Why Are There Mistakes in US Census Records?

If you have been searching census records for a while, you probably already know that the records are not 100% accurate. If you are not already aware of the inaccuracies, you absolutely need to understand the reasons why as explained in a new article in the FamilySearch Blog at http://bit.ly/2NuUl1L.


Sometimes Census takers add valuable information that is not required. Sometimes people are on more than one census for a certain year, because the census is on the date the census taker comes to a house. The census is on the people in the house on the visit. So if a person is at a grandparents house that is counted on a different date they could show up on two Census’s for the same year. I have come across this several times.


Gertrude G. Butterfield, the person who never was.
It’s January, 1920, in Chicago, late in the day. You are a census taker visiting a home with a very recent (born 7 November 1919), cranky baby. “What is the child’s name?” you ask the mother. She replies “Bertryl Jean Butterfield”. Tired and hungry, you hear “Gertrude G. Butterfield”. Thus is born a non-existent person who has, in recent years, been captured and entered into innumerable genealogies by name collectors who found this BAD DATA in the 1920 census files.
I have spent many hours trying to scrub this person out of multiple records and correct those willing to pay attention (not very many). I even had to struggle with FamilySearch’s “Family Tree” function to eliminate this non-person from their files-with help from the LDS Family History Center in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.
How can I be so sure that Gertrude never existed? She was my older sister, “Jeannie” Butterfield, who, at the age of 13, had to care for me, a newborn, while my mother recovered from a near-fatal breech birth. She later taught me to tap dance, and even included me in some of her dance recitals. She was the professional dancer and singer who toured with a troupe, performed in Detroit with comedian Amos Jacobs (he later became known as Danny Thomas), married a handsome soldier just weeks before Pearl Harbor, became a mother of four and, in later life, acted and danced well into her mid-80’s in many amateur theater productions in Lima, Ohio before her untimely death in 2007.
If you know anybody who has a “Gertrude G. Butterfield” in their data, please tell them that they are way off base! Are there inaccurate entries in all of the censuses? Oh Yeah!
Gertrude/Jeannie’s very frustrated “kid” brother, Bruce


I was so pleased when it became possible for us to see the 1940 census. Finally, in my lifetime I would see how I looked on a census (I don’t expect to be around for the revealing of the next census). I rushed to find my parents’ listing on the census. Yes, there they were! Mom, Dad, brother, sister, older brother and his wife and their little girl who was my niece. But, wait! where am I? I was 9–where was I? Oh no, my niece and I were morphed into one person–it was her name but my data!!! Oh, oh, not fair! So, being quite sure that when the 1960 census is available to those doing research, I will have met my maker and, if I’m lucky, someone in my family will find me with my own family listed correctly.


My great uncle and his wife were listed as living in Washington State and California on census day in the 1930 census. Why you ask? They had lived previously with my Grat Uncles mother in law in Washington. For better job opportunities they moved to California for a few years to live with his sister. The mother in law always said they were “visiting” California the entire time they were gone according to my father. So when asked she listed them as living with her.


Just one way that inaccurate records are created – a relative was born in 1797 in England, so appears as an elderly man in several English censuses. But he developed the habit of ageing about 7 or 8 years between each 10-yearly census (at least if you go by what the census taker recorded he had told them) !! It was a while before I twigged and looked at the church baptismal records 10 years before his birth date.


Many years in the future, someone will look at the 2010 census and wonder why I and my sister are not there! Unbelievable! Aunt Diane was a genealogist, and she treasured census records; yet she didn’t give the enumerator her info??? Let it be known that communities that have no street mail delivery may well lack full data. I never had the opportunity to give my information for the 2010 census, since no form was ever “delivered” to me.


I’ve been researching native American families in the Mackinac Straits area for about 20 years now. I have found a fair number of native individuals counted twice on several different US census records. Usually the individuals were children attending a government boarding school. Some children were enumerated once at the school and then again at their family’s homes. Native customs in that part of the USA included going by several different names during the course of their lifetimes. Other native American citizens would not be counted at all in various US census records.


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