I have decided that the entire family of Andrew Jackson Trim, his wife and six of their children were all beamed about a spaceship with E.T. in June of 1870. There isn’t any other logical explanation of why they are all completely missing from the US Federal Census for that year.
Do you ever run into ancestors that seem to have just disappeared off the face of the earth? A.J. and his family lived in Copiah County, Mississippi, from 1845 (possibly before) until his death in the early nineteen hundreds. Why, then, did they not get enumerated in the 1870 census of Copiah County?
We, as genealogists, seem to lean heavily on the US Censuses as a core document in establishing the whereabouts of our ancestors every ten years. When I began researching, over a decade ago, that was the first place I was instructed to start. I found a microfilm copy of a census for Izard County, Arkansas, in my local library and sat down and started scrolling through it, page by page, looking for the great-great-grandfather of my husband. Ever since that first foray, my first instinct is still to look for the census records during an individual’s lifetime to establish their migration, if any, and begin a timeline.
Census records are great, for certain. Depending on the year, you can glean a whole lot about your ancestor’s life at that snapshot of time. From birth dates and occupations, to the number of children born (and died) to potential family members in nearby households. But the census is not fail-proof by any means.
Consider yourself for a moment. During your lifetime, how many times do you remember being counted on a census? If I’m remembering my timelines, correctly, I got a big packet of paperwork in the mail for the 2010 census. Since I am a genealogist, I knew that the information in that packet had the potential to be a critical research aide to someone in the future so I sat down and painstakingly filled it out, page by page. But how many people threw it away? How many got lost in the mail? There is simply no way to count every single human being that lives in the United States – someone will inevitably get missed.
In situations like that, what do you do? There are a few ways to piece together a timeline of events to postulate where an ancestor might have been in the missing census year. In my case, the one thing that really helped me was a record collection I didn’t even know existed when I started my search. I happened upon this collection by simply playing around in FamilySearch.org’s card catalog for Copiah County. For the state of Mississippi, there is a set of records called the “Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892, 1908-1957” (you can access the collection here). This is a listing of all the children who were currently going to school in the state of Mississippi during the years listed. I found two of A.J. Trim’s youngest children listed in this collection. They were not only in the same county as the 1860 Census, but they were even living in the same district.
Another thing to consider (and one that I am still working to prove) is the birth dates and locations of the children. When you can find a birth record of a person, it will not only provide pretty reliable information about the individual, but also of the location of their family. It’s highly unlikely back in those times that someone would be born in, say, Jackson, Mississippi, if the family actually lived in Memphis, Tennessee. So if I can identify that one of A.J.’s children were born in Copiah County around within a couple of years of 1870, then that will stand as proof that they were living in the county during that time. This holds true to a lesser degree for marriages, especially of daughters, and deaths of children, as well.
I am still looking for information on A.J. at this point in time, but I feel pretty certain that although I don’t find his family in the 1870 Census, they were living in Copiah County, just as they had in the years prior and after. For the moment, I am giving up the search in the Census and will turn my efforts to other records to further develop his life.
I’ve laid out just a few ways to patch holes in the Census here – what are some records that you have used to fill in the gaps?