“They must have just forgotten about him in subsequent census’. The enumerator must have passed right by his household. That page of the census must have gotten lost.”
While all these theories are possible, they are the least likely theories to prove true for any person who seems to be missing in the census.
Let’s take a look at some other theories and possibilities that are a little more likely to be true for anyone who seems to have gone missing in the census.
Step Into Your Ancestor’s Shoes
Can’t find someone? Try putting yourself in their shoes.
An interesting website to use to do this is Moose Roots. Moose Roots not only gives you world and country wide events that were happening during the census year, but also gives you information on the particular area your ancestor was living in.
How do you do this if you can’t find your ancestor in the census? If you have an idea of where the person was living, search using the residence feature, and pick any record to glean insight.
No general idea where they might be? Pick the census you are searching for and any record. You can still benefit from learning about the world events! By learning what their world was like and what events were affecting their family, you just may find that person you thought was missing in the census!
Consider Their Occupation
My great-great-great grandfather’s brother, James, was a boatman for the Flanagan's, who ran the quarry where his family had settled. He’s hard to find in any census because he was always on the river!
I am still working on finding his wife, Margaret, to see if I can find his home place (and possibly James!) in the 1860 or 1870 census. James and Margaret are both still missing in the census, however, James’ occupation gives me a possible answer of why and ideas on where to look next (maritime records!).
If you need help discovering your ancestor's occupation, try this post.
Know their occupation but not quite sure what it entails of? A Dictionary of Old Trades, Titles, and Occupations is an amazing reference book to have on your bookshelf, although you may be able to find it also in the online glossary of Old Occupations and Trades.
Nicknames, Aliases, and Name Changes
While many Williams still went by Bill, there are a lot of nicknames in the past that are different from today’s nicknames.
Don't forget a middle name, either. Many times people would go by their middle names instead of their given name (not so different from today!). If you happen to know a middle name, try searching it instead of a first name!
For example, if you can't find an ancestor named James Martin Myers, instead of searching J., Jas., J. M., or James Myers, search M. James, M., M. J., or Martin Myers.
Some people went by aliases which weren't even remotely related to their given name. If you know of one, be sure to search that as well!
For the longest time, I could not find Thomas and Annie’s daughter Catherine Welsh after she had left her parent’s home. Why? Because she apparently preferred to be called Katie and wrote that name on all of the records she created.
Katie is even on her tombstone (she married an Eichelberger by the way)! However, while she was in her parent’s home she was Catherine; Presumably that was her actual given name. She wasn’t actually missing in the census (and every other record) for all of those years!
Having trouble figuring out what nickname could possibly be used for a particular given name?
Nicknames Past & Present written by genealogist Christine Rose is a ridiculously useful reference book to add to your collection. You can also use online nickname references if the name or nickname was more common, like this one here.
Try Abbreviations and Alternate or Phonetic Spellings
You know the common abbreviations: Jos. for Joseph; Jas. for James; Jno. for John. But, what about Ani. for Annie? Or, My. for Mary?
Check and see if the name you are searching for has an abbreviation on GenealogyInTime Magazine’s list here.
Instead of searching for their first name, search with the abbreviation, and see what comes up. Remember to try the first letter of a name, too. [e.g. J. Welsh - John Welsh; W. Flanagan - William Flanagan]
Also remember alternate spellings. First, try the phonetic spelling of a name. For example, Honora and Patrick’s children changed the spelling of their last name, Walsh, to Welsh, because it was the phonetic spelling of the name (they may also have been trying to differentiate between themselves and a different Walsh family from the same county in Ireland who immigrated to Harpers Ferry as well). Walsh very easily sounds identical to Welsh with a Gaelic accent.
It would be very easy to mistake a misspelling or abbreviation to mean someone was missing in the census if you don’t complete an exhaustive search of all possibilities!
For alternate spelling ideas, you can use Roots Web’s Soundex converter for a list of surnames sharing the same Soundex code (hence they sound similar). This article on RootsWeb may help you come up with even more possible spelling variations, and even includes some tips to reading old handwriting as well.
For more ideas, you can type in the surname to Surname Finder and scroll to the very bottom of the results page for a “see also” section.
Search For The People Who May Be Living With Your Ancestor
Who was living with your ancestor in the prior census? Who was living with them in the next census? Who may be living with them in the census you are searching?
Take a peek at this list for ideas:
Remember that the list above is not necessarily an exhaustive list, and your particular family’s reasoning for living with someone may be completely different than anything that I have listed. It’s all relative (ha!).
As a side note, remember to search the census for both the person you think could be living with your ancestor that is missing in the census, as well as your ancestor with the last name of the previous mentioned. Sometimes people were accidentally enumerated with the head of household’s last name when, in fact, their last name was different.
Find The Address Of The Home In Another Census
If you have already found the ancestor in question in a previous or subsequent census, try getting the address of the home they were living in and find that address in the census where you cannot find your ancestor (use the browse feature if you are using Family Search).
It is possible they are still in that residence. If they are not in that residence, take note of who is. Does that family have any significance to the ancestor missing in the census? If they do, you may be able to search other records to find out exactly where your ancestor went to -- hence also finding out where to look in the census for your ancestor.
Try Looking Up A Deed
If you have an idea of where your ancestor should be, try looking up a deed or other land record in that area.
If they owned property, you may be able to locate an address this way. If you can, you can try browsing the census for the address as stated above and see who is living in the residence.
Look In Bordering Towns, Counties, or States
If you can’t find your ancestor that is missing in the census where you think he should be, try expanding your search to bordering towns, counties, and states.
Your ancestor may of had to move but didn’t want to move far. Maybe they were still employed by the same employer or didn’t want to stray too far from family.
You can use Google Earth to help you determine distances in order to find the most likely places of residence for your ancestor in relation to addresses of his family members or employer.
Try A Different Index, or Ditch It Completely
It should be no surprise that the census is indexed online in just about 1,000 places. That means that there are probably 980 different transcriptions of the same census.
Try searching another website’s index. It is very likely someone transcribed the name of your ancestor incorrectly, or could have even skipped over him/her and/or his/her family on accident!
If you still can’t find your ancestor that is missing in the census, you need to hit the books -- the actual census record images that is. Scan line by line in the areas that you believe your ancestor may have lived, and you are bound to find him if you look in the right districts!
Michael’s father, Martin, passed away and he stayed close to his Uncle Thomas and Aunt Annie until a little after he married Mary “Mollie” Howard. They moved a little down the road to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and moved in with the Reinhardts, probably sometime during the civil war.
Michael served the Confederate Cavalry under Col. John Knott.
By 1880, he had moved back beside Uncle Thomas and Aunt Annie. Michael and Mollie were blessed with two children, John Martin, and Thomas Howard.
In September of 1889 he moved to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, and was apparently very well respected. He passed away in 1922 after being paralyzed for a little over 3 years after a fall from a vehicle.
I hope I have given you some ideas to find that person who is missing in the census!
Have something to add or a question? Please let me know by commenting! I do my best to respond to each and every comment as quickly as possible!
See you soon, and happy researching!
We use this timeline to help us understand the events that may have affected or shaped a person's life. Here are some ideas as to how this timeline may help your further your own research: