The 1910 Census in Puerto Rico: A Surprising Lesson on Using Census Records for Genealogy

Puerto Rico census screenshot

Sample census detail image from Ancestry.com.

Imagine taking a standard U.S. census form, translating it into Spanish, administering it to a newly-American population whose racial identity is highly politicized, translating the results back into English and trying to make sense of them 100 years later.

That’s what happens when you’re looking at 1910 census in Puerto Rico.

I stumbled on this story when my dad, a FamilySearch indexer, called my attention to a current project to index previously-missed parts of the 1910 census. A lot of the missing data was for Puerto Rico. The forms are in Spanish. My dad asked my help translating some of what he was reading, since I speak some Spanish. He was concerned that the computer was interpreting some of the abbreviations in English when they were likely Spanish abbreviations. I looked into it and what I found reminded me of these lessons:

Puerto Rico 1910 1920 census instructions

From “The US Census and the Contested Rules of Racial Classification in Early Twentieth-Century Puerto Rico,” by Mara Loveman, in Caribbean Studies, 35:2 (July-Dec 2007), 3-36. Click image to go to the paper.

Always read the record itself and seek to understand it. Don’t just rely on the index! The published images of this census on Ancestry interpret “B” in the race column as “Black,” but a little research (thank you, Google Scholar!) reveals that the census takers entered the race in Spanish–so “B” was for “blanco” (read about it in this academic paper).

When you see someone’s race change over the course of a lifetime, consider the historical context. Puerto Rican census data from the early 1900s “show a population becoming significantly whiter from one census to the next” because of “changes in how race was classified on census returns,” says the same paper. Not only were there changes in the official instructions, but the enumerators increasingly didn’t follow them. In fact, on several thousand census entries in 1910 and even more in 1920, “individuals’ racial classifications were manually crossed out, and a different ‘race’ was written in. These post-enumeration edits, it turns out, were done by a select group of Puerto Ricans hired to supervise and ‘correct’ the work of fellow Puerto Rican enumerators.”

google toolbox bookThis little historical trivia is not so trivial if you’re wondering why your ancestor may be identified by a different race than you expected. Learn more about finding academic papers like the one quoted here in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke. Her book shows you how to search Google Scholar for gems like this that make your family history more clear!

 

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records online

Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Might any of these collections include your ancestors? Today: English and Welsh Quaker vital records, Newfoundland censuses, New York marriage record, Nova Scotia deaths, Queensland wills and Pittsburgh newspapers.

ENGLISH AND WELSH BMD. Quaker birth, marriage and burial records from England and Wales, 1578-1841, are now available to FindMyPast subscribers. Quakers were formally known as the Society of Friends, a nonconformist religious group who practiced their faith outside of the established Church of England during this time.

NEWFOUNDLAND CENSUSES. Over a quarter million indexed records have been added to free existing databases of Newfoundland, Canada censuses for 1935 and 1945 at FamilySearch.

NEW YORK MARRIAGES. Nearly 640,000 images have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of New York marriage records (1847-1848, 1908-1936). The collection is only partially indexed, but you can “scroll through” images online, much like you would on a microfilm reader.

NOVA SCOTIA DEATHS. Nearly 350,000 indexed names and over a quarter million images have been added to free FamilySearch databases of Nova Scotia deaths from 1890-1955 and 1956-1957.

QUEENSLAND (AU) WILLS. More than 45,000 wills from Queensland, Australia are now indexed for FindMyPast subscribers. The database covers nearly a century: 1857 to 1940 and includes name and year of death.

PITTSBURGH NEWSPAPERS. Newspapers.com and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have partnered to put issues of that paper online (1877-1921). “If you take into account the earlier papers that evolved into The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (like The Pittsburg Post, The Pittsburgh Gazette, and others—also on Newspapers.com), you’ll find issues dating back as far as 1786,” says a news release. “That’s 135 years of Pittsburgh history!”

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Here’s a tip: Most databases, even those with thousands of names in them, are incomplete. If you don’t find an ancestor in a record set in which they should appear, double check the record set description to see whether the years you want might not be included. Search on multiple name spellings, nicknames and initials, as well as for the names of other relatives. Page through any images online. Search that same website (and others) for additional record sets that may cover the same time frame and place. Finally, ask yourself why they could be missing from the records and follow up on logical lines of inquiry. This tip comes to you courtesy of the newly-revised and updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke, which teaches you how to harness the powerful, free features on Google to find your ancestors.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

 

Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Might these collections include your ancestors? This week: Civil War stereographs, Dublin workhouse registers, Illinois naturalizations, a Jersey digital archive and Oregon motor registrations and offenses. Don’t miss our Google tip at the end!

CIVIL WAR STEREOGRAPHS. “The Library of Congress has acquired 540 rare and historic Civil War stereographs from the Robin G. Stanford Collection,” says a press release. “The first 77 images are now online, including 12 stereographs of President Lincoln’s funeral procession through several cities and 65 images by Southern photographers showing South Carolina in 1860-61. The images can be viewed in this gallery within the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. More images will be added each month, until all are online.”

DUBLIN WORKHOUSE REGISTERS. More than 1.5 million Dublin workhouse registers, 1840-1919 are now searchable for FindMyPast subscribers. Records include both images and transcripts, and may contain names, marital status, occupation, religion, age, birth year, admission year, name of workhouse and (on images) details about family, condition upon admitttance and date left workhouse or died.

ILLINOIS NATURALIZATIONS. Over a half million digitized images are searchable for free at US, Illinois, Northern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1906–1994 at FamilySearch.

JERSEY HERITAGE DIGITAL ARCHIVE. Over 300,000 items are now searchable at the subscription website Jersey Heritage Archives & Collections OnlineFeatured collections include registration cards of 30,000+ Channel Islanders who were there during the WWII German occupation. You’ll also find Jersey parish records dating to 1842 and (under Superintendent Registrar) parish registers from 1540-1842 and post-1842 civil marriage records.

OREGON MOTOR VEHICLE REGISTRATIONS AND CONVICTIONS for 1911-1946 are now searchable by Ancestry subscribers. Registrations include license number, name and address of the vehicle owner (including county in parentheses), make of car, motor number, model or year of manufacture and type of body. Records of convictions name the offender, date, offense, license number, court, county and the amount of any fines.

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 Tip of the week: Whenever you look at any record of an ancestor, ask what additional documents, images, video footage or historical material this record points you toward. For example, you might learn from an above record that Grandpa drove a 1935 Auburn Speedster or that a relative suffered from the German occupation on Jersey. Google searches on these niche topics can lead you to a Speedster photograph or historical materials (including footage) on the occupation, like this interview with a survivor of the German occupation. Learn how to search for gems like these in Lisa’s totally-revised, updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

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