Friday, December 19, 2014

Beware the Accuracy of the Darned Census

Doris Wheeler, aka Howard Mueller, in the 1940 censusHow accurate is the census? Well, 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.

Reader, Doris Wheeler, has first hand experience. She remembers the visit by the 1940 enumerator.

It was a big deal to have visitors to my grandparents' 3rd floor apartment in Jersey City, where I lived with them. Unfortunately, the poor man had to have been plied with drink by all the families he had visited. His record of my family rendered them unrecognizable. I was replaced by a completely fictitious young man, and my grandparents' names were changed, along with their ages and occupations—all drastically. Only the address was correct. I found them because I remembered a neighbor's name and that person was recorded correctly. I'm sad that future generations will never be able to find me. I did not exist, although I was seven years old and very much alive.

Line # 42: Should be Theodore F. Muller, age 71, b. New York
Line # 43: Should be Mary (or Marie), age 64, b. New York, Housewife
Line # 44: Should be me, Doris J. Muller, age 7, b. New York, female. There is no Howard in this family.

Yikes! That’s a pretty sober reminder that census records should never be trusted in isolation. The genealogical proof standard really is important.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things!”

(Thank you, Doris, for your contribution.)


  1. My step-grandmother appears twice in the 1940 census: once under her first married name along with some children & grandchildren (and her husband's Aunt Minnie). The second time with her husband (my grandfather) and his son & parents. Her daughter Myrtle gave the info for the first house.

  2. Wow! What an incredible story. Maybe that explains some of my missing family members :)

  3. I have found a few instances of ancestors enumerated twice - my grandmother and step-grandfather in 1940 for one and my dad is listed completely incorrectly in one of those locations. (See Error in 1940 Census.) Also, my father-in-law was enumerated as a female in the 1930 census. (See Errors in Census Records.)


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