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The Lost Colony Research Group

Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology


May  2012



Census Assumptions

By Roberta Estes  


All seasoned genealogists have come across the 1790-1840 census forms that are recorded in what I call "semi-alpha" order. That's where the letters of the alphabet are grouped together. From these lists, you can tell nothing about who lived by whom. I'm always greatly disappointed when I come across and need information from a county whose records are in this order.

What some folks don't know is that there were three copies of every census, one copy for the local officials, one copy to send to the state, and one copy to send to the federal government. Sometimes different copies vary somewhat, and in addition to being in different formats, sometimes copy errors occurred between the various census schedules. This has come to light in the information era with digitization. When checking different sources, such as Ancestry, Heritage Quest, or the actual microfilms from the National Archives, be sure to look for nuances or perhaps outright differences. If your ancestor doesn't exist on one census, and you're fairly sure they lived there, check another source.

If the census was not in "semi-alpha" order, genealogists thought sure we had hit the goldmine and the census was in "processioning order". This of course means that it was written in the same manner that the census taker rode his horse, and neighbors would appear as neighbors. In some cases, this is a valid assumption, but in others, it is not, and generally there is no way to tell the difference. Part of the problem is with how the census taker recorded the census. Census takers were paid per house. How they recorded those homes was a matter of personal choice. Some surely did record them in "house order", but some did not. I'd wager to say that some recorded "what they knew", then went out and filled in the blanks. The order of those records is certainly questionable.

I want to use Jackson Township, Montgomery County, Ohio as an example where the land and tax records exist for the same year as the census. The land and tax records are not published as they are often not perceived as "valuable" genealogically, but indeed, that is a hugely inaccurate perception. Copyright, Roberta Estes 2012 Page 9

In the 1830 census for the Miller family, we find the following information:

Jones Miller, page 1, line 10, age 40-50

Henry Miller, page 3, line 6, age 20-30

Daniel Miller, page 5, line 2, age 20-30

George Miller, page 11, line 5, age 30-40

Daniel Miller, page 11, line 6, age 30-40

Joseph Miller, page 11, line 7, age 20-30

John Miller, page 11, line 8, age 20-30

Stephen Miller, page 11, line 17, age 50-60

John B. Miller, page 13, line 5, age 50-60

Based on the information above, it appears that George, Daniel, Joseph and John all live adjacent, indicating they might well be brothers, and Stephen their father. While we know indeed that this is correct for at least some of these folks, that is based on genealogical records, and while this can be somewhat confirmed by the census records, the census records themselves are somewhat misleading.

A friend had the tax records and he was generous enough to compare the census with the tax records, and here is the comparison of what we found. The tax records show the county, range and township, which is a wonderful informational resource.

Tax Records with Location:

Stephen Miller 4-4-35 SW (4 is Montgomery County, 4 is Jackson Twp., followed by the section number)

George Miller 4-4-9 part of SW and SE

John Miller 4-4-1 NW

John B. Miller 4-4-27 NE and also 4-4-8 NE

David 4-4-5 all of section

Henry 4-4-2 E PT NE

There are no records for either of the two Daniels or Joseph. Interestingly enough, David, who owns an entire section, is missing from the census in Jackson Township. It's certainly possible that some of these men who had no land themselves were living on and working that land. David and Stephen Miller were indeed brothers.

Jackson Township is laid out on a grid system. The township is 6 miles by 6 miles. Each quadrant is one mile by one mile, assigned a number, and holds 640 acres, as shown below.

According to the tax records, the various Miller men, in 1830 owned land in the following sections. The men who appeared adjacent on the 1830 census are bolded. Copyright, Roberta Estes 2012 Page 10  



4 David entire section


2 Henry NE

1 John NW qtr


8 John B NE qtr

9 George SW and SE qtrs



















27 John B NE qtr







35 Stephen SW qtr


While this map certainly does not tell us anything about the relationship between these men, it does give us a very different picture than the census where Stephen appears to be living very close to George and John who appear to be living adjacent to each other. Clearly, based on the land tax records for the same year, they were not. Not only were they not adjacent, they lived several miles apart. Now it's certainly possible that the census taker grouped them together because he spoke to them together, at church, or elsewhere, and he knew they were all related, but that is purely speculation. What we can say with certainly is that they weren't grouped together because they lived beside each other as the 1830 census would infer.


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