Friday, November 12, 2010

Family Hydra

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Family Hydra

How many heads can a family have? Note below that family 258 has two heads. Family 259, not shown, also has two heads.

Any wagers on which vendors handle this correctly? Perhaps the first question is, are we in agreement as to how this should be handled? (See family 258 on and

This family in the 1920 census has two heads

Source: U.S. Federal Census, 1920, population schedules, Massachusetts, Essex County, Lynn City, Ward 2, district 141, sheet 11B; digital images ( : accessed 3 October 2010).


  1. My first thought was that this is a double house with the family living in one-half and the widow and her sons living in the other half. The same could be possible for the house next door. Obviously the enumerator didn't make that distinction, but then, the enumerators didn't do a lot of things they could have done, such as ask for the spelling of names!

  2. Well, as you suggested, we must know how it should be handled before we can judge which genealogy web site handled it correctly. So how should it be handled? It appears the enumerator simply neglected to increment the "Number of family in order of visitation" column. (I suppose an alternative explanation is that he neglected to increment the "Number of dwelling house in order of visitation" instead, but that seems less likely to me.) Apparently 2 families were living in dwelling 258, one headed by Joseph M Hatch and the other headed by Amy A Sweetland. Amy's husband, William (see 1910 and 1900 US Census records for Amy), had apparently died or otherwise left their family. So if the record should be indexed in terms of families, then the correct way to handle this is to index the Joseph M Hatch and Amy A Sweetland families separately.

    Based on my version of correctness, it appears that did it right because they do indeed index those 2 families separately. The FamilySearch site, on the other hand, indexes the 2 families together under the head of Joseph M Hatch, if the search is made for Joseph. But it should be noted that a search for Amy A Sweetland in FamilySearch yields a result identifying her as a widow and as "self" under the designation "Relationship to Head of Household." So, although FamilySearch indexes the 2 families together, it correctly identifies both Joseph M Hatch and Amy A Sweetland as heads of their respective households, but this is apparent only if individual searches are made for each name.

  3. I find this not strange. This is two family groups living in the same household. The second family is headed by a widow. She might be, or might not be a relative. It would not be impossible for her to be the mother of the wife, at the early age of 15 or 16.

  4. Why must we assume this is incorrect. I think it is two family units and each has a head. Maybe this was before the IRS told us there could only be one head (as defined by their rules) in each household.

  5. Dear Anonymous and Joan,

    It is not strange to have two families in one house, which is why column 3, number of dwelling house, didn't need to be incremented. What makes it incorrect is that column 4, family number, was not incremented as instructed in paragraphs 101, 102, and 109 of the enumerator's instructions.

    -- The Insider


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