[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]
While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.
The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series→
Okay, so despite my earlier claims, I did end up looking at the 1950 census on day one. Of my twelve living ancestors, I found seven immediately upon searching, and another two after browsing their specific town of residence; I was unsuccessful in locating the remaining three (one couple, one widow) after browsing their towns, both of which had several addresses listed “not at home.” All in all, I spent about twenty minutes looking for ancestors. Overall, I am impressed with the advances of OCR technology giving genealogists a much better start this time around than ten years earlier. Continue reading Presidents in the 1950 census→
My colleague Chris Child wrote a controversial post last month about the merits of the 1950 Census. The title of the post was triggering, but I must admit that I agree with his overall argument. According to Chris, “…the census has spoiled us. Because it is often so quick to search, we might overlook other valuable resources because of how long looking through those records might take us. This is not meant to diminish the importance of the census, only to partially explain why it is used more than other records.” Continue reading The 1950 census: just the beginning→
The 1950 Census was released right on time, exactly 72 years after 142,000 enumerators set out to record the booming post-war population of the United States. Today, in 2022, we will be able to search for the names of our family members among more than 150 million other Americans.
While the 1950 census was still in its planning stages, a primary concern of the United States Census Bureau was minimizing cost. Executing the 1940 Census had cost the federal government $67.5 million. Not only had the U.S. population increased by 14% between 1940 and 1950, but the Census Bureau reported the cost of maintaining enumerators and clerks on the scale of the 1940 census would exceed previous expenditures more than twofold. To offset higher costs, the Bureau eliminated “all but the most basic items” from the census schedules, asking 14 fewer questions in 1950 than in the decade before. However, the 1950 census would ask a series of supplemental questions to a larger sample of the population compared to the 1940 census. Continue reading Comparing censuses: 1940 and 1950→
Okay, I know the title of this post is not going to be popular amongst many of our readers. My original title contained at least one curse word! It’s not that I do not care about the 1950 census, it’s more of an overall appreciation of how many more records are now available at our fingertips, as well as the rise, and partial fall, of the U.S. census as a go-to resource in genealogy. Continue reading The 1950 census – who cares?→
About three months ago, I was contacted by a man hoping I could help track down some information about someone in my family tree.
“I found something interesting about a possible past relative of yours named Helen Elizabeth Wilson. I found her in a Cornell University magazine, and she wrote an article about Sherlock Holmes which may be the first of its kind ever written anywhere in the world. I am a Sherlock Holmes researcher and would love to know a little more about her. Is this something we can discuss? I appreciate your time.” Continue reading The game’s afoot→
One of the wonderful things about genealogy is running into phrases and terms you have never heard before. It is a window into how people spoke years ago and teaches us about how our language changes over time.
Like most genealogists, I have a few brick walls in my family tree. I’m resigned to living with some of these mysteries after fifteen pretty solid years of work. One brick wall is a great-grandfather who seemingly appears out of nowhere in 1916 at age 21 when he enlists in the Army. Another big brick wall was, until recently, learning the town of origin in Germany for my paternal line. My research, which I had believed was thorough, came up empty time and time again for anything more specific than the “Kingdom of Hannover.” Continue reading In praise of church records→