MAIN IDEA NO.3
Enumerators were told to go through a neighborhood street by street. They tended to
write the names of people as they heard them, not necessarily as the person would have spelled his or her
own name. Because of this, the spelling of one name can vary considerably. How do you search for "Smith"
when it might be listed as "Smyth," "Smithe" or "Smythe"? Add to this the fact that information on the censuses
is still organized just as it was written - house by house, street by street - not in alphabetical order by family -
and you'll get an idea of why censuses can be time-consuming to search.
While the information isn't alphabetized, an index has been created to help family history detectives get a little
closer to the page on which your ancestor's household might be listed. This index also takes into account the
variations in spelling that might have occurred.
This unique index is called the Soundex. It allows variations on the same name to still be indexed together
because each variation will code the same. With the code, you can then know where in the census to search.
However, the Soundex has its limitations. It doesn't begin until 1880 and only lists households containing young
children. But for many thousands of families, it is a valuable research tool.
Here's how to convert surnames into Soundex code. Let's use the name "Jones" as an example.
The first letter of the surname is always the first letter being coded.
So for Jones, the first letter would be "J,"
After the first letter, vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and the consonants h, w, and y are ignored.
ignore the "o" and "e,"
After the first letter of the surname, the next three significant letters (other than the letters mentioned above)
are coded according to the chart below.
Whenever two letters with the same code appear side by side in a surname, only the first letter is coded.
The second is ignored.
Add to the "J" a number 5 (for "n"), and 2 (for "s"),
If there are not enough consonants in the name to form the code, add zeros until there are three digits.
Add a zero since there are no more letters to code.
"Jones" is J-520
"Wada" is W-300
If a name contains more letters than are needed to have a Soundex code of three digits, the remaining letters
VanDuessen is V-532 (ignore the vowels, the second s & n)
With this code, you can find the Census pages containing these surnames.
Figure out what the Soundex code is for "Smith," "Smyth," "Smithe," or "Smythe." Next, figure out your own
or your ancestor's surname.
GO ANOTHER STEP
Your class has a seating arrangement. Ask a few volunteers to divide up the class "geographically" into
"neighborhoods" and create a class census. Decide together what information you agree will be the most
important to include? How do you account for students that might be absent?
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND . . .
Censuses are an excellent tool for ancestor detectives because they identify ancestors living in a specific area
at a specific place in time. Conducted every ten years since 1790, these documents trace families through the
growth and westward expansion of the country. They were even conducted during war years, a time period that
often tore families apart.
. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
The Census can help you locate ancestors who may have fought in a war. If you find that you have a soldier
ancestor, well, then you have a chance to learn about that ancestor's service and see the conflict through
the eyes of someone who actually witnessed it.
Census: A count of the population in a specific place, such as a state or country; a record made of the count.
Enumerator: A person who counts. In the case of the census, it is the position filled by a person counting the residents of a particular assigned area.
Soundex: An index for the census that is coded by the way a name sounds in addition to its actual spelling.