Viewing Tip

If you see a large "X" at the top right of Ask Olive Tree Genealogy blog, click on the "X" to close it. Closing the "X" will give you the best viewing experience and allow you to leave a comment on a blog post

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Resolving Discrepancies in Census Records

Jenny asked
How do I know that someone I found on a census is the right ancestor? My g-grandpa is on one census 32 years old but the next shows him as 43 and the one after he's 50! How do I know if it's the same man?

Olive Tree Answer
Hi Jenny. It's a bit confusing I know but remember that when the census taker came around, he might get his information from a child in the house, or a next door neighbour. So there is often a discrepancy with ages from once census year to the next.

It also depends on the question asked. If they asked "How old are you now" there would be one answer. If they asked "How old will you be on your next birthday" it would be different.

Also many people did not know their year of birth so were not 100% sure of their age. My own 3rd great grandfather wrote a letter to his mother in the early 1800s asking her what year he was born!

Don't worry too much about age differences. There might be several years difference so in your case, you're lucky as it's not that far out.

The thing to do is check other facts - names of children, of the spouse, occupation, even the location. Do things "fit"? If so then chances are you have the right man.


  1. Another clue I use if possible is look at ages parents would have been at birth. I would be leary of accepting a 11 year old girl---although I know it was possible usually not with a young girl living with her parents. And patterns of family residence. Mom is in same city, same state, year after year but child born six states away. And the mother has no other relatives in the birh state. Not impossible but would need more investigation. Or brothers and sisters. If he was the third born on several census and then 5 years older than the oldest that would wave a flag for me. Just a thought. That is when I start looking around for possible cousins---same name, same area, different parents. We should start to pass a law. No two cousins and/or siblings should share the same name!! LOL

  2. They also introduced an old age pension between the 1901 and 1911 census. People in 1911 intentionally increased thier age to make them closer to pension age.