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!

 

Adoption Research Success: “I Continued His Quest to Find His Birth Mother:”

Searching for birth parents? This adoption research success story involved several proven techniques: mapping DNA matches, research legwork–and years of patient determination.

Adoption Research Inspiration

This inspiring letter about adoption research came to me from Liz:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your part in a major milestone of my genealogy research! You motivated me, educated me, and shared many wonderful resources throughout hours and hours of your podcasts. After listening to you talk with Diahan Southard a few times, it finally dawned on me that I should contact her to help me better understand DNA and its impact on my research.

Here’s the “story” as it unfolded for me.

During much of the last 30+ years my brother-in-law, Chuck, searched constantly for his birth mother. Chuck maintained hope that information he requested from the state of Michigan or newly available electronic adoption records might give him enough clues to help him find his mother. Six or seven years ago, Chuck was disabled by a stroke and a few years following the stroke vascular dementia robbed him of his ability to continue the search for his mother. In January 2015, we were able to get Chuck (despite the dementia) to spit in the test tube and provide a DNA sample. Little did we know he would be dead by Thanksgiving. As I wrote Chuck’s obituary, I realized I could offer one other piece of assistance to Chuck’s widow and children. I offered to continue his quest to find his birth mother.”

Then Liz outlined the steps she took to carry on the search:

“After gathering the limited detail we had (birth date, location, possible mother’s name and age) I began my research in earnest. Ultimately I:

  • created a “proposed” family tree for Chuck based on Chuck’s birth mother’s surname and his birth location,
  • reviewed Chuck’s DNA matches and
  • began to narrow down the family tree.

I used Diahan Southard’s website tutorials as the foundation for my analysis, put together a PowerPoint presentation with my research and theory and presented the information to her in a video conference. She found no fault in my logic and helped me plan my next steps: the search for Chuck’s birth father.”

Eventually, the paper trail and the genetic research came together to tell a story:

“Last week my niece finally received the adoption records from the state of Michigan, eighty-six years after Chuck was born, over twenty years after Chuck first requested them and almost a year after his daughter requested the records. I am impatiently awaiting my copy! What I do know so far:

  • Postcard of Harper Hospital, MI, posted on RootsWeb (click to view).

    My research (thanks to you and Diahan and DNA) accurately determined the identity of Chuck’s mother.

  • She had a very difficult young life and died of TB—tuberculosis – when she was just 25 years old in 1939.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant with Chuck while a ward of the state and an Inmate at a girls school.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant during a time when the school “farmed out” Inmates to Harper Hospital to work as nurses’ aides.
  • Both Chuck’s mother and her sister checked on Chuck after turning him over to the state, both in an attempt to get him back and to learn how he was doing.

It was heartwarming to learn that Chuck actually had a birth family who cared about him! I wish he had known!”

WOW, what an incredible story! Congratulations to Liz on such thorough and persistent research. I feel very sure that Chuck knows that not only did he have a birth family that cared, but also a wonderful sister-in-law (although I would guess he well aware of that even before he passed.)

I’m also thrilled that Genealogy Gems was able to play some part in Chuck and Liz’s story.

Get Ready for Adoption Research Success

Are you looking for someone’s birth parents? Get started with the DNA strategies Liz used:

  • Take a DNA test from a company such as AncestryDNA, which has an enormous database of testers and family trees. Click here to learn more about your DNA testing options.
  • Map your DNA test results using Google Earth and/or, if you test with AncestryDNA, the site’s tool within an individual DNA match view for identifying locations you have in common on your tree. Click here to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free full-length video class on using Google Earth for genealogy.
  • Share your DNA results on other websites (such as Gedmatch) to increase your chances of finding matches.

To access Diahan’s great video tutorials on her site that Liz used, click here— as a Genealogy Gems reader you’ll get a great discount on them.

