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Are You My Cousin?: Why Does My Ancestor Not Show Up On The Census?

Are You My Cousin?

Discovering My Ancestors -- One Cousin at a Time

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

I tell the stories of my ancestors’ lives. Whether they lived 20 years ago or 200 years ago, they each have a story to tell. Some ancestors tell their stories willingly. Others must have their stories carefully teased from the records. Sometimes the stories are sad. Sometimes the stories are happy. Sometimes the stories are just funny. Regardless, my ancestors’ stories shaped their lives and the lives of those that followed. Come and share in the tales!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Does My Ancestor Not Show Up On The Census?


I continue my search for my GGGG grandfather Jesse Haley of Halifax County, VA. As I have exhausted most of the records I can find on Jesse, I have turned my attention to the Owen family, specifically Brackett Owen, father-in-law and uncle of Jesse Haley. Jesse Haley often appears in close proximity to the Owen family throughout the records. Perhaps by getting to know the Owen family better, I will learn more of Jesse.

As I have shared previously, Jesse Haley cannot be found on the federal census records for 1830 and 1840.  He was paying personal property taxes in Halifax County in 1840 (actually from 1835 on).

I began my search on Brackett  Owen in the usual place.  The census records.  Brackett Owen died in Halifax County in 1844, so I began with the 1840 census and worked backward.  All fairly standard genealogy research.

Until I got to 1830.

I was unable to find Brackett Owen in the 1830 census.  He was paying personal property taxes in Halifax County during that year.  So....now I have two ancestors in Halifax County who are "missing" in the census record in 1830 with one still missing in 1840.  Just where were these men?

What causes ancestors not to show up on the census records?

Here are some of the reasons I came up with for why an ancestor might be missing from a census record.
  • A person/family may have just been missed by the census taker.  (I do not think that is the case here.  It is too much of a coincidence that both of the ancestors went missing.)
  • The ancestor may have left the area temporarily to work in the "off season" of farming.
  • Prior to 1850, if an ancestor was not the head of household, his/her name was not listed. They could be there, but "hidden" in someone's household.
  • The surname may have been so misspelled so badly, it is incorrectly transcribed. (Reading a census record line by line can be tedious, but does yield results.)
  • The ancestor may have left the area and then moved back.  
What other reasons might an ancestor disappear in the census records? 


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