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: Darned Second Enumerations
Beginning with the 1940 census, the census bureau has formally evaluated the coverage of the census. Certain groups such as indigents, migrants, and minorities are difficult to count accurately.1
One of the largest reasons for under-enumeration is the difficulty in identifying and locating some housing units. While this can occur in either rural or urban environments, major cities have federal block grants at risk and have sued over suspected undercounts.2 In 1870, enumerators failed to record addresses in New York City. Oops. Addresses serve the same purpose for census officials as citations for genealogists. Without documentation, census officials could not refute allegations that households had been missed. Census superintendent Francis A. Walker ordered a recount. (Recounts were also made in Philadelphia and Indianapolis.3) These recounts are known as the 1870 Second Enumeration. The first enumeration occurred in June 1870 and the second about six months later.4
Curiously, upon first examination the two enumerations of New York City bear little resemblance. The explanation lies in the fact that between enumerations the election districts changed, making it difficult to compare the two. You may have guessed another difference; addresses were recorded the second time.4
Yes, records say the darnedest things.
1. “Coverage Measurement,” U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/coverage_measurement : accessed 9 August 2011).
2. William Dollarhide, The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules, and Indexes (North Salt Lake, Utah: ProQuest, 2001), 2-3; PDF online (http://www.heritagequestonline.com : accessed 9 August 2011).
3. Margo J. Anderson, The American Census: A Social History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 89; online preview, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 9 August 2011).
4. Charles Sullivan, “The 1870 Federal Census for New York City,” Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page, compiled by Nancy E. Lutz (http://www.bklyn-genealogy-info.com/Census/1870/1870.CS.NYC.html : accessed 9 August 2011), click “1870 Federal Census Aide,” “New York City 1870 Finding Aid.”