Sunday, February 21, 2021

Finding Missing Census Records

Sometimes you just can't find someone in the US census, even if you're sure they're there.  Sometimes they were just missed (I believe this to be the case for my 1-year-old grandfather and his parents in 1920).  But sometimes there's a transcription or other issue, and they're there.  Here's how I was able to locate a relative who I knew HAD to have been recorded in the 1940 census, but whom I just couldn't find.

Samuel Isadore LaFond (yes, they used that spelling) was my third cousin three times removed.  He was born in Detroit to Louis and Bessie LaFond and was their only child for whom I have found a record.  Bessie died when Sam was very young.

I have Louis and Sam living in Detroit in the 1930 census.  I have Sam registering for the draft in 1942, also in Detroit.  But I simply could not find the two of them in the 1940 census, even using all sorts of wildcards to try to find LaFonds.

Samuel Isadore LaFond WWII Draft Registration, 1942;

From the information in his WWII draft registration, we know that in 1942 Sam was living at 3294 Buena Vista in Detroit.  Of course he may have lived somewhere else in 1940, but perhaps he was on Buena Vista when the 1940 census was taken.  So instead of searching for him with various forms of his name, why not look for him based on his address?

I looked at how the 1940 census was indexed by Ancestry.  In that case, the street address was in one field and the number in the other.  So in searching the 1940 census, I used the following in the "keyword" field, along with a birth year of 1924

Keyword field in my Ancestry search

And looked what pops up in the results!

Results of Ancestry search

There is a Sam Louis whose father is Lefond.  Interesting.  So I took a look at the original record:

Louis Lefond & Family; 1940 US Federal Census;

Exactly as expected at 3294 Buena Vista was the family.  But the enumerator had put Louis' given name first, unlike anyone else on the page.  So it was reasonably (but incorrectly) assumed by the indexer that his name was Lefand Louis--and that his child was Sam Louis.  I also now know that Louis remarried at some point between 1930-1940.

I've put in a correction to Ancestry so that others will be able to find the family with the correct surname.  And now we all know why I couldn't find the family with traditional surname searching.

Do you have any other suggestions for finding people missing in a census?

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  1. I always look at cross streets because addresses seem change more back in the day. With key addresses in my research, I use historical maps from the counties/library/historical society and actually make gifs of the changes of the street over the years. Helps me visualize changes and the maps have helped me find street name changes too.

  2. I search the given name of the youngest child thought to be alive at the time, with year and place of birth, and given names of parents and siblings, with the presumed city of residence. No surname (or at most a minimal one: first initial with wildcard). Generous use of wildcards, of course...

    1. Frank, I use the same techniques as you. In addition, if those fail, I'll search for several of the neighbors (from the previous census), as well as looking for the enumeration of the address using Steve Morse's tools.

  3. Clever suggestion! I often find, tho, that street name spellings are even more mangled than people's names and the house numbers are not always consistent with surrounding records. Ymmv. Also, of course, if your enumerator was #HenrySilverstein, all best are off. :-)

    1. There's no one suggestion that will find all records. But this does sometimes work (this isn't the first time, for me). But yeah, Henry messes things up. He should have found another job.

  4. Stephen P. Morse ( has some great search tools for the U.S. Census which can help with exactly this. I've used them several times.

  5. Just last night, I gave that advice to a cousin-in-law who has family last seen in the 1905 NY State census.