Colonial America, 1607-1789 Census Index
About the DataThis data set is one of a set containing alphabetical listings of people who lived in the United States between 1607 and 1789. These listings were compiled from censuses of early United States territories. These data sets give you some information about the listed individuals and also help you find the original records, which may contain more information.
Census Index data is typically only for the heads of household, because U.S. Censuses taken in 1840 and before only recorded heads of household. Censuses recorded in 1850 and after recorded every individual in the household, but the majority of the names included in this data set are still only the heads of household. This is because a full extraction of the records has never been done the size of such an extraction would be unwieldy. However, if a household had individuals with different surnames, at least one individual per surname was usually extracted.
The small percentage of other records that may be referenced in this data set include the following: allotment rolls, church records, Colonial censuses, Continental Army records, Continental censuses, county censuses, common pleas court records, fidelity oaths, freeman lists, immigration records, Indian censuses, jury lists, land records, land patents, land warrants, lotteries, loyalist lists, marriage records, merchant lists, military records, mortality schedules, muster rolls, newspapers, oaths of allegiance, pension rolls, petition lists, pre-US jurisdictions, quit rents, rebel lists, rent rolls, residence lists, slave schedules, state censuses, state papers, tax lists, territorial censuses, veteran schedules, voter lists, French censuses, minuteman lists, Spanish censuses, sugar- worker censuses, fine assessments, indentured servant lists, regimental rolls, and accounts, inventories, and wills from probate records.
Understanding Census Information
The information in this chapter describes the problems with census data that can make it difficult to locate your ancestors. Knowing about these problems can help you with your research. For more information about censuses and census data, also see the chapter entitled "Excerpts: Greenwood's 'Researcher's Guide'." The information in that chapter was excerpted from Val D. Greenwood's "The Researcher's Guide To American Genealogy" (2nd ed.) by arrangement with the publisher, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.
Over the decades, census enumerators inadvertently created complicated and confusing problems in the census records. Most of these problems are simply due to unintended mistakes. In addition, many original records have unfortunately been subject to decades of unprofessional archival storage and general public misuse.
These problems have put a tremendous burden on those who use computers to index or transcribe census records. As you use this data set, please remember the following: The final burden of proof in determining the correctness or incorrectness of a name in a census index or record lies with researchers themselves. In addition, the best research arises from individuals pursuing independent verification and relying on multiple research sources.
Below, we'll examine the various mistakes found in census materials. At best we can only give you a basic outline of what pitfalls you may expect. If you have trouble finding a name in the index, take some of these pitfalls into account. You may end up finding the name in a place that you did not expect it to be.
Each enumerator and census marshall had a different level of education. Therefore, spelling names in various languages may have been difficult for them, so they may have made errors when recording names.
It was not unusual at all to have had an Englishman enumerating the German names, Italian names, and Slavic names; you may have a Frenchman enumerating the German names, or a German enumerating the English and French names. Try an experiment with the common name of "Smith." Pronounce it with the accent spoken by a native of a particular cultural background. We come up with the following spellings based on those pronunciations: "Smith," "Smythe," "Schmith," "Schymthe," "Smite," "Smithee" and so forth. All of the above are actually found as various spellings of the English "Smiths."
Spelling by sound is the most common method of recording names. It is a practice that still takes place today. Take the name of "Pearce." Or is it "Pierce," "Peerce," "Peirce," "Perce," "Parce," "Paerce," and/or "Piearce"? Let's take another name, "Fisher." We can legally spell it "Pfisher," "Psfister," "Phfister," "Phister," or "Ffisher" to mention only a few. All of this depends on how the name is said, how the enumerator hears it, and how he or she interprets it on paper. Many enumerators were not well-educated and mixed guesswork with phonetic sounds to record what they heard.
Time Zones or Time Periods
The contemporary name "Polk" was spelled "Pollok" or "Pollock" several hundred years ago. The name "Fisher" today was more frequently spelled "Pfisher" or "Pfister" in early colonial America. Good researchers will always take into consideration the "zone" or "time period" changes as they research their genealogy or do other historical research. An excellent rule of thumb is this: "Just because it is spelled one way today and has been for a long time, does not mean that it was or has been spelled this way since the origin of the name."
As researchers, we all too often look for the usual or ordinary. Quite often we should be thinking of the unusual or out of the ordinary. The name "Booth" is generally spelled with only two "o"s. In actuality it was spelled "Boooth" by some enumerators. The name "Alexander" can and has been spelled "Allexxanndderr." Another example would be the name "Briggs" as "Bbrriggss" or "Brriggss."
Reduction in the Use of Letters
While we have the one extreme of adding letters, we also have the other extreme of the reduction of letters. To continue the example of the name of "Briggs," it is often spelled "Brggs" or "Brgs", totally deleting the "i" and the double letter. Here are a few other examples: "Green" as "Gren;" "Hannah" as "Hanna" or "Hana;" "Allen" as "Alen;" "McAllister" as "McAlister;" and "Mitchell" as "Mitcel" or "Mitchal."
