Discover your inside story. Save 20% on Ancestry DNA April 21-26

June 20, 2009

Dealing with Transcription Errors in Census Records

Many years ago, in the days of genealogy records only being available on microfilm (Remember those days? When we had to trudge to a nearby archive or library or Family History Center? When we had to physically crank through reel after reel, page after page of film....), I found and recorded my Levi Peer and family in the 1861 Ontario Canada Census. But I had never obtained an image since my local library did not have a reader printer.

Now that has put the complete collection of Canadian census records online, I hopped on over to their website to get that image for my files. I searched for lev* peer* (just in case his name was written as Levy instead of Levi, and in case his surname was recorded as Peere instead of Peer) No results.

Okay, no problem. I searched the standard mis-spellings for his surname - Pier, Peir, Pier(r)e, Pear, Peair.... nothing.

Okay, I tried the common misindexing of P as R or B - Reer, Beer, Rier and so on. Still nothing.

I knew exactly where Levi and his family were in 1861 down to the lot and concession number. Levi was even on the Agricultural 1861 census on

I then tried only his first name (Lev*) and year of birth (1807) plus or minus 5 years either side. Also added the township and county, and got lots of hits but nothing that remotely resembled his surname.

My next step was to use one of his son's names - hoping it was a little less common and perhaps something would turn up that was recognizable as this PEER family. Using his first name, year of birth (+/- 5) and the location I got 2 hits. With my new high speed internet it isn't so tedious for me to load images now so I clicked on both and there they were - mistranscribed under the surname ROSS.

Funny thing is, the image is quite clear. Yes the first letter of the surname might be mistaken for an R. But "oss" for the last 4 letters? Absolutely not!

So remember to not get too hung up on what you know your ancestor's name was - try leaving the surname off. Search under other fields (year of birth, first name, names of children or spouse, etc) and you too may have better success finding that elusive ancestor.


Brenda said...

Glad you were able to find your man again. A good cautionary lesson about using indexed databases!

Christie said...

And did you submit a correction on Ancestry?

Marly said...

I have been there, too - took me over a year to find Vermeulen in 1920 census and I, too, knew exactly where they were in the US - it was under Bar Mulen - I think the census enumerator was either coming from or thinking about going to the bar (smile)

Anonymous said...

I have submitted numerous corrections to Ancestry for census transcription errors, just in the past couple of months. Where are they getting these people to transcribe the censuses? How can anybody misread a "J" (with, admittedly, a Victorian flourish) as a "Z," and come up with "Zackson" instead of "Jackson?"