually by the members of that county's genealogical society. Of course in the case of a large city like New York City, it may be necessary to approach the search from a different angle.

There are alternatives when soundex isn't available.

City Directories

One resource that you will find useful in this type of a search is the city directory. Most people use the city directory only to help them in determining that a family was living in a given area in between census years. Actually the city directory can tell you much more.

Most city directories have more than just the alphabetical listing of inhabitants for that city. In some instances you may find a note alluding to the removal of an individual to another city or state. For your search though, the important aspects of the city directory extend beyond this alphabetical listing of inhabitants.

Many city directories include an alphabetical listing of the streets. For each street you will find its start and finish points in the city. In some instances you will even find the cross streets listed, including where in the house numbers that cross street can be found. When combined with a map of the city and your ancestors address, you will find you can pretty accurately pinpoint where in the city your ancestor lived. Not just the street name, but which block he or she lived on.

In addition to your ancestor's address and the information about the street, you will want to look for the Ward boundaries. These are often described following the alphabetical list of street names. Most large cities, such as New York, have divided the city up into wards or some other jurisdictional division. You will need to use your ancestors address and the street information to determine which ward the address was likely to fall into.

If you are lucky, you will find that the city directory has included a map of the city. Armed with your address and street information, you will be able to pinpoint the location on the map and more easily determine the ward in which your ancestor was living.

Enumeration Maps

An often unknown source is the enumeration maps that are available on microfilm which were compiled by the Census Bureau. The word map is misleading in this instance. We often expect to find a map, when in fact the enumeration maps are actually word descriptions of the boundaries of a given enumeration district. When working with the unsoundexed 1910 states, these maps are heaven sent.

When you combine the enumeration map with the information you garnered from the city directory, you will find that you can usually narrow your search down to just a couple enumeration districts. In some instances you may even be able to narrow it down to a single enumeration district depending on how accurately you have narrowed your ancestor's address in the city.

Many of the large cities are listed by Ward in the enumeration maps. Therefore you will first find your state, then your county, and then you will look for the appropriate entry under that county. The enumeration maps themselves are arranged first by state, then by supervisor's district and then by county. The supervisor's districts are arranged numerically and in some instances the counties within a district are arrange alphabetically, but don't assume.

Going to the Census

Once you have located the potential enumeration districts from the enumeration maps, your next step is to go to the actual census itself. Armed with the enumeration districts you will get the appropriate film or films. Instead of going line by line reading each name of everyone living in the area though, you are instead going to turn the census sideways. Instead of reading the names of the people, you are first going to read the names of the streets. After all, you now have the name of the street and the house number for your ancestor. It is much easier to read the street names page by page than it is to read the names of each person that has been enumerated.

Even for those pages that may be difficult to read you will discover that when you need only read the names of the streets that you can go through the pages rather quickly, eventually coming upon your ancestor in the census.

In Conclusion

In a perfect world, every census would be soundexed. The reality is that parts of the 1910 are not, and many more parts of the soon to be released 1930 are not. Working with the city directories and the enumeration maps is one of the best ways to narrow your search for your ancestor.

Also, do not look for the soundex to be available online anytime soon. For each year that has been soundexed, the number of soundex films equals if not surpassed the number of census films. To digitize this information would be a major undertaking, especially when it comes to the larger cities such as you are in need of. The easiest place to find soundex films are genealogical departments of various libraries and through your local Family History Center.

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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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