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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