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Plus and minus in census searches

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Plus and minus in census searches

Postby AdrianB38 » Fri Jul 07, 2017 10:57 am

Just for interest - suppose that you have someone's (possibly approximate) year and place of birth, and you want to find them in a census, say. How much plus or minus tolerance would you apply to the year of birth when you start to search?

I am not surprised when someone loses a year on their age in each decade, so I'll take that current year of birth and look for anyone with the right details born within 10 years of that year. That's usually pushing it out more than a little bit but Ancestry gives plus or minus 5, then plus or minus 10, so I'll use plus or minus 10 for convenience once they get past their 20s.

I've also given up looking for exact birthplaces and just search on the birth county. There are just too many variations - the 1851 in particular seems to record parish of birth quite often, place names shift subtly and people can be born on the edge of places. My home town of Crewe can be difficult to trace eg. Officially it was Monks Coppenhall for the first part of its existence, so Crewe in a census might mean the Monks Coppenhall area or the earlier township of Crewe, aka Crewe Green, which is adjacent but in a different parish and might also be referred to as Haslington given that it's on the edge of that village.

I emphasise that this is for my initial search - I then have to discard the ones that are way out. And if you're looking, as I do, for Thomas Taylor from Preston, then trying to search for Thomas Taylor from Lancashire is not a good idea!

What's your search pattern?

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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby Sylcec » Sat Jul 08, 2017 12:29 am

Well - of course it depends which platform one is using (Ancestry or Findmypast or other). However, my first preference is to use Ancestry for census searches, despite the often appalling indexing, missed sheets etc. Because it is so tolerant, and usually offers far more possible matches than wanted, I tend to enter all family members that I know of who might be together in the same household. I don't worry at the outset about entering +/- age tolerances, though may do later.

I do ensure that I start by searching exclusively in the England census collection. When there are particular census years 'missing' or hard to find for the family, then I search only within that year. If I know someone was married, (and with children), I may change the main subject of the search to, say, the wife - in case husband away from home for any reason or deceased. Finally, if all else fails, I remove the surname and search for the family based on their Christian names only - using the most unusual as the primary search person, which means the relationships for the others may need to be changed.

As for place of birth - usually start with exact, then may change to county. For folk born in India - I only ever put India, never try to enter exact place - which may have been entered in some strange spelling on the census and transcribed even more strangely.

If all else fails and the family/person are thought to be in or from a rural area, then I browse the images for that place!
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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby AdrianB38 » Sat Jul 08, 2017 6:12 am

Thanks for that Sylvia.

I will always start census searches with Ancestry, also. The fact that you can't access many of the search criteria in FindMyPast unless you're down at the exact year / country combination means I only resort to FMP if Ancestry fails.

You seem to make more use of the names of other family members than me. I guess that it depends where you start from - if I'm tracking siblings forward, then I obviously don't know the names. On the other hand, if there are missing years in the middle of a family's history, the names tactic is good.

And like you, when in dire straits, I discard the surname and add some other criteria instead.

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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby junkers » Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:28 am

I would add a year for each search as the Census is taken on a set date (usually in April) although once in June so it does depend on the birth date as to what the correct age is. I use ancestry more than fmp because it has more functions for additional data.
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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby ianbee » Sat Jul 08, 2017 7:37 pm

AdrianB38 wrote:And if you're looking, as I do, for Thomas Taylor from Preston, then trying to search for Thomas Taylor from Lancashire is not a good idea!

Look for Thomas and you may miss all the Thos Taylors from Lancashire, Preston or otherwise. And all the Tom Taylors.
Th*s or T*om* on ancestry, I never look for Thomas
Might have to check for any T Taylor entries as well.
Or should that be Ta*l*r entries?
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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby AdrianB38 » Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:33 pm

ianbee wrote:... Look for Thomas and you may miss all the Thos Taylors from Lancashire, Preston or otherwise. And all the Tom Taylors ...

Absolutely - Ancestry's search options do seem to do a good job of picking up variants, including the "T" only form. But I always check what comes out because some of the variants don't get picked up, while FMP and Ancestry have different variant names.

As for wild-cards - well, your mileage may vary - I get somewhat disgruntled trying to concoct wild cards for names like Pickstock. Believe me, about the only constants are the P and the T - and possibly the last letter or two, I forget. On that basis, sound-alike logic seems to go better for some names.
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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby Maggie L » Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:15 pm

I finally found an ancestor on 1841 census after many of the search methods mentioned. With the name William Watson in Staffordshire, it was a challenge. After looking through all the many possibilities of William and variations with no success, I eventually decided to look through some of the parish registers where he may have lived (on FMP) and eventually found him. Normally names are entered on the register as first name then surname. (I.e. William Watson). He was entered as Watson William. So, that is another way of searching, reverse the names.


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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby ksouthall » Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:56 pm

Maggie L wrote:...Normally names are entered on the register as first name then surname. (I.e. William Watson). He was entered as Watson William. So, that is another way of searching, reverse the names.


I had a case of this too, where Stephen Smith was entered as Smith Stephen and all the other family members were entered with their first names and the surname, Stephen, apart from the youngest child who was on the next page and was entered correctly.

This was an enumerator error in 1841 not a transcription error.
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Re: Plus and minus in census searches

Postby AdrianB38 » Sun Jul 09, 2017 1:01 pm

Ouch. While you might think that the indexer should have realised which way round that was, there are oddities that I can understand people getting wrong.

Sabbath Church? Or is it Church Sabbath? Yes, that's a real name...

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