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Stephentown Genealogy: Research

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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Importance of the Census


The Soundex

Beginning genealogists often disregard valid information on an ancestor simply because of the way a name is spelled. Remember, we enjoy much more formal education than our ancestors typically did. They may not have been able to read or write English, or even to speak the language well. It’s easy to imagine how a New England town clerk could record Johnson when speaking to an older German man named Janzen, or how a census taker in the Deep South could mistakenly record Capley for the young southern belle named Kepley. National and regional dialects can also dramatically affect the way a name might be spelled phonetically. And some of our ancestors anglicized their names intentionally, while others simply preferred a new spelling. The spelling of the name doesn’t change who that person was—after all, how often has someone misspelled your name?

The secret to keeping it all straight is called Soundex. Developed to address the name-spelling problems of the 1880 census, Soundex has remained a valuable tool for family historians ever since. So in the Soundex system, Johnson, Janzen, Johanson and Jansen are the same name—they’re all J525. Sometimes a name is spelled different ways even in the same immediate family: One brother is John Smith while the other is William Smythe. Using Soundex, however, they become John and William S530.

A Soundex name always contains four characters, no more and no less. The first letter of the name becomes the first character of the Soundex code. The remaining three numbers are drawn from the name sequentially (see chart). Some letters in a name are ignored. When adjacent letters are from the same category, the second is ignored. An example is Schmidt: Since the number 2 represents both S and C, the C is ignored. The letters A, E, H, I, O, U, Y and W are also ignored except at the start of the name (so Adams is A352). An empty space is represented by a zero. Once the four-character limit has been reached, all remaining letters are ignored.

A nifty online soundex calculator can be found at Eastman’s.

Why They Took The Census

Have you ever wondered why a census is taken in the United States every ten years? One common thought might be, “for taxes.” Another might be, “for reapportioning the seats of the U.S. House of Representatives.” Both answers would be correct.

In Article I, Section 2, the Constitution of the United States says:

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons. The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.

New York State Census Reports

New York State conducted its own censuses from 1825 to 1925 in the years that end in 5, but with some exceptions. None was done in 1885 or 1895, but there was one in 1892. Unfortunately, the 1892 census was skimpy. It missed many counties altogether, and some of the other counties may not be complete. 1825, 1835, and 1845 named only the head of household in each family and gave very little information about that person. The later censuses provide us with much more information on each person. The questions asked from year to year changed to reflect what the state wanted to know about the people living within its borders. – Cliff Lamere

Please let me know if you have access to any of the New York State census reports and would be willing to transcribe any or all of them, so we can include them on this site.

  • NY State Census 1825
  • NY State Census 1835
  • NY State Census 1845
  • NY State Census 1855
  • NY State Census 1865
  • NY State Census 1875
  • NY State Census 1892
  • NY State Census 1905
  • NY State Census 1915
  • NY State Census 1925

Where To Get Forms

Before you search through the census reports that are on this site, you might want to get forms to write your information on. Gary Minder has written some wonderful tools for Federal, International and State Censuses, and other data such as cemeteries. He used to offer them for free, but there is now a $15.00 charge for 40 worksheets on CD.

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