I’ve spent the last few weeks tweaking a talk on researching African American ancestors for Western Michigan Genealogical Society—which was a lot of fun!—and the process left me with a number of interesting and sometimes frustrating finds… here’s one that reminded me to keep an open mind in my searching.
Do you ever just want to throw up your hands because it seems that your relatives hid out to avoid the Census takers? I’ve got a few families like that and they’re mostly from my father’s side of the family. I know that I have to be creative in my name spellings, not nearly as tied to location, and imaginative when looking at the indexing… but still sometimes I’m surprised by how far from accurate some of the records are when I finally find well hidden family members. A recent example would be when I was researching my 2nd Great Grandmother Candes Thompson Wheeler.
Candes’ name and birthplace of “Codesco, Mississippi” came to me through the death certificate of her daughter Sallie Wheeler (Her father Moses Wheeler was the informant) and from there, after a lot of searching, I located proof of Candes’ marriage to Moses in 1882—though there she was listed as Candes “Thomas.” But when I checked the census for Candes in Bradley County, Arkansas I couldn’t find her.
So I broadened my search—not limiting myself to Arkansas and using her estimated birth year from the marriage license. I hit on two “Candis” Thompson’s in Attala Co., Mississippi. One was married to a George Thompson and one was a year younger living with her mother, Sally; brothers, Mac, Amzi, and Burlon; and grandmother Mariah in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Sally is my Great Grandmother’s name and her siblings include an Amzi and Kosciusko is a place name made to be misspelled. So I’m tentatively approaching this as the correct line.
I decided to track them back in the 1870 Census and again found no hits for Sallie and Candes Thompson. So, I decided to just try searching on first names. And by searching for a household with a head or wife named Sallie and her children named Mac and Candes I did get a hit.
I found Sallie indexed as Sallie “Buerebokite” along with Candis, Mack, and an unnamed newborn boy immediately following the household of Maria Thompson (indexed as Nona). But when you look at the original images and the names throughout the township it becomes clear that through bad indexing and a somewhat sloppy hand the family name actually written by the Census taker was Musselwhite—one of the most common names in the county.
Of course all of this has just lead to more mysteries… How, when and why did Candes move to Arkansas? What happened to the rest of her family? How did Musslewhite become Thompson? … Just to name a few. But these intriguing mysteries would have remained hidden from me if I hadn’t slowed down and tried different searches to locate the Thompsons in the Census.
Keep an open mind, be creative in your searching, and get back to the original documents.