01 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Evernote Form for Census Comparisons

This post is a follow-up to my post about using enumerator instructions for census research. Check it out to learn about all the great information you might be missing in census records.

A great thing for Occasional Genealogists (OGs) to do when they don't have a lot of time is correlate or compare census data across years. It's something every researcher should do; it has a lot of benefit, yet can be done in short sessions. It's the perfect OG mini-project!

Census comparison is actually one of the things I used to do when I was an OG without access to records. I didn't know it was so important and I rather thought I was taking a kindergarten approach to genealogy.

I like to lay things out in tables. Before having a computer, I would have done this on a wall, all over the floor, or with art supplies; that's what made it seem like a kindergarten project.

I was lucky I had a love of tables and did this by chance because there's nothing kindergarten about correlating evidence. And there's nothing wrong with using art supplies or doing this in a physical format (instead of digitally). What's important is that you do it and retain the results (hint, the word I'm not saying is "reporting").

Since I'm featuring Evernote related posts as I get ready for my Evernote based lecture at the 2016 NGS Confernce in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in a few weeks, I'm giving you another Evernote freebie. This is really just a very simple table and as you start to understand the purpose and advantages of comparing information across years, you should modify it to fit your needs.

You can get a copy of the Evernote form in the Resource Library.
to get free access to the Resource Library.

"At-a-Glance" Consideration

Here is something I want you to consider before you get carried away with this table. There isn't really a right or wrong answer---this is a "consideration." I did this as a table in the first place (years ago) because I wanted to see everything at-a-glance. I think a table is the easiest way to make a quick comparison and see red flags.

I also have an engineering related background and working with other genealogists I've found those of us with engineering related backgrounds tend to be all about tables---others, not so much.

It may be that you find setting up the table a chore, I've done it for you in this case. If you can't "see" the data better in a table, there's no reason to use it.

Additionally, if the table gets too large, you can't see everything at-a-glance. Keep this in mind.

I will create a separate table if I am trying to compare a lot of different data points (a data point being an age, or a birthplace, or a naturalization status---in the census one data point is usually data in one column).

One Assumption

The table I've created is for the most basic census comparison, comparing birth information. This is estimated birth year and birthplace. While I'm talking about how the template is set-up, I'm assuming you are confident you have identified the correct family in the census.

This post is about using and adjusting the form if you are unsure or if your initial comparison is wildly skewed. This possibly indicates you've identified several different families instead of one.

Errors, Instructions, and Adjustments

I've heard beginners lament about using census records because they seem so error prone. I touched on this briefly in my blog post about using the enumerator instructions. The information might not be wrong. When you read the instructions you may find it is correct and correlates with other information you have.

That's part of the point of this form. You are going to enter select data from every year your person appears in the census to see if it is consistent.

You can do this with any information that appears in more than one year.

Also, the same technique is applicable to different records. As long as the different records provide the same type of information, you can compare them. That means you can compare a series of records giving your ancestors age as long as you know when the record was created (i.e. you could estimate a birth year from that record).

Starting with the Census

The census is easy to start with and likely to give you a number of records (each different census year is a record) to compare. That's why I've started you with birth information. Age and birthplace are requested from 1850 to 1940.

The table already has each year from 1850 to 1940 entered in the first (header) row. I've included instructions telling you to enter "X" in the cells where the person was not alive so you can tell if you are missing census records or if the person should not be in them (you can use any method you want, I just wanted to provide this as a written instruction, personally I like shading cells).

You can delete the years on either end if you want. Don't delete years in the middle, provide a description so you don't wonder what's going on later if you want to quickly review.

Avoiding deleting years will also make this form more useful to another genealogist if you pass your research on or just ask someone to review it for you. I enter "Xs" first, before I start entering data.

You can then enter a column of data, i.e. the information from a single year. This will make it easy for you to do this in small amounts of time, even if you are interrupted.

Working across rows will take longer as you need to look at each census record. In the end it doesn't matter which way you do it. I recommend keeping one table for one individual in a note. You can put more tables in a note but it can quickly become confusing and there's no reason in Evernote to overstuff a note.

The Data

Enumeration Dates

The first row of data is "Official Enumeration Day" which I've entered for you. Because the person's age is dependent on when the census is enumerated, this is important. This obviously doesn't affect birthplace and other non-changing data so if you alter the table, you may be able to remove the enumeration rows.

The next row is for the actual enumeration date. This is the date written on the census page; the day the enumerator should have actually come to your family's door.

When you are ready to analyze the data you've recorded, you will look at the instructions to see what the enumerator should have recorded for birth information. This is usually age at last birthday or age on official enumeration day with special instructions for infants.

However, enumerators don't always get it right. They may have been sloppy or been given the wrong information. Errors are more likely if the birthday and enumeration day are close together (have you ever given the wrong age shortly after your birthday?).

Tracking both enumeration dates can allow you to perform more involved analysis estimating a birthdate. This isn't extremely difficult so you may figure out how to do it once you start thinking about correlating data. I'm not going to describe it in this post.


The next row is residence. I've included this for several reasons. First, it's an informal citation in case you ignore the place I've given you at the bottom to cite each census record you use.

Second, it's a double check. Do these residences make sense? If not, you may have the wrong family.

Ancestry.com will suggest many wrong census records (usually there is only one "right" record per year, after all) and less experienced genealogists sometimes gather these up without even looking at them.

Some families move a lot so wild differences in residence are correct.

Most families don't move a lot so this is a good double check. Even when they do move, it usually follows some type of pattern.

For 1850-1940 you will still mainly see movement westward. However, some moves are job related. A family who's occupation is tied to shipping, ship building, or are sailors will move up and down rivers and/or the coast.

The first time I researched a family involved in ship building (I didn't realize that was the occupation, initially) I couldn't make heads or tails of the migration and wasn't sure I had the right people. Once I looked at a map it was perfectly clear. I now see those patterns quite quickly, although still with a map.

You should be as specific in this field as the census is. In cities in the 20th century, you will get a street address (how early this starts differs by city). In rural areas you may only get the county. Later records are more precise, early records, less so.

Age and Birth Calculations

After the residence, it's time to finally get to the meat of this comparison, age. Record exactly what it says on the census. Later you'll use the census instructions to analyze this data and record that analysis in a written explanation.

Next you have a choice. You can skip this row (calculated birth year) and come back later. However, for 1900 record the month and year written on the census, even if it doesn't agree with the age.

The other choice is to calculate the birth year. Later you can refine it with the enumerator instructions. Either way, you'll come back to this row so the choice is yours.

Almost done... Birthplace, etc.

Record the birthplace, exactly as written on the census, in the next row. If you want, you can record more data points.

You can add notes and explanations under the table and then record the citation for each census record. You don't have to create a formal citation but someone should be able to find that census record from the information you give.

You can get a copy of the Evernote form in the Resource Library.
to get free access to the Resource Library.

All the ins and outs of correlating could fill a book. Here's the basic goals the first few times you try this.

You will hopefully see the information from the census is consistent. At least write some notes, better yet, record what you are finding. You can simply write out what you are thinking ("why is the woman only seven years younger?" "is this really the same person?"). 

You will probably know what to do once the data is laid out in a table (or your chosen method of comparison). If you are looking at your filled in table and really don't know what to do, search for "genealogy correlating data" and try some of the resources you find.

You can find the follow-up to this post, about adjusting your form to identify if a record is correct, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment