Family historians beware; census information may be fact or fiction. This article on how to verify census research information will expose reality. Many researchers start with the census then add historical facts to make a story. A true genealogist will first verify the facts against other documents. The further back in history, the more difficult this process is to follow. For this example, this author will demonstrate the process using the 1940 U.S. population schedule census, oral family history, documents and photographs.
According to the digital image for the 1940 census, this author’s family lived in Frankfort, Will County, Illinois with my paternal grandfather, William Kampe. Henry, my dad, worked as a court reporter. His education includes four years of college. Mildred, my mom, resided in Lockport, Illinois in 1935. Selma’s age is 7/12. According to the census, Frankfort Village had 197 dwellings. The citation for the digital image: 1940 U.S. Census, Will County, Illinois, population schedule, Frankfort Village, Frankfort Township, enumeration district (ED) 99-11, sheet 5B, household 181, William Kampe; digital images, Ancestry.com (complete URL; downloaded 5 April 2012); National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Using other resources, the verifiable facts include:
- William Kampe is the head of the household.
- Henry is the son of William.
- Henry is a court reporter.
- Mildred is the daughter-in-law of William.
- In 1935, Mildred resided in Lockport, Will County, Illinois.
- Selma is the granddaughter of William.
Using other resources, questionable facts or fiction include:
- Residency – family history and photographs relate that the family lived in a travel trailer. When the Illinois state court was in session, the family traveled to Springfield, Illinois and stayed in a trailer court near the fair grounds. When court was not in session, the family parked the trailer behind Mildred’s parents’ home at Lockport, Illinois. Selma’s birth certificate reveals a Springfield, Illinois address. Researching the 1940 census images lists this address as the location for another state worker. This address was probably used for a mailing address. Oral family history, photographs, and a birth certificate cast doubt on the Frankfort, Illinois residency.
- Selma’s age – the birth certificate reads Aug 1, 1939. The age of 7/12 does not match the previous August. As all of the resources for the questionable facts are privately held, the citations are available on family group sheets only. See the attached slide show.
Using other resources, do not assume facts not explicitly stated:
- Henry attended four years of college. This fact does not mean he completed the diploma requirements. He encouraged education, both formal and informal. Henry would often say, “Education is something no one can take from you.” He did tell this author that with all the business courses and seminars he had taken in his lifetime, he had not completed the requirements for a formal degree. Again, the citation is privately held.
Family historians remember: one document is not enough! Do not write or embellish a family history based on the census. Always cite sources.
Please contact Selma Blackmon with questions or comments.