So, you think there might be a missing census page? Whether it’s a missing census or a missing family, my special guest, professional genealogist Kate Eakman from Legacy Tree Genealogists has strategies to help you figure it out. She has just the answers you need to find your ‘missing’ family.
A Genealogy Gems reader doing genealogy research in New Jersey has lost her family! Well not literally, but she can’t find them in the 1940 U.S. Census. Here’s the email I recently received from her:
I am having a problem finding my mother and grandparents in the 1940 census. My grandfather, William Charles Opfer, was born on October 15 1900. I can find him in the 1930 census living in Glouescter Township, (Unincorporated Grenloch) Camden County, New Jersey. He is living with his wife Kathryn (Katharine) Opfer and three children: William C Jr, Robert, and Nancy (my mother).
When I search the 1940 census on Ancestry nothing shows up. So I went to the government web site and converted the 1930 Enumeration District to the 1940 Enumeration District. The 1940 Enumeration Districts were 4-57, 4-58, and 4-61. I then went through all of the pages for each of the districts looking for William C. Opfer. I did this on Ancestry, Family Search, and NARA. No William C. Opfer.
I then went back to the 1930 census and looked at his neighbors. I searched for each of the 13 heads-of-household neighbors from the 1930 census. Two had moved 1940 and I found them. I could not find the other neighbors in the 1940 census. I am wondering if a page from the 1940 census did not get scanned? Is there somewhere else I could look?
Missing Census Answers from Kate Eakman, Legacy Tree Genealogists
First, let me say how impressed I am with this Gem’s research and her dedication to finding this census report. She has made some very thorough searches and performed a number of advanced genealogical techniques in her quest for the 1940 U.S. Census page. It hardly seems fair that all that work didn’t yield the success she surely earned.
The government website she referenced is the National Archives 1940 Census page. The use of the page “1930 Records Search” allowed her to simply locate her grandfather in the 1930 U.S. Census. Then, by clicking a few buttons, discover the corresponding enumeration districts (ED) for the 1930 ED in which he and his family lived: 4-57, 4-58, and 4-61.
I, too, have scrolled through page after page searching for that one elusive name and we know how tedious that task can be! Using three different sites was a good strategy and one that we employ ourselves here at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Different images might be easier or more difficult to read, although in the case of these three EDs, the copies seemed to be uniformly easy to read.
The first two EDs were for Blackwood, an unincorporated part of Camden County, New Jersey. The third one was for the Lakeland Tuberculosis Hospital, unlikely to have housed the entire family, but certainly worth looking through in case one Opfer was a patient there.
ED 4-58 had an interesting variation at the end of the report. The last two pages were not 15A and 15B, as would be expected, but were 61A and 61B. This indicates these households were enumerated at a later date than were their neighbors. Because federal law requires every household to be counted, and because not everyone was at home when the enumerator arrived, the enumerator had to return on a different day and attempt to gather the necessary information for those families. They were recorded separately, beginning with page 61A.
People living in hotels, trailer camps, and other places normally designed for single-night stays were enumerated a week after the initial enumeration and those pages are numbered beginning with 81A. Not every ED has a 61 or an 81 page, but if you see one, now you know why the page numbers suddenly changed so dramatically.
The writer’s use of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FAN Club was an excellent idea, too. FAN, an acronym for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors, takes advantage of the fact that people, in general, tend to remain geographically close to the people they know. [Read more about this in our post, “The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls“] If a portion of a community moves, they tend to move together and relocate in the same general area of their new location. Her instincts to use this tool were excellent, even if they did not produce the desired results. This falls under the heading of “reasonably exhaustive research” and should always be included when someone, or in this case something, can’t be found, but should be there.
The fact that the researcher was able to locate only two of those neighbors could be explained, in part, by the fact that so many were in their 60s, 70s, and even 90s in 1930. They simply may have passed away in the intervening ten years. Another explanation, particularly for the working families, is that the Great Depression caused many families to move in order to find employment.
This may have been true for the Opfers. We noticed in 1930, William was employed as a supervisor for Reading Transportation. While supervisors were important to the operation of any transportation company, it is possible William found himself unemployed, as was true for millions of other Americans. If that happened, he and his family could have moved anywhere in the United States in an effort to find work. Alternatively, William may have left to find work while Kathryn and the children lived by themselves in reduced circumstances, or with family or friends.
To this end, I searched for William and Kathryn, and then each of the three children individually, in the hope of locating one or more family members. Using the “less is more” strategy which is often an important part of genealogical research, I searched with and without the family members’ ages, places of birth, and other family member’s names. Because the surname “Opfer” might have been misheard by the enumerator or grossly misspelled, I even searched for the various members of the family with no surname. Since we did not know where the family may have lived between 1930 and 1944, we included all of New Jersey, Delaware (the home state of Kathryn), as well as neighboring Pennsylvania and New York in our searches. The lack of positive results meant we needed to expand our search to the Eastern seaboard, and then the entire United States.