Along with DNA evidence, create the best paper trail possible, as Liz did. Scour all available records and follow up on all possible leads for any information about the birth parents. In this instance, Liz needed to rely on records created by or about institutions, such as the hospital and state girls’ school. Genealogy Gems Premium members will find tips for finding and using these records in my newest Premium video tutorial, Institutional Records. (If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more. )

Sources in our cover image for this post include this photograph of a pregnant woman and a postcard found on the Harper Hospital (Detroit, MI) hospital webpage at RootsWeb. Click to view full citation information.

Organize DNA Matches in Your DNA “Drawer”

Organize DNA matches with this innovative approach. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your DNA results, you are not alone. Learning to organize your DNA matches in an effective way will not only keep your head from spinning, but will help you hone in on possible matches that will break down brick walls. Here’s the scoop from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.

organize your DNA matches

I can tell whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11,) the forks are haphazardly in a jumble, the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are nowhere to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8,) everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.

Organize Your Imaginary DNA Drawer

Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction to effective organize DNA matches. It entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. To organize DNA matches, you really need to make a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals and help determine your next steps.

Step 1: Download your raw data. The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. See these instructions on my website if you need help.

Step 2: Identify and organize DNA matches. Now, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, is that you may have ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants. These descendants may have caught the DNA testing vision and this can be like your overflowing spoon stack! All these matches may be obscuring some valuable matches. Identifying and putting those known matches in their proper context can help you identify the valuable matches that may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple.

In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet, I outline a process for identifying and drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections. Then, it is easier to verify your genetic connection is aligned with your genealogy paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.

This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down brick walls in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. The key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other.

Step 3: See the relationship between genetics, surnames, and locations. Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke–that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your genetic genealogy? Remember, the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connect you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they show up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. By plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.

So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks! Your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of measuring spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.

More on Working with DNA Matches

How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History

Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This PostOrganize DNA matches quickguide

New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!

NGS 2016 Live Streaming: FREE Genealogy Gems Classes

NGS 2016 live streaming options have expanded this year–and include FREE Genealogy Gems classes you can watch on your mobile device wherever you are.

Can’t make it to NGS 2016? You’re not the only one! You can still join the fun, though–and for free. Lisa Louise Cooke will be live-streaming several lectures from the Genealogy Gems booth “theater” in the Exhibit Hall at NGS from May 4-7, 2016.

Streaming classes are scheduled as follows (so far–more may be added). The time zone for the conference is Eastern standard.

Wednesday, May 4:

9:45 am: Diahan Southard, 3 Reasons to Test Your DNA

10:15 am: Diahan Southard, AncestryDNA Help

1:15 pm: Lisa Louise Cooke, Beginner Evernote

1:45 pm: Lisa Louise Cooke, Advanced Evernote

Thursday, May 5:

12:45 pm: Lisa Louise Cooke, 3 Cool Tools for Newspapers

1:45 pm: Diahan Southard, FTDNA’s Family Finder Help

Friday, May 6:

1:15 pm: Lisa Louise Cooke, Create Google Earth Map Overlays

Saturday, May 7:

12:15 pm: Diahan Southard, Genetic buy medicine online philippines Genealogy & Health

1:45 pm: Lisa Louise Cooke: Genealogy Protection with Cloud Backup

How to watch the free NGS 2016 live streaming sessions from Genealogy Gems

Lisa will stream again through the free Periscope app, which she used for RootsTech 2016. Get the Periscope app in Apple’s App Store or Google Play, sign up for a free account, and follow Lisa Louise Cooke to tune in. Sign up for notifications in Periscope, and your phone will “ping” when she starts streaming.

Click here for the full list of NGS 2016 free Genealogy Gems booth classes, being taught on-site by Lisa Louise Cooke and Diahan Southard from Genealogy Gems and their partners from Family Tree Magazine. More streaming sessions may be added. Be sure to like and follow the Genealogy Gems Facebook page for last-minute additions!

FREE: Watch Classes that Streamed Live from RootsTech 2016

How to Use Your Mobile Device for Genealogy

Powerful Google for Genealogy Search Strategies

 

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