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Difficulties with Census Records

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Genealogy Columnist
Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D. - Click for larger view. Juliet's Genealogical Gems
Difficulties with Census Records
 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.

Many beginning researchers rely heavily on census records. Although census records contain valuable information, they are often incomplete, inaccurate, and difficult to read. Two records containing inaccurate, but interesting information will be shared in this article.

Many documents, e.g., letters, family Bibles, etc. indicate that Theophilus Culliver was born in 1918 in Monticello, Drew County, Arkansas. Because his family did not move from Arkansas to California until mid 1924, I was certain that I could locate him in the 1920 Arkansas Census.

An examination of the 1920 Drew County, Arkansas Soundex revealed that Theophilus' family was headed by Matterson [sic][1] Culliver, a 64-year-old African Methodist Episcopal Church minister and property owner. Madison was born in Mississippi and Ethel was enumerated as his wife. That information was correct.

Jefferson Culliver was enumerated as Madison's son. However, Jefferson was a Beaver and not a Culliver. He was the child of the union of Ethel and her first husband, Rev. J. R. Beaver, also an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister. Bernice Culliver was enumerated as Madison's daughter. She was also a Beaver and the child of the union of Ethel and Rev. Beaver. Naomi and Theofiles [sic][2] Culliver were enumerated as Madison’s daughters. Theophilus should have been enumerated as Madison's son. In this case, without knowledge of the family from other sources, the researcher would look for a daughter in subsequent records. [Click here for a view of the 1920 Drew County, Arkansas Soundex for the Culliver family.]

The second example shows information on the Theofield family. In the early 1920s, Sidney Theofield traveled to Oakland, Alameda County, California from Pass Christian, Harrison County, Mississippi and then sent for his wife and son, Juliet and Luther. I thought that I might locate Sidney living alone in 1920 in California or perhaps living in Mississippi with his family. To this end, I searched both the 1920 California Soundex and the 1920 Mississippi Soundex. I hoped that the family did not miss the enumeration because of their move. Having no success with a Soundex search, I completed a page by page search of the 1920 Census for Alameda County, California and for Harrison County, Mississippi. Still unable to locate the Theofields, I decided to look for Esther Payne, the mother of Juliet Theofield. I learned later that I was using a strategy called “cluster genealogy.” Emily Croom, in her book The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook,[3] defines cluster genealogy as extended family and whole-family genealogy. Croom explains that clustering implies the inclusion of neighbors as well as relatives. The concept involves the widening of a search to include not only a direct line of ancestors, but also a search of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, children, and neighbors. Using this strategy, I quickly and without difficulty found Esther Payne in the 1920 Pass Christian, Harrison County, Mississippi Soundex.She was enumerated with Sidney Fairfield. The information was accurate except for the incorrect first syllable of the Theofield surname. [Click here for a view of the 1920 Harrison County, Mississippi Soundex for Sidney and Esther.]

You can see in both examples that relying solely on information found in census records may lead to incorrect conclusions. Although there are errors in both examples, the completion of a careful examination of home sources before consulting census records allows the researcher to formulate a realistic hypothesis for future research.

[1] The correct given name is Madison.
[2] The correct given name is Theophilus.
[3] Emily Croom. The Genealogist’s Companion & Sourcebook: A Beyond-the-Basics, Hands-on Guide to Unpuzzling Your Past. Betterway Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1994. page 2.
Copyright ©2000 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.   Reprints require approval by the author.


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