Ancestor NOT on a Census – Why?

We all have at least one ancestor who we believe was alive but we can not find them on a specific census year record. There can be reasons a relative was not counted on a certain census year. Here are a few of the ideas.

Many people were out of town and missed the count – especially traveling for work, such as salesmen or workers for a railroad or even circus people. It was not always family members providing the information to the census takers, much was done by landlords and landladies, who weren’t working from printed registers, and could be missed which tenants they reported.

Again it can vary over the decades, but some census counters – enumerators could have been negligence in their job. The Census Bureau calculated there might be 1% error in individuals not reported. For the 1890 census with a population of almost 63 million that would be about 600,000 individuals not counted due to negligence.  

The names were written incorrectly by the enumerators. You have had a hard enough time figuring out which way an ancestor spelled their given or surnames, well so did the enumerators. Either the relative misspelled their own name, or the census taker misunderstood what was said, the name was written down incorrectly. This made future researchers’ job much harder.

Do get all the information you can from census records with your ancestors’ name and then use city directories or state censuses, close to the missing census years.  

Photos: Machines used by 1890 census takers and census taking in 1920 and 1950.

Related blogs:

Read Between the Census Lines

U.S. Federal Censuses

Other Methods to Locate Someone Not on a Census



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