March 28, 2002
One of the first things I learned in genealogy was to work from the known to the unknown. By getting records for those events I knew about, I would begin to gather information about individuals and events I did not know about. However, nowhere in my early genealogical education was I told that there may be more than one way to accomplish my goal. This was a lesson I learned on my own, and learned the hard way.
Not in the Soundex
One of the most frustrating aspects of genealogical research can sometimes be the Soundex. While the Soundex coding system groups like sounding surnames together, it all hinges on the spelling chosen either by the people in the household or the enumerator when the names were recorded. The Soundex is an unforgiving system in that if there is just one letter difference of the consonants then you may never find your ancestor in the Soundex. This was recently brought again to my attention.
In researching on Jacob Seletsky, I found that he did not appear in the 1920 Soundex for Massachusetts. I was a little frustrated because I had his death certificate and he died in Boston in 1922. I doubted he was out visiting the sights in 1920, and was convinced he was in the 1920 Census living in Boston.
I turned my attention to the 1920 city directory for Boston. I was not surprised to find Jacob and his brother Joseph listed in the city directory. Listed among a few other Seletskys I found
This told me that Jacob was a clerk in the store of his brother, Joseph, who sold shoes, and that Jacob lived on Wayland street at house number 95.
Where to turn? The street index of the city directory and then to equate that to the appropriate enumeration district in Boston to see if I could local Jacob in that way.
Where in the City of Boston
In addition to an alphabetical listing of individuals living in the city, the city directories for Boston have an alphabetical listing of the streets. I turned to this to find out where in the city of Boston I might find the street of Wayland. The city directory gave me the two streets that Wayland begin and end at.
This told me that I would find Wayland in Ward 17 of the city of Boston and that it was bounded by Magnolia and Dacia streets. I then turned my attention to the Enumeration District Descriptions for Massachusetts for 1920.
From Enumeration District Description to Census Page
While it appeared that Wayland was a small street, I was hoping that Magnolia and Dacia would be mentioned in the enumeration district descriptions. Suffolk County, of which Boston is a part, is found in the sixth supervisor's district of Massachusetts. After locating Suffolk county in the descriptions, I then looked for Boston, and then specifically Ward 17.
Ward 17 can be found in enumeration districts 426 through 447. While not an unreasonable number of enumeration districts to go through page by page, I was hoping through the enumeration district descriptions to be able to cut that number down significantly. I decided to first look at the following enumeration districts based on their descriptions.
Armed with this information, I knew that I needed to check enumeration districts 426, 428, 429 and 432. This was a much more manageable set of pages to go through, made even easier by the fact that I did not need to read each name of those living in the households, but instead could concentrate on the names of the streets as written on the side of each census sheet.
In enumeration district 432, I found a family of Jacob Selesky living at 95 Wayland Street just as he should be. Why hadn't I found him in the Soundex then? The difference in the spelling of the surname from Seletsky to Selesky changed the soundex code from S432 to S420 making it impossible to find him in the Soundex.
If I had stopped my research on Jacob Seletsky in 1920 when I did not find him in the Soundex, I would never have found him in the census. Boston is too big a city to do a line by line search like you can do with other more rural areas. However, by understanding how the enumeration districts coincide with the streets, I was able to narrow the search down considerably and then easily locate him in a matter of minutes. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves how else can I accomplish that research? The answer may be just what is needed in finding an ancestor in the records.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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