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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Resolving Census Discrepancies

Cathy asked about an ancestor in early Ontario and how to figure out which family different individuals belong to

I am really stumped. My brick wall is James Cumming b. Jan 15/18 1830 Ontario, according to censuses. He died May 22, 901 in Norwood, Asphodel, Peterborouigh Co., Ontario, CAN. He was married to Joyce Reynolds on Dec 26 1853 in Asphodel. Joyce's family lived next to James in 1861 Census of Asphodel. [Email edited for brevity]

1861 Census of is hard to tell, but at either James house or Jesse's house, is an Elizabeth Cumming b.1838. She seems to be the key. In 1851 Brighton, Northumberland, there is a James and Mary Cumming. They have a number of children, including a James(1831) and an Elizabeth(1837). This seems great. But in 1861, patriarch James also has daughter Elizabeth with him. So, she would have been enumerated twice? Once in Brighton with her father, once in Norwood, Asphodel with her brother? [Email edited for brevity]

The problem that I have is that James lists his father as having been born in Scotland in 1891, whereas the James Cumming Brighton 1851 has himself born in the USA. [Email edited for brevity]

ASK OLIVE TREE GENEALOGY RESPONSE: Dear Cathy: Thank you for sending a nice detailed email query. It always helps me to have names, dates, locations and some idea of what you've already done to solve your genealogical puzzle.

I must confess that I did get a bit overwhelmed half-way through your email as it was quite lengthy and I think you got excited as you were writing it. :-) It started out with a very clear explanation of the confusion but at the half-way mark it did get a wee bit jumbled. I know it's not easy to write a query like that!

This is not meant as a criticism; I hope you will take it as a bit of advice to perhaps read over any query and make sure that you've clearly identified each person to whom you refer. Remind your reader who you are talking about and how they fit into the family you are researching.

In any case I was very intrigued with your query and I can see that you've done a good analysis of the records you found. My apologies for editing your query and leaving off the last several paragraphs but I decided to respond to the questions I can answer without further scratching of my head.

Let's go back to your statement "1861 Census of is hard to tell, but at either James house or Jesse's house, is an Elizabeth Cumming b.1838." Here is how you determine which individuals belong to which family groups in the 1861 census. If you look at the image you will see that columns 14 and 15 have numbers beside some of the names of individuals.

These columns show
Col 14. Residents: Members of Family, M
Col 15. Residents: Members of Family, F

Beside the name of the head of the household are the numbers of individuals living in the home. If you check that image for Jesse (by the way this is where I'd have liked it if you had included Jesse's surname of Reynolds so that I didn't have to keep looking back to see who Jesse was) you'll see that the numbers of residents who are family members is 5 males and 3 females for a total of 8. Counting Jesse as 1, and continuing down the page to 8 you can see that Elizabeth Cummings is #8. That means she lives with Jesse Reynolds and is considered a family member. Columns 16 and 17 are for numbers of non-family members.

Your first question is answered - Elizabeth Cummings is living with Jesse Reynolds.

If you visit you will find a helpful list of questions asked on all Canadian census records.

Your next question was "But in 1861, patriarch James also has daughter Elizabeth with him. So, she would have been enumerated twice? Once in Brighton with her father, once in Norwood, Asphodel with her brother?"

Again, it would have really helped me to have the surnames added so that I didn't have to look back in your email to figure out who "patriarch James" was. When you used the phrase "her father" and "her brother" it would have been really helpful if you'd added their names "her father James Cumming" and "her brother James Cumming Jr" Anything to help me distinguish the family members. Remember the person you're asking for help isn't familiar with the family.

Please note I'm using "Jr" to distinguish between the two James Cummings even though you have not definitively proven they are father and son.

But let's clear up some of the confusion - first, Elizabeth Cumming was not with her brother James Cumming in 1861. She was with Jesse Reynolds who was her brother James Cumming's father-in-law by virtue of his wife Joyce Reynolds.

Why would she be enumerated twice? If Elizabeth was a servant in Jesse Reynolds' home it is quite possible her parents gave her name to the census taker as a family member. Remember the census takers didn't count heads. They didn't verify that everyone named was actually physically in the house. We don't know who talked to the census taker the day the census was taken. Perhaps James Cumming's wife didn't understand the question. Perhaps James himself gave the information and wasn't in the mood to waste time.

So yes, James and his wife could understandably tell the census taker that daughter Elizabeth lived there. In fact we don't know if Elizabeth was a servant in Jesse Reynold's house. Perhaps she was just visiting her brother James Cumming Jr and there was more room in Jesse's house than in James. Bottom line: It is not unusual to find a person enumerated twice.

The last question is about places of birth given in census records. You say that James Cumming Jr says his dad was born in Scotland, but in an earlier census James Cumming Sr says he was born in USA. So this makes you question if you have the right father for your James Cumming Jr.

Census records are notorious for being wrong. Ages can be out by 10 or more years in different census years. Individuals give the wrong place of birth for their parents or even themselves. We have to remember that we don't know who gave the details to the census taker. Was it even a family member? Was it the next door neighbour? A young child? Because we don't know the original source we shouldn't accept the census as absolute truth nor should we use it to prove or disprove an individual's fit into a specific family without more proof.

I hope these answers help you in your genealogy challenge and I hope you don't mind that I used your email to illustrate how confusing a query can be for the person trying to assist. Your email was very well written and had lots of needed details so my harping about suggested additions are just small details that I hope did not offend you in any way.

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