Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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Census records are usually the most common place genealogists look for their ancestors, and census indexes have made that search a lot easier. The problem is not all of the censuses are indexed. The WPA Soundexed the 1900 and 1920 census, 21 states for the 1910 census and 12 states for 1930. Soundex is an index grouping names that sound similar, so that the poor spelling of the census takers would not be a problem. More information on Soundex can be found under Genealogy Tools in the Community pages.
For 1910, this is the list of the Soundex/Miracode indexes for 21 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. These were the only states for which indexes were created for the 1910 census.
For 1930, the 12 Soundex states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky (only counties of Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Kenton, Muhlenberg, Perry and Pike), Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia (only counties of Fayette, Harrison, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, and Raleigh).
Why did the WPA stop before finishing the 1910 and 1930 census? World War II ended the WPA, as the people doing the indexes were néeded for the war effort. So if the state you are interested in is not Soundexed then what? Before any indexes a lot of people went page by page through the census, and if your ancestor lived in the country or a small town that is still a good way to find them. If your ancestor lived in a large city that may take a long time, so how can you shorten the search? If they lived in a city they had an address, and if you know the address you can cut down the number of census pages you have to search.
For 1910 in Washington, the census takers used voting precincts as boundaries to enumerate the census, they also listed enumeration districts and wards on each page of the census. For 1910 Spokane had 66 precincts and 5 wards. Finding the boundaries of the precincts is easy; they are listed in the 1910 and 1911 city directories, so with a map of the city and the list it is easy to make a map of the precincts. Then you can look up your ancestor in the city directory and get their address. With the address and the map the search is much easier as the precincts are pretty small.
For 1930 in Washington, the census takers used enumeration districts and the NARA site has the boundaries for all the enumeration districts in the country. I had actually started drawing the map before the census was released, and had it near ly completed by the time the census was released. Spokane had 108 enumeration districts in 1930, so each was pretty small cutting down the number of pages to search. Then using the city directories you can find the address and search.
I was able to find my grandparents and my mother in the census almost the first day it arrived in the library using my map. My father and his parents were almost as easy to find as he lived on a farm in the country.
What happens if your ancestor is not in the city directory? There are other ways to find the address using old letters, bills, Christmas cards, and tax bills etc. Then you should be able to find him in the census. The last option is what happens if you are lucky enough to be searching in a state that has been Soundexed or indexed and you cannot find your ancestor in the index. Check the city directories, and with a map of the area you should be able to find your ancestor. Why are they not in the index? People make indexes and they have to read the census and sometimes the names are very hard to read, or the census taker could have made a mistake. I looked up a John James Smithson in the 1910 census a while back using the city directory and the map of the precincts, found the address quickly and it listed the person there as John James, but checking the wife and children it was easy to see it was John James Smithson and his family, but it will never appear under Smithson in a 1910 index of the census.
At the 2002 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) in California this summer Curt Witcher, a past president of the FGS, defined a directory as an organized listing, usually of a particular group of people, but it may also be of organizations, places, and the like, which provides some specific identifying information or data.
The purpose of this article is to present more ways to search for your ancestors. In the preceding article Charles has shown how you can use city directories with the census to help find your ancestors. It is possible to use them too if you are between census years and have lost your ancestor. They can help you track him from year to year.
Curt went on to say that directories fall into five categories:
The above are more or less self-explanatory as to what they are. But picture a situation where you may have a brick wall and the census is of no help. By using some of these, you can put your ancestor in a place at a given time. The directories may help you to go back another generation as some of them do list parents or where the ancestor is from and then going to directories there you may find your way again
Curt urges all of us who use directories or even other types of books to not just go for the name but to read about the area and what is happening. If you come across any letters or numbers that are used as codes, don't guess at what they mean but go to the code list and make sure that you have it correct. It helps if you look at the codes before you even look for the ancestor, as they will help you to understand what you are seeing.
You may find directories in libraries, local or state. If what you want is not near where you are, use online research to find directories in the area where you are looking for your ancestor. Curt says that a year ago 98.7 percent of all libraries had Internet access. Find what libraries in other places you are interested in have in their collections. Interlibrary loans should be possible for getting to these collections.
He also said that when looking in these directories, particularly the gazetteers that are linked to business or city directories, look at the neighbors and where they are from. You may see a migration pattern if most of them come from the same area. If that is true but you are not sure of your ancestor, then search for one of the neighbors. This is also true of census records. Check to see if the neighbor(s) are to be found back where they came from. Then look to see if your ancestor is in that area too. You may be surprised.
Directories of all sorts should open up a lot more places to look if you are having trouble finding your ancestor. They will certainly help you to put flesh on his bones and make a better picture of him.