Census Nerd Heaven! A Cautionary Tale

Right here, from the 1930 U.S. census for Ward 6 of Jersey City, N.J., is one compelling reason to become a Census Nerd™.

Here is what the Ancestry.com index gave me for a gentleman named Philip Teitelbaum:

“Philip Deitelbaum [Teitelbaum]”, born about 1895 in New York, in the household of a father named Edward Holman in Jersey City, N.J. Clicking through to the image set for Ward 6, I found the beginning of the household, at the bottom of Sheet 13B.

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Holman, Edward, 46 Head Ohio Ga./N. Dakota
James, Julia, 46 Boarder Georgia Georgia/Georgia
Livingston, Elijah, 49 Boarder Ohio Tenn./N. Dakota

So there is Edward Holman. Ohhh-kay. Let’s look at the rest of the family, which is continued on the next scanned image, Sheet 14A.

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Guthier, Dorothy, 8 Daughter New Jersey New Jersey
Ruane, Anna, 27 Servant Irish Free State Irish Free State
Schwartz, John, 12 Son New Jersey Poland
Schroder, John, 3 Son New Jersey New Jersey
Deitelbaum, Philip, 35 Son New York Czechoslovakia
Fulton, Joseph, 3 Son New Jersey New Jersey
Williams, Roger, 20 Brother South Carolina South Carolina
Robinson, Eric, 16 Niece Georgia Georgia

What an enigmatic patriarch Edward is – born in Ohio, or New Jersey, or Poland, or Czechoslovakia; running a boardinghouse, and siring children with four different surnames!  (Not to mention siring Philip, only 11 years his junior.)

This is either an early example of a family in the Witness Protection Program, or a terrific cast of characters in an abandoned novel by John Irving. (The World According to Holman? The Ward 6 Rules?)

Beguiling as those possibilities are, of course that is not what is going on here. What is actually happening is signaled by a line written by the enumerator at the bottom of Sheet 13B, right after Edward Holman and his two boarders:

Enumerated by Elizabeth Finkel and Finished On April 9. Here ends District 368 Block District 9-10.”

Ah. If you hadn’t sensed it before (and gosh, I hope you did), now you know that Edward Holman & Co. on Sheet 13B are probably not connected to the group on the following sheet. And in fact, they aren’t.

That final sheet, 14A, with its wildly varying assortment of names and ages and relationships and birthplaces, represents a bunch of people connected only by one circumstance: Elizabeth Finkel somehow missed them on a previous go-round. But she wanted to make sure they were counted. So she carefully noted, next to each name, the sheet number and line number of the household where each of these individuals actually belonged.

Therefore, in the far left-hand column next to Philip “Deitelbaum’s” name, is the notation: “Sheet 10, Line 35.” Backing up to that location in the image set, we find:

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Teitelbaum, William, 60 Head Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Teitelbaum, Rose, 57 Wife Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Teitelbaum, Harold, 22 Son New Jersey Czechoslovakia

Philip, age 35, born in New York of Czechoslovakian parents, is a much nicer fit for this family, isn’t he? (Also, note how one might have been tempted to erroneously conclude that the people on 14A were boarders in an establishment run by Mr. Holman — unless one stopped to notice stray marginal notations and ill-fitting ages/relationships.)

This is a great example of what makes an index a finding aid, a starting point, not an actual source. Indexes are compilations with varying degrees of accuracy. Mind you, not all indexing issues are as beautifully explicit as this one. But they can stall research just as effectively – unless you take that closer look.

Related: Turn That Page. Seriously.

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2 Comments on “Census Nerd Heaven! A Cautionary Tale”

  1. I see this all the time with college students. They get tacked onto the last page with a notation of which family they belong to, but then Ancestry lobs them into the household of the closest head of household.


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