There are some U.S. states that give researchers more problems than other states. Lately I've been researching my Pennsylvania ancestors. Before 1900, Pennsylvania gives me a lot of trouble. Here's an example of one of my problems.
In 1857 my 3rd great grandfather, Simon George, died Indiana County, Pennsylvania. At least we can say that he disappears from census and other records by 1860. But Simon is not my problem, at least not for today. What bothers me is that Simon left behind a 33 year old wife, Lydia, and four small children: Jacob, age 10; Sarah, age 8; Ann, age 6, and Susan Jane, age 5. I can't find any trace of Lydia or her children in the 1860 US Federal Census. My mind doesn't seem to want to let go of missing children so here's f I'm doing to find them.
Start with what you know
I started with what I do know for sure - that the family lived together (Simon, Lydia and the first two children born by 1850, Jacob and Sarah) in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania in 1850. It would make most sense to start by searching the 1860 census for the family in Brush Valley also, but 10 years is long time for a mother with four young children. I carefully looked for every Lydia without a surname (in case she got remarried) and with four children matching the names, Jacob, Sarah, Ann and Susan. No results. Strike one.
I also know that Jacob, my 2nd great grandfather, lived in Burrell, Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1870 with his new wife. Perhaps the family had moved to that town which is the next town over? I searched for every Jacob George in Burrell and all of Indiana County in the 1860 US Federal Census. Strike two.
Get on to a different website
Next, in an attempt to find different information, I decided to use a different database site. In an unusual move I chose FindaGrave.com. My thought was, if I could locate one of the family members in a cemetery maybe by searching the same cemetery I could find the rest. FindaGrave has a handy feature that lets you search the same surname in the same cemetery making searching very easy. You can also then switch over to searching any name in the cemetery.
Jacob George, the son, died in 1909 and is buried in Greenwood cemetery in Indiana, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. There are many Georges buried in Greenwood cemetery. Unfortunately, none of them are his siblings or parents. A general search of FindaGrave.com for the father, Simon George, in Indiana County, Pennsylvania came up empty. Strike three.
Broadening Out the Search
I was beginning to think that the whole family was hiding behind a new husband's surname not just potentially Lydia. Sometimes census enumerators wrote all the children down with the surname of the head of the household. They weren't helping descendants and future genealogists!
I focused in on Jacob, the only son, and my direct ancestor. I constructed searches with varying information such as a last name and a birth year. And then simply Jacob with a birth year (plus or minus a few years). I had to carefully scan every entry looking to find the other members of the family - mother, Lydia and sisters Sarah, Ann and Susan.
There in the 1860 US Federal Census I found Jacob Murphy born about 1847 listed in the household of Jacob Murphy, head, in Brush Valley. Ironically you might think they were father and son because of their sharing the same name. The rest of the household had wife Lidia (lesson to me to be more careful to look for misspellings!), Sarah, Ann, Susanna and one year old (what looks like) Bullian Murphy. I would imagine the name were really William Murphy but the enumerators Bs and Ws are clearly different on the page. So it appears that Lydia George got remarried to Jacob Murphy sometime between 1857 and 1860.
I was relieved to finally solve the mystery of Lydia and her family in the 1860 census. But one mystery leads to the next. As quickly as they are found, they disappear. Jacob Murphy, Lydia and 1 year old son disappear and are no where to be found in the United States in the 1870 US Federal Census. That's another mystery for another day. Some day I will discover when and where Lydia died.
Lessons to Learn
Today's genealogy databases and search engines are very good but they can't make up for errors written into the census. If you are having difficulty finding your ancestors get creative with the spellings of their names (or "loosen" up the search parameters so that you don't search for "exact") or consider that, like in my case, they were hiding under a different surname. Any time there are mixed families in one household this can happen. Not just with second families but also with households that contain grandparents and grandchildren with different surnames. In this case, stop focusing on the surname and search instead for the first name and a birth date.
How would you have solved my dilemma? What tricks do you have up your sleeve for finding missing ancestors in a census record?
Marian Pierre-Louis is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. She hosts the monthly evening webinar on the second Tuesday of each month. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Her areas of expertise include house history research and southern New England research. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.