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Ask Ancestry Anne: Did Amund Have Two Wives?

Question: Could you clarify what I am seeing below on the census from 1920 Federal Census? Under the Amund’s name there is another name bracketed: [ Armand Amundson]

First question - what do bracketted information refer to normally? Under Spouses’ name there are 2 names: Amelia Amundson and in brackets [Francis Vail]

Second question - Does the bracketted reference to Francis Vail mean he is married twice?

Third question - does he have children by 2 marriages? 

If I click into the children listed with the last name of Vail, they also reference Amund Amundson as the father. 

Is the typed record a misrepresentation of the census recording?  Please explain how we read this.

— Deborah Holmes

Answer:  Deborah, this is a great set of questions, as well as a great demonstration of why you must always look at the original record if you can.  Always.

Indexes are not meant to be accurate letter by letter transcriptions; they are meant to be finding aids to the image.  We strive to make them as accurate as possible, but with 10 billion records on the site, it’s not possible.

Now to the questions:

First Question: What do the bracketed names mean:

When you see a second name underneath the original name without a pencil next to it, as in the case of Armand Amundson, it means that we have upload two separate indices for the data collection, and the names differ.  Since either may be right, we put them both in.  And exact search for either Amund Amundson or Armand Amundson would uncover this record.

Second Question: Why are their two separate wives listed?  Now this is odd.  Polygamy was never legal in Iowa, so it would be strange to have this identified in the 1920 census.  Let’s look at the image.

There are some odd things going on here with the dwelling and household numbers.  It appears that when these records were indexed, the indexer decided that dwelling 6 household 6 and dwelling 6  household 7 had been crossed out and all the Vails were part of the 5 5 household of Amund Amundson.   Also note that  BL Vail is entered quite oddly for a census record.

Since everyone in this household is indexed as being part of dwelling 5, and household 5, and there is only one head of household listed, our algorithms attach both wives to the head of household. 

I suspect that there is something different going on here.  The marks through the sixes are not meant to mark them out, but for some other reason.  I think the Bryan family, who are listed as dwelling 6, household 8 are associated with the Vail family.  I do not have a theory on why there is not entry for dwelling 6, household 6.

But I do believe that the Amundsens and the Vails were living in separate households and that Francis Vail is most likely the wife of B L Vail.  I do not believe from reading this image that she is the wife of Amund Amundsen.

Third Question: Since there is only one marriage, then there are no children by the second marriage.

Bottom line: Always look at the image before you add information to your family tree. The index information is a finding guide.  The image holds the actual information as it is recorded.

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: How to Customize Your Google Searches

As you know, the 1940 US Census is free to anyone that registers to and this has allowed us to make this information more available through channels such as Google.  Everyone who appears in the 1940 census, all 132 million plus will have their own page that you can find through a Google search.

With a few tricks you can find these pages and other information that people have posted on various blogs and websites that might be interesting and help you further your research.

Let’s say you are looking for a George Smith that you knew had lived on East 6th Street in New York in the 1940’s.  You might try:

Notice that i typed in east 6th in double quotes.  This tells the search engine that I want the phrase “east 6th” on the web page.

This produces the results:

And clicking on the George Smith link, gives us:

Let’s say now you are curious who else lived on East 6th Street in 1940.  Who were George’s neighbors?

Let’s try looking for pages with the phrases:

  • 1940 census
  • east 6th street
  • new york new york

This gives us a list of people on the 1940 census that we can investigate. 

Now the 1940 census pages are convenient but these techniques can be used for other things in a Google search.

Let’s try looking for George Smith who was born in New York and on pages that have Genealogy theme. 

I want pages that have either “george smith” OR “smith george” and then add in the phrase “new york” and the word genealogy:

Check out Google’s Advanced Search Page to find out more tricks to help you narrow down your web searches.  Let me know if you find anything interesting or come up with a new technique.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #20: Look for Family Members

Can’t find George Smith but his brother is Hezekiah Smith?  Well go look for Hezekiah.  Looking for the uncommon names in a family can be more fruitful than those pesky common names.

Who were your ancestor’s siblings and parents?

Maybe there are living with Grandparents, Cousins, or Aunts and Uncles.

And if that doesn’t work, try searching for Neighbors in the previous or successive census.  Maybe they are there, but the transcription is not matching your search.

Previous tip: Search Tip #19: Last or First Name

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #19: First or Last Name Searches

This particular technique is most useful on a single data collection, and if it is a large one you might want to limit it to a specific place.

Let’s say you’ve looked for your ancestor Joshua Chamberlain and you just cannot find him.  Enter all of your data and then omit the first name and search.  This will help you find candidates that might be him but have really poorly transcribed first names.  Then you can enter the first name and enter the last name.  Same idea.

You can also try this if you are looking for a wife and you don’t know her maiden name.  This will give you a list of candidates that might possibly be here.

Next tip: Search Tip #20: Look for Family Members or review the previous tip: Search Tip #18: Review the Search Form

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #18 - Read the Search Form

Sometimes it is best to start searching form the search form for a specific data collection.  The form tells you what has been indexed which is critical in understanding what to enter.

 Take for example the US Federal Census 1850 search form:

Relationships are indexed, because they are explicitly stated, so you can’t use that as a search strategy.

On a census form, if you enter a county and stage from our type ahead for places and then choose exact, you will limit all of your searches to that county.  Or you can choose adjacent county if you are not finding who you are looking for.

Also, you can set other fields to exact to limit your searches as well.  By looking at the form, you understand what is actually indexed and this will help you choose what is appropriate to use as parameters in your search.

Next tip: Search Tip #19: First or Last Name Searches  or review the previous tip: Search Tip #17: Search from Your Tree

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #17 - Search from Your Trees

There are a lot of reasons to use online trees, especially now that you can sync between FTM 2012 and online, but one I particularly like is that using your tree you can pre-populate your search.

Let’s say you are on a page for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. (I’m not related to this famous Union Soldier, I just use Civil War Generals as an example tree.)


Right underneath his icon, you’ll see the Search Records link:

Click on that link, and we do a search for you with everything you know about Joshua pre-populated in the search.

If you want to change the information, click on the Edit Search button.  And you can apply any of the tips and tricks we have discussed to this type of search.

Next tip: Search Tip #18: Read the Form or review the previous tip: Search Tip #16: Use Facets

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne