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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Family So Nice They Counted Them Twice

A recent thread on the Ancestry.com message boards brings to light an interesting phenomenon. Devon Jones asks, "How common is it for a family to appear more than once on the same census?"

Let me borrow an example from Michael John Neill's Famous People Enumerated Twice in the United States Census. Writer Jack London and wife appear twice in the 1910 census—once in Oakland, California, and a second time in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, California. The first enumeration was recorded on April 15, and the second on May 14, but both should have reflected the London's place of residence on April 15, the official census date. One would guess that the second enumeration is mistaken on this count.

In my own research, I have found countless individuals enumerated twice, and more than a few non-famous families. William H. and Betsey E. Herrick appear twice in the 1860 census for Norway, Maine. Harold A. and Martha M. Swift lived in both Greenwood and Paris, Maine, in 1910.

Devon Jones' example is especially intriguing: the two enumerations were taken by the same man, in the same ward of Memphis, Tennessee, on the same day. The enumerations are not identical, but are too similar to dismiss as coincidence. The wife's name differs, but the husband's name is the same. The same seven children's names are given, in the same order, but the age of each child is slightly different. The husband's mother appears in one enumeration, but not in the other.

Every genealogical instinct tells us that these were two enumerations of a single family, except the instinct to caution we all should develop. A little more research should tell Devon which instinct to heed.

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