Doing research in genealogy is a lot of fun! It can also be time consuming and often frustrating.  Many people think genealogy is simply a collection of family bibles and stories passed down from generation to generation.  But that is hardly the truth.  Look at your own state of affairs, for example.  Have you recorded your own family's history, movements or statistics, somewhere, as in a bible? Do your children know how you and your spouse met, when and where you were married, when and where they themselves were born?  Do they know about you, your brothers and sisters (their aunts and uncles), their grandparents?  Most people in this country cannot name even one of their great-grandparents.  Family history at one time was passed down from the eldest members to the youngest members.  We are doing this now less and less.  As a result, we must consult various town, state and federal records to learn about families.

Massachusetts (oddly enough) actually kept very good records, on the whole, from town-to-town.  In the 19th century, state law required that every town in the Commonwealth furnish a copy of all vital records (i.e. birth, death and marriage records) to the state.  These records were then assembled, indexed and made available to the public and certain libraries across the state.  Over the years, they have also been microfilmed, making access even easier.  It is possible to go to one location and search records going back several hundred years, tracking a family's movements across  the state. In New York, such a law did not take effect until 1880.  In Connecticut, you must know what town the person was born in to find records.  But if that's what you are trying to find out, you would have to search every town in Connecticut!

On the national level, according to federal law, a census has been required every ten years since 1790.  There are many purposes to the census, but in terms of genealogy, the censuses are invaluable.  A census record is like a snapshot, a historical accounting of an individual, a family, a community at a given moment...the date the census taker came to visit.  Depending upon the year, the census recorded the head of a household, his or her occupation, his or her net worth, whether the home was rented or owned, and number of children (both living and deceased (1900).  Most importantly, the census takers were supposed to record who was living in each household ON THE DAY THE CENSUS WAS RECORDED and how each person was related to the head of the household.  Grandchildren who were visiting grandparents, the elderly mother-in-law living with her son-in-law's family, or even boarders, were thus identified in the census.  [The census also recorded such politically incorrect items as whether someone in the family was idiotic (i.e. mentally handicapped), insane, a pauper or a convict.]

However, the census was far from foolproof.  Some census takers in small towns did not go door-to-door.  They simply wrote down their own assumptions about a given family, sometimes mangling names or estimating ages, missing a child here or there.   Some families, known to be in certain towns for generations, are completely missing in the census for certain years.

And in the 1920's, one of the most devastating events in the history of genealogical research in this country occurred: a fire in a federal building.  The 1921 Commerce Building fire in Washington, DC destroyed virtually the entire federal census of 1890.  The relationships for whole families were lost forever.

Another problem with the census had to do with literacy.  Not every census taker was the community "school marm" or librarian. The person recording a record in the town hall (or recording the census) simply wrote down the name as it sounded.  Family names were sometimes twisted until they barely resembled the original.  In truth, too, the families themselves didn't help matters.  Often they changed the spelling to reflect the times.  For instance, in New York state, amongst the early Dutch emigrants, the name Silbernagel was "americanized" to become Silvernail.  In another case, the Dutch name Ten Eyck is written as De Neick!!  I have researched the German-Dutch name Hawver (as it is known in my family) through many permutations such as Haaver, Hauver, Haver, Hover, Huver and Huber.  The original name was Haber (pronounced 'hauber')..

Below are several examples of how this all affected our research into the Goodhind clan. For example, in 1870 Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the family of Henry Goodhind is "enumerated" (the census term for 'counted') this way:


Thus Goodhind is rendered as "Goodyne." Ten years later, in 1880, the same family appears this way:


Here the spelling is "Goodine." As a final example, in 1870 Dalton, Richard Goodhind's family receives this treatment:


Here the family becomes "GOODHUE!" The point is that, in doing research, unless you are prepared for a variety of different spellings, you may not find your family. In the above example, too, I should point out the census records a child here as "Marie" E. Goodhue. This is actually "Minnie" E. Goodhind. See what I mean about accuracy?

And, if you ever should decide to do research in the census, don't just look at your target family. Look at their neighbors on the same page, too. They might be 'missing' or related family members. You might also find that Aunt "Albertinerella" got her name from a neighbor of the same name back in 1880!

You can look at actual census images for the Goodhind families by following this link (the 5 Goodhind brothers in the census).

You can learn more about the history of the federal census by following this link.

You can learn more about the fire that destroyed the 1890 federal census by following this link.

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