Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Good and Bad Day for Genealogy

Saturday it was all genealogy, all day long.  First I drove to San Mateo to give a talk to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society:  "Following a Family's History for More than 100 Years through Newspaper Articles."  This was the first time I was giving the talk, and I always worry whether I've prepared enough, are they going to understand my points, are they going to enjoy it.  I was particularly concerned this time because I was taking a different tack with my approach on the talk.  I went a little long (what, me like to talk?), but other than that it went fine.  The attendees followed along quite enthusiastically and asked several interesting questions, giving me some new research ideas.

Then I prepared my lesson for the high school genealogy class I teach on Sunday.  That went smoothly, and I made copies of the lesson and handouts for everyone.  I'm all prepared for Sunday morning.

Then I had a little time for my own research, so I decided to try to find my father and his family in the 1940 census.  Boom!  Straight into a brick wall.  I really wanted to be able to show my dad himself as a four-year-old in the census, but it looks as though it just isn't going to happen.

In theory (theory being a wonderful thing), I should be able to find my dad, his two sisters, their father, and my grandmother together.  I did say in theory, right?  I have tried searching every way I can think of on both and, and they're just not there.  I've tried with names, without names, partial names, birth information, no birth information.  Can't find them.

Apparently the family moved a lot at that time.  My grandfather created a list of all the places he had lived during his life; there were three (!) for 1940, but no specific dates.  (He worked for the Civil Service, and they moved him around a lot.)  I've verified with my 87-year-old aunt that the locations my grandfather wrote are correct.  I used Steve Morse's "Unified 1940 Census ED Finder" (because my grandfather listed streets) and manually searched the enumeration districts.  And what did I find?  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.  The big bagel.  My guess is that with all their moving around they simply were missed by the census takers in whichever city they were living in April.

So I decided to settle for finding my great-grandmother in 1940.  She was supposed to be living in the same house the family had owned for several decades.  I had the complete street address.  Piece of cake, right?

Nope.  I couldn't find her by searching, either.  I tried multiple approaches again, and nothing.  I went back to Steve's site, found the possible enumeration districts for her address, and went through them page by page.  And I found ... that her house address does not appear, not even on the "I missed them on the first go round, but got them again later" pages.

Maybe I should stick to doing genealogy for other people for a while.


  1. I can't find my father's family in Brooklyn either and I know exactly where they were living on the census date. I've browsed and searched and they're just not there. Very disappointing. His mother did get a mention in the margin of her grandparents listing as the person who provided the information to the enumerator. I guess I'll have to wait 10 more years to see my dad in the census :(

  2. Did the census taker entirely miss their address, as they did with my great-grandmother? I think this is the third time I've had that happen with a census search, where the address simply doesn't show up. It's starting to become just a little annoying. :)

  3. Janice you say you searched every different combination. Did you do a manual line by line, page by page search of the area that they should be living at? I have found several families this way because their names had been indexed incorrectly, so incorrect that a fuzzy search did not even find the last name. But I knew the family had to be there. It is tedious and boring but you just might find them this way.

  4. I like that one can also search using first names of family members. Found my distant Kirps relatives that way. Maurice Kirps was put in search engine as Morris Kirks.

  5. I can see how that would happen. Maurice is often pronounced as "Morris", and Kirks is one letter off. It's good you were able to find them.

  6. Hi,

    I am ALWAYS interested if researchers have trouble with my data sets for the 1940 street index on the Morse One Step site. Email me about the problem. If there is a problem with the transcription, or even the original information we used, I can modify the online indexes to correct that problem. Thus you should always be able to get to the right address, or at least the block that had that address in an Enumeration District, using our One Step tools, but of course that house may have been skipped, or the people within it refused to participate.

    Remember with address searches to always look at the end of the ED district for sheets starting with 61A or even 81A if you don't find your targets on that district. You can find the numbered block that your address is on (for cities over 50,000) and on the ED you think your address is on, trace the route of the enumerator by using the block numbers at the top of the sheet, to see if they really missed that block. I have a guide to troubleshooting negative location searches at the end of:

    For name searches, remember there are 2 separate name indexes online for the 1940 census. Use both of them. Learn to relax your assumptions, and that less is more on the entry tool. Always use dates with ranges on the entry tool. Learn how to use wild card searches. Search for children, not adults in the family. Try not to use last names on the search, but first name, birth year plus/minus 2 years, birth location, location in 1940, and name of another member of the family, hopefully the most unusual one.

    Again, email me with locational search problems. I'm in the process of planning our 1950 location "campaign", but it's a good break to track down these problem situations.

    Joel Weintraub

  7. Joel,

    I don't know about Sharon, but I didn't have any problems with the One-Step tools. I found the correct enumeration district, and house numbers on either side of the one I was looking for are there, just not the house I wanted. It appears to have been missed.



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