The use of various vowels can place a name in an index many pages apart from other names of the same species. Use these examples: "Myers," "Mires," "Meyers," "Maeyers" and "Miers" are all placed in an index, some close together and some many pages apart. "Alexander" and "Elexander" not only would not be found under the same first letter, but would appear in different sections of an index. So the genealogical researcher should in many respects disregard vowels when making name searches. Here are a few examples:
Mis-Formed Letters or Look-Alike Letters
In one instance, researchers misread the name "Lebello" as "Sebello." The "L" and "S" are quite often written identically, making it difficult for even handwriting experts to tell the difference. The "I" and "J" can also be difficult to distinguish when just written as initials. In addition, an open-topped "a" can be mistaken for a "u," or a close-topped "u" or open-topped "o" can all be confused with each other. The possible combinations are unlimited. Here are a few examples:
Single Name Factor
Until the last part of the 19th century, many cultures only used one name for a person. In addition, many religious orders only gave their members one name. These practices make it difficult to index names using the current two-name convention that most cultures use. If only a first name was obtainable from the census, it will not appear in this data set's index. However, single surnames will appear. An individual whose name was "Cunningham" could be indexed in any of the following ways:
Whenever a first name appeared in conjunction with any portion of a surname, such as "John D.," it was included in this data set. Depending on how the original name appeared, it could be indexed in any of the following ways:
Titles and Other Name Designations
The almost endless range of titles includes military rank, occupation, ranking in the family, government stations, and many more. In Family Archives containing census information, most titles appear in front of the given name, but do not affect name alphabetization. Thus, "Lieutenant John Smith" would appear as "Smith, Lieutenant John." He would be listed next to all of the other individuals named "Smith, John," rather than next to those whose first names started with "L." As a side note, "Doctor" was not only an occupational title, but was sometimes a legal first name in the 19th century.
Titles that normally come after a name, such as "Sr.," "Jr.," "II," or "Esq." appear after the given name. For example, "John Smith, Jr." would appear as "Smith, John, Jr."
Listing of Ethnic Names
This broad category of names includes American Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Spanish, and Mexicans, among others. The methods used to index these names can vary greatly. Some examples include the following:
People Listed in Religious Orders
The names of individuals in religious orders can be difficult to find, because the individuals frequently took names other than their legal birth names, or they chose to use only one of their names. Following are examples of how religious order names may have been indexed:
Nicknames and Variations
It is quite common to call an individual by a much shorter name than what they were given at birth. The following examples give the real names and the possible nicknames:
However, never assume that all nicknames are short for a longer given name. "Bess," "Liz," "Ben," "Freddy" are all very real given names.
Voluntary and Involuntary Information
Several types of mistakes that resulted when individuals purposefully or unknowingly gave the census enumerators incorrect information. For example, some Germanic people remembered the compulsory military service requirements of the old country and did not know the laws in America. They often felt that if they divulged their correct names and ages they would be inducted into U.S. military service. To avoid being located, they would often use their middle name(s), delete their first names or surnames, or use only their christening names. Albert Martin Frederick Nass, could thus appear in the records under the following variations:
Since the enumerators were being paid by the number of names they gathered, they did not always take the data from a member of the household they were enumerating. Many enumerators traveled long distances on foot, so when they came to an empty dwelling it was common practice to have a neighbor volunteer the information. This practice compounds the errors made on the original census manuscripts, and perpetuated by indexers or researchers. Here is an example of the actual information given by the individuals themselves, and what the neighbor reported:
This is what the neighbor reported:
As you can see, the information provided by the neighbor was somewhere within the realm of truth, but by no means accurate.
Since the colonization of America in the early 1600's it has been a common practice for individuals, and especially immigrants to change their names. However, it was not until the mid-19th century or later that people were required to officially register their changed names in a court of law. (An examination of the Enumeration Returns for the 1890 Census of Veterans and Widows of the Wars reveals that hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women entered the United States Armed Forces under one name, and sometime after their military obligation was up, the census indicated that they had lived under an assumed name or names.) It's not uncommon to find individuals listed under three or four names. We give the following examples:
The "FS" and "SS" Mistakes
It was the general practice several hundred years ago to write a double "s" ("ss") as "fs". In addition, a single "s" could have been written like an "f." This practice continued until the 20th century. Examples are:
Mistakes by the Indexers
Occasionally you will find that an enumerator obviously misspelled a name. In this case, it may be indexed twice. For example, when "James" is incorrectly spelled "Jaems" it is indexed by most indexers in both ways.
The information in these data sets is not completely standardized because it is from many different databases that were created over a period of several years by AISI. Genealogy.com has tried to standardize the formats as much as practical. However, note that none of the databases contain entries in every field.
Location Field: Many records do not include an exact location, but it can be derived from the census page number listed. Refer to the Census Schedule for the county. It will indicate on which page number the records for each township begin.
Notes Field: Many records have a series of numbers within the notes field. Example: 0100010000000-0220010000000-06
The meaning of these numbers is as follows:
The thirteen-digit groupings break down as follows:
The example above would break down as follows:
Please note that if there were zeros at the end of the series of numbers, they were most often left off.
The census index data contained in this data set was acquired from MicroQuix, Inc. and Camron, Inc. It consists of data compiled by AISI, Inc. Genealogy.com, as a publisher, is not responsible for the original mistakes contained in AISI data, although (as noted above) many of these have been corrected.
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