We also identified the names of William’s and Kathryn’s parents, William and Sallie Opfer and Raymond and Corrine Mason, and searched their households and neighborhoods for William and Kathryn. They were not there. Walter, William’s younger brother, was not hosting the family, either.
The writer had asked if it was possible that a page from the 1940 U.S. Census did not get scanned. Since the 1940 census has only been available for four years, it is still possible, although not probable, that there are one or more pages missing unbeknownst to anyone. Our research revealed only a few pages from a couple EDs in Ohio and South Dakota that were missing from the FamilySearch collection. There is no indication anywhere that there are missing pages from New Jersey. In addition, the pages in the three possible EDs for the Opfers were all included and in the correct numerical order, with no indication of any missing pages at the end. Therefore, I think we must conclude that missing pages do not explain the Opfer family’s disappearance.
Other Databases to Help
There are two other databases which might provide some insight into the location of the Opfer family. The first is the set of 1942 World War II draft registration cards. All men between the ages of 18 and 65 were required to register for this draft. The draft registration cards would have included the address at which William lived in 1942; however, there was no card for a man named William Opfer (or with only the surname “Opfer”) born between 1895 and 1905.
The final search was the database of city directories. A poorly-indexed city directory reported the Opfers lived in Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1943, but there are two directories contained in the same book, and the listing was actually for 1947. It reported William and Katherine lived at 209 Washington Avenue with their children William and his wife, Robert, and Nancy. William’s brother, Walter, and his wife Edith lived nearby. Unfortunately, the search for them in 1940 revealed that 79-year-old widower William Pape lived at that address with his household servants who were not the Opfer’s.
Although the turmoil and upheaval of the Great Depression meant families were scattered, and it would have been easy to miss enumerating many households in the mid-1930s, by 1940 the U.S. was recovering from the effects of the Depression. Some agencies, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), were in place to provide work for men. Many war-related industries on both coasts were revived by the Allies’ efforts to stop Hitler.
In other words, there should have been work and stability for the Opfer family by 1940, and they ought to have appeared in a census report. The evidence of the 1930 census and the 1947 city directory strongly suggest they remained in or close to New Jersey, but all of the efforts to locate them have failed to yield positive results.
One Last Scenario
One possible scenario which would explain the Opfers apparent absence from the 1940 census is a simple one: perhaps the family was in the process of moving from one location to another in the month of April when the census was enumerated. Although the census was supposed to be enumerated on 1 April, the reality is that it was simply impossible to knock on every door and obtain the necessary information in one day. Some enumeration districts were fully counted by the 4th of the month. Other places were not completed until the 30th. This was true even in the same town.
If the Opfers had moved across the street from 206 Washington Avenue to 209 Washington Avenue in Haddonfield, for instance, between the 5th and the 14th of April, they would have moved from one enumeration district to another. Because the 209 Washington Avenue address had been enumerated on 4 April, they would not have been counted in that new location. And, because the 206 Washington Avenue address was not enumerated until the 15th of the month, they would not have been included in that EDs census report. We have seen this happen in the reverse and a family was enumerated twice because they moved during the enumeration, so it certainly could have happened the other way around. This is the only explanation we can find to explain the absence of the Opfers from the 1940 U.S. Census.
More About Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists and SAVE $100!
Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.
Areas of expertise:
-Native American Genealogy
-U.S. Civil War & Victorian America
The team of expert genealogists at Legacy Tree Genealogists can help bust through your brick walls. They do the research and you enjoy the discoveries!
Show Notes: A compiled history is kind of like standing on the shoulders of the giants of genealogy that came before you. OK, so maybe they weren’t giants, but they did document what they found and they published it so that you can benefit from it. This means that rather than having to start from scratch, you can look at the research that’s already been done. This provides you with clues and information that you can track down and verify for yourself to add to your family tree. In this week’s video, I’m going to show you one of my favorite collections of compiled family histories at Ancestry, and the search strategies you’ll need for success.
Watch the Video
A compiled history is kind of like standing on the shoulders of the giants of genealogy that came before you. OK, so maybe they weren’t giants, but they did document what they found, and they published it so that you can benefit from it. This means that rather than having to start from scratch, you have the opportunity to take a look at the research and the work that’s already been done by somebody else before you. This provides you with clues and information that you can track down and verify for yourself to add to your family tree.
Just like online family trees, not every compiled family history is well documented or well sourced. However, they can still be a great help.
Compiled Family Histories at Ancestry
So, where do we find compiled histories? One of my favorite places to find them is at Ancestry.com. They have a particularly terrific record collection called North America Family Histories 1500 to 2000. It’s not going to pop up in your regular search results. You’ll find it through Ancestry’s Card Catalog. It contains nearly a thousand privately published family history books containing over 4 million records. They focus particularly on the 18th and 19th century families, especially with Revolutionary War and Colonial ties. But you’ll also find some European family histories included, and particularly those with some nobility connections, which can take families are way back in time.
