Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bingo! (and a few lessons learned)

The Bingo

For a while now, I have been trying to find my grandfather in the 1930 census.  It's a weird situation, that goes a little something like this:

My grandfather, John F "Jack" CAHILL was born in 1922.  He had an older brother Raymond, born in 1918, and an older sister, Marcella, born around 1920.  Raymond was enumerated in the 1920 census with his parents, John F CAHILL and Catherine M SCHWARTZ Cahill.  Since Marcella was not listed, I assume that she was born after January 1920 (which is when the census was done).

A chain of event occurred between 1920 and 1930 for this family.  On 26 January 1925, my great-grandmother Catherine allegedly took her own life.  I say allegedly because some family members wonder whether it was homicide instead of suicide.  Apparently, my great-grandfather, John, was a shady character and it was said that he left Catherine and the kids just prior to her death.  The apparent suicide was brought on because there was a possibility that her children would be removed from her custody.  I am planning to investigate all of this further by obtaining court records and such, as well as searching the newspaper for articles pertaining to this situation.  I am also waiting on the coroner's inquest that I requested a few weeks ago.

So back to the 1930 census search.  Because the above events occurred, the three children were split up.  In 1930, Ray is found in the census living in St. Vincent's Orphan's Home, in Freeport, Stephenson, Illinois.  When I initially found this, I wasn't sure if it was really him.  A cousin I found through Ancestry confirmed this, as her father was also placed in that home.  Marcella was found living with her maternal grandmother, Margaret KRAMER Schwartz, in Aurora, Kane, Illinois, in the 1930 census.  That left my grandfather, John.  Where was he?

I knew that at some points in his life, he lived with Theresa "Tessie" Karas, who until a few months ago we thought was a close family friend.  Come to fin out, she was a Cahill and was John's first cousin once removed.  After talking to Tessie's son and confirming that she was a Cahill, I also learned that John had at one point lived with Tessie's sister Esther.  So I had some leads to perhaps find him in the 1930 census.

Why was this search difficult?  My initial search for "John Cahill" (both exact and soundex) in Illinois did not turn him up.  I tried searching by Kahill, Kayhill, Cayhill, Cael, Cabel, O'Cahill, and got nothing.  I tried "John Karas" knowing that as some point he had lived with Tessie, and sometimes the census takers make mistakes on the last name of others living in the household (I have seen this many times).  I searched for just "Cahill" in Illinois, wondering if he was enumerated a "J" or some other variation.  No luck.  I searched for Tessie and number of ways with no luck.  So I tabled it.

The a few days ago, I had a thought.  My grandfather also went by "Jack," so I decided to do a search using that name.  Again, no luck.  So I began to get creative.  I was determined to find him right then and there...no more tabling the issue.

1930 Census - KarasI did a search for all Tessies living in Chicago.  I read through the list and one stood out:  Tessie Havas.  I clicked on the link and saw her and Winslow J Havas.  Now, I never knew Tessie's husband's name, all I had were the initials W.J.  So far, this seemed to fit.  I viewed the actual census sheet, and could tell that it was Karas and that it was simply indexed incorrectly.  Additionally, I know that she only had one son, and he was born in 1933, so this really seems to be the right family.  And finally, they lived on Carroll Avenue, which for me solidified my assumption that this was in fact the right Tessie.  But...still no John.

1930 Census - Cahill Since the 1930 residence was on Carroll Avenue, I checked the other pages in the census.  On the previous page...you guessed it...I found my grandfather.  He was living with Tessie's father, mother, and two brothers, on Carroll Avenue.  Alas!  I found him.  But why was he not showing up in the search (keep in mind that I had also searched HeritageQuest to no avail).


1930 Census - Cahill Indexed Curious as to how the family was indexed (or perhaps missed altogether) I got a little creative trying to find them in the search.  I chose to look for Clarence (Tessie's bother) since John and Anna were pretty common names.  For some reason, I had no luck.  So I search for John (Tessie's brother), with a father of John and found them indexed as Isbill.  That's a far cry from Cahill.

The Lesson

Get creative with your searches.  Soundex is a great tool, but in both of the above cases, it was useless.  The soundex code for Karas is K-620, while the soundex code for Havas is H-120.  The soundex code for Cahill is C-400, while the soundex code for Isbill is I-214.  So soundex was no help for me in either situation.  Besides, the other thing I don't like about soundex is that it hangs on the first letter.  So for example, Cahill also sounds like Kahill, but soundex will not find that variation, hence the reason I also search for Kahill, just in case.

The one thing I've been trying to do with all of my searches is to think not only about how it sounds, but how it's written.  The writing and transcribing I think plays a bigger part in missed searches than the way a name sounds.  For example, when searching for Cahill, I will also search for Cabill (soundex C-140).  Why?  Sometimes the "h" looks like a "b."  Soundex would not help me here.  I've picked this tip up while doing transcriptions.  Sometimes a "c" can be mistaken for an "o" or an "r" for a "p" or in my case above, and "h" for a "k."  So be creative.  Think about how it's written and what letter could be mistaken for another and try your search by swapping that letter for the other.  I think I may devise a cheat-sheet for quick reference that outlines each letter and the possible alternatives.  If I do create it, I will make it available on my blog.

As an aside, I did perform a Random Act of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) by submitting corrections to the Ancestry search using the Comments and Corrections link.  Hopefully they will make the change (or at least add it as an alternate) so others have an easier time than I did.

I hope that this little lesson helps all of you in your searches.

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Amy (We Tree) said...

Great post. I'm glad you found what you were looking for. I've added a few corrections to Ancestry as well, sometimes scratchng my head at the errors.

Brian said...

Good story. I have this issue a lot and have become creative in my searches due to the fact I have a lot of Polish names in my tree. Enumerators never seemed to get those right. I has found one for my great-grandfather, who's name is "Maurice," but they had spelled it "Morse" in the census. It was spelled how it sounded, so it was partially right.

Leah Kleylein said...

Julie, I can't agree with you enough - sometimes creativity and those mental leaps are the only thing that get you to what you are looking for. I had a similar problem for years, was trying to find my grandfather in a census - the surname was Kleylein. Eventually I found it as Cteylein - due to the transcriber's error. What a day it was when I found him!

wendy said...

Julie - I've had to get real creative with my searches as well. My maiden name - AMORE - has been written AMOR / AMOUR / AMOOR / OMORE / or a middle initial stuck as the first letter of the last name. Same way with HOUSE - I've gotten Hous / Howes / Hows / Louse - you name it! I like your idea of a cheat sheet!

lindalee said...

I have had these frustrations too. When I do find what I am looking for, I too, go back to see just how the names are listed in the search and am continually surprised!!!! I have a knowing smile on my face. Congratulations on your persistence. It's a lesson for us all.

Taneya said...

congrats on your find. it is a great example of how creative we all need to be :-)

Craig Manson said...

I love stories like these! I've had my share of similar experiences. After years of searching. I recently found my gg-grandmother, Syntrilla LeJay, in the 1900 census. Her name had been transcribed as "Gruilla Legare." There's no way Soundex was ever going to find that! Thanks for sharing your tips--and thanks for submitting corrections to Ancestry; it helps us all.

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