Wednesday, May 28, 2014

50 Ways to Index Your Ancestors or Why You Can't Find Them in the Census

The simplest surnames are sometimes the hardest to find.

I learned this as I was working on my MENOU collateral lines. My great-great grandmother was Emelie Menou. Her brother was Jules Menou. They, their siblings and parents came to Louisiana from France in the 1880s. They lived in what is now Iota in Acadia Parish.

Today I did some research on Jules Menou and his family. It wasn't hard stuff. I just wanted to get their census enumerations into my RootsMagic database.

I did a quick and dirty census search for Jules Menou at and no results were returned. I did the same search by limiting the record pool to just those in Iota, Acadia, Louisiana. Zero hits.

Well I knew they were in Iota, so it was time for a page-by-page search of the 1920 census. Luckily for me, there are only 16 images in the set for Iota.

I found the Jules Menou family on image 5, but they were indexed as MERSON.

Does that look like MERSON to you? I can see MENON. That's a common transcription error, but Merson? Look at the small "r" in Marcelle. Look at the closed "s" in Rosa. These are different than what the indexer thought he/she saw in the surname. I don't know, these are the things I notice when I'm indexing.

Anyway, I decided to do a page-by-page search of the 1900-1940 censuses for the Jules Menou family. I found them in Iota in each census, their name incorrectly indexed in every single one.

1900 - Manow
1910 - Manne
1920 - Merson
1930 - Menon
1940 - Menoce

Then I got curious. How was the Jules Menou crew indexed at FamilySearch?

1900 - Menow
1910 - Manne
1920 - Menon
1930 - Menon
1940 - Mansee

Now to be fair, MENON is a common misspelling for MENOU, so it's one I always search. A cursive "u" often looks like a cursive "n." The same can be said for mixing up "u" and "w" in MENOW. Some of the others though, I just don't see it.

This isn't a complaint about indexing. It's more of a pause for thought if you can't find someone in a census.

Search page-by-page if you can. Lucky for me, the Iota section was tiny so it was an easy task on Some census districts make this difficult. I feel your pain as I've done this task in Los Angeles.

Search for the family using the most unusual name in the group. At FamilySearch, it's not easy to browse page-by-page like I did at Ancestry. Instead, I searched for everyone named Jules in Iota, Acadia, Louisiana who was also born in France. My man Jules was always in the first few names.

Look at the neighbors. If you find a family in one census but not another and you're sure they're there, search for the neighbors' names and see if you can find them that way.

Thanks for listening. I just wanted to point out the large differences in indexing the same name. If you can't find someone in a census, maybe they're just hiding in plain sight.


  1. Some good ideas. I will need to go back and research the 1880 census for my paternal grandfather's family, who I've never found in that census. Their last name was Robinson, not that unusual, but they seem to be missing.

  2. Actually, I *can* see Merson in the photograph. Makes me love the enumerators who used print/block/manuscript handwriting instead of cursive. You have some great tips here for finding someone. You were lucky that you knew where your family was supposed to be!

    1. I can see it, too, but when you study the way the enumerator writes "r" and "s" in other entries, Merson should be off the table as an option. Or maybe I'm just more calculated when I index (for free).

    2. You're definitely an experienced indexer. I know as a relative beginner in indexing, I have been guilty of not studying the handwriting style on the whole page enough. I would hope FamilySearch arbitrators would catch more of that, especially since users can't suggest corrections like they can in Ancestry.

  3. So do you enter all of those variations as AKA's in your database?

  4. Thank heaven for digital images of the originals sp you can do this in the comfort of your bed with your laptop. My Margaret McIntire was indexed Margete M Tnlive

  5. Thanks for the great suggestions. It can be frustrating when you're certain someone is in a particular place at a particular time, but they can't be found in the census. Unfortunately, even the smallish place I need to search has proven to be too large to make a page-by-page search practical. I'll have to see if some of your tips will help me find my "lost" people.

    When I do find someone at Ancestry whose name has been indexed incorrectly, I always use the correction tools to enter the correct spelling. Ancestry reviews those suggestions and, when correct, adds them to the index, which helps other people (cousins!) find their way to their family members.