Today I’d like to introduce you to this exciting collection. Whether you need a little rejuvenation of your own family history, or you’re just getting started, either way compiled histories are a tried-and-true record collection that all genealogists should use.
How to Find the Collection
On the Ancestry.com homepage on desktop, in the menu click SEARCH > Card Catalog. It’s important to understand that a small percentage of the total records at Ancestry are delivered to you through hints. Therefore, it’s important not to just rely on hints, and take advantage of the entire card catalog. It’s really the best place to go when you know the title of a collection, like this one. You can type in the entire title or just a few keywords, pull up the collection and then search only within that collection.
Record collections have different searchability. Some may have an index, some may not, and some are just browsable. When searching, keep in mind that any deviation from the actual words in the title can cause it not to appear in the results. If you don’t see what you expected to find, double check your keywords. Even something like whether a word is singular or plural and affect the results. If you don’t have a specific title in mind, but you just want to browse, try a variety of synonyms, or reduce the number of words.
On the results page, you can hover over the title to get a little overview description. Click the title and you’ll find two ways to search the collection: the Browse this Collection column and the Search form.
Browse this Collection Column
Have fun and explore the collection using the Browse this Collection column. Select the first letter of a family surname, and then under Subject you’ll see an alphabetical listing of books with surnames. Click the title of a book to view the entire digitized compiled family history.
This brings up an important point. the Browse feature is just for the titles themselves. So, when you look for a surname, don’t be discouraged. If you don’t see it listed. It’s very possible that a branch of your family by that surname could be included in a book that is focused on a different surname.
The Search Form
The search form allows you to get really specific in your search with a variety of search parameters. It can also find names within a book regardless of whether the name appears in the title or description. Try it out for yourself. Get a feel for home many people appear in the collection with a particular surname, or with a first and last name. From there you can narrow down further.
Each result includes a View Record and a View Image icon. View Record provides you with some details about that person to help you determine if it’s your relative. You’ll find a variety of details depending on the amount of information available in the book. Take a moment to learn a little more about the book by clicking the Source tab. Investing a few moments up front to get familiar with the source that you’re looking at can be extremely helpful. It’s going to give you some context about who wrote this book, what it covers and possibly where a physical copy can be found. Click Learn More and scroll down the page. There you’ll find more specific information about what you might be able to find within the pages of the compiled family history. In addition to names, compiled histories may include birth date and place, baptism date and place, marriage date and place, death date and place, burial date and place and name of parents and spouses.
It’s also very handy on the search form that Ancestry will auto-populate people from your family tree based on the surname you enter so that you can fill in their information and search with one click.
Navigating within a Compiled Family History at Ancestry.com
Click the View Image icon on any search result to gain access to the digitized book. The scanned page will be zoomed in to the place on the page where the person you searched for is located. Adjust your view with the Zoom in and out tool on the right side of the screen.
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find the filmstrip. This displays all of the individual pages of the book in order. If you want to dedicate the entire screen to the book page, click the filmstrip X to close it. If you want to return to the filmstrip, click the filmstrip icon.
The current image number (not necessarily the same as the page number) will be displayed. Learn more about the book by going to the title page. The easiest way to do that is to type “1” in the image number box and click Go. The title page and the pages immediately following it can provide you with important source information. You may also find introductory pages including the background of the author, how the book is organized and instructions on how to interpret the content within the book.
Oftentimes, at the end of the book, you will find an index. Again, the easiest way to get there is to look at the total number of pages of the book listed in the film strip bar, and then enter that number into the image field and click Go. This will jump you to the end. Use the left and right arrow keys to navigate as needed.
Improving Ancestry Images
Depending on the condition of the book and the quality of the original scanning, some books may have pages that are a little unclear or muddy-looking. You can improve the look of these pages. Click the Tool Menu icon on the right side of the screen. Here you’ll find several options. For improving the way the image looks.
If a page has a horizontal image or photo turned vertically, use the Rotate Left and Rotate Right tools.
To make the page easier to ready, try Invert Colors. Black type on a white page then becomes white type on a black page which often makes it much easier to read.
Downloading a Compiled Family History at Ancestry
You can print or download pages from the compiled family histories at Ancestry. Having a digital version means you can read it offline and even if you no longer have an Ancestry subscription. In the Tools menu, click Download to click the current page you are viewing as a JPEG.
To print the page on paper or save it as a PDF, select Print in the Tools menu. A big advantage of the Print option is that you can opt to Also print index and source data. This will give you the page, the information specific to the person you searched for that was indexed by Ancestry, and the source information.
Explore More Compiled Family Histories
The North American Family Histories Collection 1500-2000 at Ancestry is such a wonderful goldmine of information. If you dig into this collection, it’s going to whet your appetite to track down more compiled family histories on other websites, in your library, and at the archives.