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Overheard on the Message Boards: Cooper Family in Massachusetts
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

May 30, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Are there any COOPER families in Massachusetts? I am desperately trying to find info on my great grandfather, WALTER COOPER. He was married to a Anna JONES. My grandmother, Myrtle Cooper (Lancto/Mallette) was born in October, 1911. There are two sisters that I know of Beatrice and Esther. My family basically resided in Springfield/West Springfield, Massachusetts. I don't have any dates for Walter and Anna for anything, so I need some help. -- Denise

A: In answer to your question, yes there are Cooper families in the state of Massachusetts. In the 1920 census there are approximately 35 individuals living in Springfield with the last name "Cooper."

The good news is that you should be able to pick up Walter and family in the 1920 census. A search of this census, which is completely indexed, allows you to search the entire state for Cooper families. I suggest looking for names rather than localities in the state. You never know when a family moved.

One clue leads to the next and a new generation.

The 1920 Census

Because your grandmother was born in 1911, the first census where you can identify the family the best is the 1920 census. This is especially true since you do not know anything about how old Walter or Anna were when they give birth to Myrtle and the other children.

The good news is that the 1920 census has a complete Soundex for each state of the United States at that time. There are a few things to understand, though, when searching the Soundex for Walter and his family.

  • Arranged by Soundex code — First you need to locate the correct Soundex code, which in this case is C160. For more on calculating Soundex codes, you may want to read The Soundex Machine. You can find Soundex converters online.
  • Arranged alphabetically by given name — Once you find the Soundex code, then you will want to locate Walter. Keep in mind that his name could be abbreviated from the initial W. to Walt, to something else. Also, if Walter died before 1920, then you will want to look for Anna and the children as being Soundexed separately.
  • Arranged alphabetically by place of birth — For those names that are common, you will find that the Soundex cards are further arranged alphabetically by place of birth.

Clues in the Census

Remember in searching the Soundex that you will want to keep an open mind. While you suspect that the family was living in Springfield, it is possible that they weren't. You don't want to exclude a family just because they are living somewhere else. If you find a Walter, with wife Anna and daughter Myrtle, who is about nine years old, then the match is good. Be sure to go through the entire Soundex though to make sure you don't find another family. Of course this is unlikely given the information you presently know.

Once you find the family in the Soundex, be sure to go to the original census page. This page will give you more information that could be useful in tracing the line back.

First the census will give you the age of each person in the household and the state or country of birth. Remember that the enumerator didn't have to talk to anyone in the household, just gather information on the family living in that household. Sometimes the information comes from a neighbor and therefore can be in error.

If you find that the family was living in Massachusetts for a long time, you may want to see if you can pick them up in the 1910 and 1900 census. The 1910 is a little difficult because it was not Soundexed. As a result, unless a genealogical society or commercial group has created an index, you may be unable to find them in the 1910 census. The 1900, though, is another matter. It is Soundexed, but it's also available for searching online, with a head of household search ability.

Where to Turn?

If the family was in Massachusetts for a long time, it is possible that you will find tracing this lineage easier than originally anticipated. Massachusetts is one of the better states when it comes to record keeping.

Like most New England states, you will find that many records, especially vital records, are found on the town level. While some vital records are now found in the central repository, for example the state archives, you may find that you have better luck by contacting the town in question instead. For Myrtle's birth, this is probably going to be the case. And if you can determine her place of birth through the census then your next step will be to get a copy of her birth record.

In Conclusion

When it comes to the family of Walter Cooper, your search is just beginning. The good news is that there are records available to aid you in this search. Many of them are available on microfilm and can be ordered to your local Family History Center or may be accessible through a local genealogical library. Some of them, such as the census, have been digitized and are available online.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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