Census Records: Bless Them! Curse Them! Fight the Dark Side..


A census record is arguably the most single useful source in genealogy. One gets the name, age (thereby inferring rough date of birth), marital status, profession, and where born for not just one family member: One gets this, and more, for the whole family. And, if there are elderly relatives or young cousins staying on census night, then one gets, on a plate, evidence for multiple generations. When this happens, “The Force” is definitely with you!


But some census records can seemingly ‘turn to the Dark Side’.  This happens when a person who should be on a given census just does not seem to be there. Or their family! You try the names of brothers/sisters or wife/husband, to no avail. Constant “0 Results”. Your face turns red with frustration; the air turns increasingly blue.


The “Dark Side” of the census showed its power to me while I helped a most amiable American gent at the Irish Family History Centre in early Summer 2016.  He was looking for his Irish ancestry, but he had not yet milked the US census records of their genealogical juice. “Moran” was the family name, and we needed to find the 1910 US census record for a certain “Cornelius Moran”. “Shouldn’t be too difficult”, I thought. But could I find him? No! Associated family? Nothing. Time with the client ran out. I silently cursed the US census.


After the client had left, myself and colleague Claire Murray decided, out of pure bloody mindedness, to find this Cornelius Moran. After three hours searching by both of us – 6 hours combined – Claire (Bless her!) finally found him under the shockingly mangled name of “Carneliga Mora”. The original census record had been misspelled by the enumerator, and this itself had suffered another layer of misspelling by the census record transcriber. Two layers of error-ridden walls to break through. It took a mighty effort, but we had fought the census’s Dark Side, and won!


Remember, dear Reader …. There will be times when you need to fight the Dark Side of a census. May the Force (and dogged persistence) be with you!


By, Irish Family History Centre Expert Researcher

Patrick Roycroft


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