Fallen Through The

Cracks in the Census

written July 2, 2006

Many times I have touched on the subject of how due to epidemics or migrations whole families seemingly disappear from the researcher. I am certain that many researchers are aware of this event even without my having said anything.

However, in going through my databases the other day, I found one particular family that performed the vanishing act through another medium-- tne census records. I know that many of us have found a family in one or more of the census records only to find a major gap by not finding them in perhaps the 1860 or the 1870. I am not really talking about that type of vanishing act. I am talking about the occurrence that a whole family can pretty much seem never to have existed by missing any census records altogether. Not because they didn't see the census taker, or he "hid" from the "government men" or the census taker was just too lazy or tired to walk that extra mile to visit their house. I am referring simply to the years that persons in a family are born and died.

I had always "heard" of it happening or rather thought about the possibility, but never actually saw it within my own records. Of course if a family missed the census records; you wouldn't "see" it would you? Anyway, nothing quite presents the occurence as clearly as the family listed below.For the benefit of other researchers, I will break this family down into the "whys" of their disappearance.

Elijah JONES b. 1840 in Union County IN d. August 10, 1896 in Owen County, IN

Christina SHOPPELL b. October 30, 1848 in Owen County, IN d. August 31, 1872 in Owen County, IN

They were married on April 24, 1866 in Owen County, IN.

Their children were:

Edward JONES b. June 23, 1867 d. June 23, 1867

Nannie JONES b. March 12, 1868 d. August 24, 1869

Albert JONES b. May of 1872 d. Dec. 8, 1947

Now, as any good researcher knows, the census records were taken during the years of 1800-1930 and are still of course still being taken every 10 years. These are all available to us, WITH THE EXCEPTION of the 1890 which was destroyed. That leaves a major period of time between the year of 1880 and 1900 that a person could conceivably be born and married. If this is a female child that didn't show up in the county's marriage records, then she has vanished forever to the researcher.

In viewing the representative family above, one can see that--

the first child was born and died on the same day.

The second child lived 1 year, 5 months and 12 days.

BOTH of these events however occurred AFTER the taking of the 1860 census and BEFORE the 1870 census taking. Since the 1870 census doesn't inquire of the mother how many children were born and how many then survive; no record of those 2 births would exist in the census records.

The last child born to this couple is born in May of 1872; (I found his month/year of birth listed in the 1900 census records.) The mother, Christina died about 5 months after the birth of this final child-- so, before the next census records in 1880.

In any case, by knowing some history of this family it can be found that by the time the 1880 census record is taken; the final child ALBERT is residing in the home of his paternal grandmother and is listed as 8 years old and a grandson. His father is listed as a boarder in another home during the 1880 census. Although the father is in the same township, he is definitely not living that close to his mother; about 5 pages away.

Now-- the father, Elijah died in August of 1896 meaning that he would never show up in the census of 1900. By the time of the census of 1900, Albert has also married and moved on and of course the grandmother has died.

Out of this family of five, there are only 2 persons that show up in the census records after the 1870. Although closely related, neither of them are residing in the same home. To someone not tenaciously digging for this family and with a surname such as "JONES"; a researcher would not necessarily place the father and son together.

In summary, it is quite easy to see with this example- how a family can simply disappear although they never left the county. For this reason, a researcher must never assume because a family cannot be found in the census records that they simply migrated somewhere else. The only census record available that gives a view of children that may have previously been born & died is the 1900. That question is only asked of the mother. If she has already died, nobody ever knows. If these events, such as above all occur before the 1900 census records; then there are no records.