Monday, January 16, 2017

Census Records have Discrepancies, AND THAT IS OKAY!


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I'm participating in a genealogy panel on Dear Myrtle's blog. Here's what I wrote this week:

In this chapter, Rose describes some specific points that researchers must consider when dealing with certain common record sets. It makes sense that these examples are North America-centric, since the GPS is a standard created by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, an American genealogical organization. How do her methods apply to a Czech-American genealogy research case using just US Census records?
It is difficult to trace Czech surnames through US Census records because of the wide range of spelling variation both by the census taker and the indexer. Unless you are very lucky and the record was written in sharp, clear, legible writing, or either the census taker/indexer has some knowledge of Czech surnames, you will run into spelling variation with these names. For example, there are many spelling variations with the surname Rajnošek, and none of them include the original Czech spelling. Compounding this problem are the actual name variations.

US Census year
How names were indexed on FamilySearch
Image extract
1940[1]
Anton Rainosek
Filomena
Ivan
Mary
Jerome
Leona
1930[2]
Anton Rainosek
Philomena
Rosa L
Elvin
Edward
Mary
Ivan
Edith
Jerry
Leona
1920[3]
Anton Rainosek Sr.
Minnie
Anton Jr.
Mollie
Rosie
Emil
Alvin
Edward
Mary
Ivan
Edith
Jerome
Caroline Zavisek, servant
1910[4]
Anton Rainouk
Filomana
Cecilia
Egner
Anton
Amelia
Rozalie
Emil
Albin
Karoline Zanisak, servant
1900[5]
Anton Rainosek
Filemone
Cecilia
Ignaz
Anton
Caroline Favichak, servant
1880[6]
Albert Reinacheck
Veronica
Martin
John
Carl
Johanna
Fanny
Anton

Notice that in this example, no single US Census record is exactly the same as the others - and this is just examining names! How many other variations occur when considering dates and places? What could account for this discrepancy? How can Czech genealogy researchers be confident that they are connecting the right family?
Except for the 1940 census, where the person reporting the information to the census taker was indicated with a circled X (in this case, Anton himself), the informant remains unknown. “For the information to be considered primary, it must be furnished by someone with firsthand knowledge or a participant in the event.”[7]
Notice that all post-1880 censuses have consistent surname spelling for this family (whether or not it was indexed correctly!) - “Rainosek.”  Only in 1920 was the census taker for this area of rural Fayette County a Czech, one “Anton P. Kallus.” Notice that this is also the only year that Filomena’s name is shortened to “Minnie” - the diminutive name by which she was probably known to Mr. Kallus.[8]
Notice that Anton was born in Texas. He was an educated man who consistently was recorded as speaking English, owning his farm, and even employing a servant (whose name is never consistent on these records). Anton was the only child born in America to Czech immigrants. Because this was the mother tongue of his parents, he certainly he grew up speaking some Czech in his home. Anton’s wife Filomena was a Czech immigrant who arrived ~1882; she certainly also spoke Czech. Anton and Filomena probably also spoke Czech with their children in their own home, but it is also likely that, being born in America and thus having access to English speakers his entire life, Anton spoke more English than his father. Is that one reason why his surname is spelled consistently as “Rainosek” rather than phonetically as “Reinacheck?” Did he understand that census taker’s instructions better than his father?
Anton’s father, the first generation immigrant in this family, died in 1902 which means he was enumerated on the 1900 census. Indeed, we find him next door to his son Anton, a 72 year old widower who is listed as neither reading, writing, nor speaking English.


What is genealogical identity?

“Genealogists should understand what genealogical identity is before trying to prove it.”[9] This example shows that names - while certainly important identifiers - are not always the most reliable markers of identity, especially when compounded by inevitable linguistic hurdles involved with the transfer of information between two different languages. In fact, the real reason why these families are so clearly linked together has much more to do with relationships. Notice the consistency in the ordering of the children, with only slight name variations. Czech genealogy researchers need to place more emphasis on identifiers such as dates, places, and especially relationships, while allowing a degree of flexibility and error tolerance for spelling variations introduced by the non-native Czech speakers who were usually stewards of their records after they arrived in America.

[1] "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KWVZ-Z5Y : accessed 16 January 2017), Anton Rainosek, Justice Precinct 1, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 75-4, sheet 9A, line 31, family 158, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 4032.

[2] "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:HT7T-JT2 : accessed 16 January 2017), Anton Rainosek, Precinct 1, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 5, sheet 4B, line 72, family 94, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2331; FHL microfilm 2,342,065.

[3] "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MC94-9KS : accessed 16 January 2017), Anton Rainosek Sr., Justice Precinct 1, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing ED 49, sheet 6B, line 94, family 136, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1803; FHL microfilm 1,821,803.

[4] "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M2MF-NSM : accessed 16 January 2017), Anton Rainouk, Justice Precinct 1, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 51, sheet 7B, family 137, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1552; FHL microfilm 1,375,565.

[5] "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M3GQ-M6L : accessed 16 January 2017), Anton Rainosek, Justice Precinct 1 (all west of LaGrange/Weimar Valley rd. & Colorado River excl. LaGrange cit, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 30, sheet 11B, family 182, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,634.

[6] "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFNH-J7Q : 14 July 2016), Anton Reinacheck in household of Albert Reinacheck, Precinct 7, Fayette, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district ED 58, sheet 93A, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 1303; FHL microfilm 1,255,303.

[7] Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised, (San Jose, California: CR Publications) 2014, 22.

[8] Diminutive names are extremely common in Czech, not only for names but also for proper nouns.

[9] Stephen B. Hatton, “Thinking about Genealogical Identity”, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 104, No. 3, September 2016, 215.