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4 Posts authored by: Claire Kluskens Expert

National Archives staff member Claire Kluskens will participate in a panel discussion as part of Howard University Television’s preview of Season 6 of “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on Thursday, 15 October 2020, at 6:30 p.m. This online event is free but you must register at

Some people are difficult - sometimes impossible - to locate in population census records. The reasons vary widely. This post will take a brief look at the unusual situation of blatantly fictional names.


During the 1910 census, Joseph P. Farrelly was assigned to be enumerator of Enumeration District (ED) 27, Ward 3, Precinct 1, of New Orleans City, which was an area bounded on the north by Canal Street, on the east by the Mississippi River, on the south by Julia Street, and on the west by Baronne Street. Some residents of this ethnically and racially diverse area worked in occupations that supported the bustling seaport, where riverboat and railroad traffic delivered agricultural and industrial products for export to the world on ocean-going vessels, and in return, those oceanic vessels delivered imported food and goods.  The photo below, annotated to show the approximate boundaries of ED 27, is a detail from an aerial photograph taken on April 6, 1937.  Canal Street is on the right; Lafayette Square is in the upper middle of the ED.

Thousands of men and women lived as lodgers in crowded multistory racially segregated boarding houses. As long as rent was paid, some boardinghouse keepers probably didn’t want to know too much about the personal circumstances of their lodgers (also called boarders).


For the proprietors of boarding houses and their wives and family members, the information is usually complete: name, age, birthplaces, occupations, and so forth. In contrast, much information is often lacking for the lodgers.  Their names are given, but other information is indicated as “unknown" unless (apparently) the lodger himself was at home and available to provide it. Even some of the lodgers' names are incomplete: first name only, surname only, and even obvious fictional (invented) names.


On Tuesday, April 26, 1910, the 11th day of the census enumeration, Joseph P. Farrelly visited a number of large lodging houses in his enumeration district.


At 600 Fulton Street, a Black couple named Elijah Cheevies, 35, and Rosie Cheevies, age 26, operated a lodging house in a rented building. They had 17 lodgers, whose age, marital status, places of birth, parents’ place of birth, and ability to read and write were given as “un” (unknown). Each was said to be employed as a “roustabout” on the “River,” but whether they were employed on April 15, 1910 or working for themselves or an employer were said to be “un” (unknown).  A roustabout was an unskilled or casual laborer, such as a  a dock laborer, vessel deckhand, or oil rig laborer. Most of the lodgers at the Cheevies house had plausible names that were probably reasonably correct, but a few had names that were clearly invented pseudonyms. Here is the full list of lodgers: Jeff Anderson, Archie Robertson, Davie Hughes, Jim McMiller, William Turner, Tom Morgan, George Clark, George Washington, George Brown, Dallar Doff [Doff Dollar?], Another Time, Black Diamond, Sid Smoky, Clara Robertson, Will Murray, and Peter Buttons. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 14A, Lines 5-23). Here is a detail showing that household:

Additional persons sporting fictional names were reported across the street at 601 Fulton Street, another Black lodging house. The proprietor of this establishment might have been Annie Bell, age 52, a white widow, who lived around the corner at 319 Girod Street, whose occupation was described as the keeper of a rooming house. Since her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Joseph Brown, were the only other residents of 319 Girod, the rooming house had to be a separate nearby building, and 601 Fulton was likely it. Some of the lodgers have plausible names and personal information, while others clearly have invented names: Pretty Shirt Willie, Brass Check Ben, Knox Point, Jim Topsy, Big Smoky, Pittsburg, Bud Hoot, Dollar Bill, Buck Tooth, Ham Sandwich, Fool Kelly, Bare Foot, Black Mace, and Hard Leather.  The enumerator was supposed to record names in “last, first” format, but may not have always followed that rule, so it is sometimes difficult to be sure which part of invented names were intended as the “first” or “last” name. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 13A, Lines 1-50).  Here is a detail showing some people in that boarding house:

Fortunately, blatantly fictional names intended to identify real people are fairly rare in census records.  Mr. Farrelly was probably as diligent as any enumerator. The job was temporary, but not necessarily easy. The census enumerator was an agent of the federal government, but successfully completing the job required persuading people to cooperate. The enumerator also had to judge when imperfect and incomplete information would have to suffice.  So, sure, you can record my information on the census, just call me Another Time and bring Ham Sandwich with you!

The 1940 census is the only U.S. Federal population census for which the researcher can be absolutely certain who answered the enumerator's questions in every household. This can be useful in evaluating the quality and accuracy of the information.  Did the person giving the information know what they were talking about? Are the ages, birthplaces, and other data comparable to information found in other records?


Question 7 on the 1940 census population schedule – "Name" – asked for the "Name of each person whose usual place of residence on April 1, 1940, was in this household." It also directed that "Ab" be written after the names of any person temporarily absent from the household and to record any child under the age of one as "infant" if it had not been given a name. Finally, it directed the enumerator to "Enter (X in a circle) after name of person furnishing information." This image shows the "Name" instruction block which is at the top of each census page:


1940 Census Question 7 Text Block


It was typical for the enumerators to mark the "X in a circle" after the name of only one person in each household, such as seen in this detail from the first page written by Florence Irene Bock, enumerator for Enumeration District 28-19, Russell Township, Geauga County, Ohio:

Detail from T627, 1940 Census, Enumeration District 28-19, Sheet 1A, Russell Township, Geauga County, Ohio


In contrast, Norman G. Wendt, enumerator for Enumeration District 28-7, Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio, frequently marked the X in a circle after the names of multiple people in the households he visited, especially where there were lodgers or in-laws. Her is a detail from the first page of his enumeration:


Detail from T627, 1940 Census, Enumeration District 28-7, Sheet 1A, Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio


The 1940 Federal Population Census can be found online in the National Archives Catalog at "Population Schedules for the 1940 Census" at and on websites such as and  Happy hunting!


This post is the first of a series of blog posts about U.S. Federal census records. I hope you find it useful.

As the National Capital region continues to dig out from two feet (or thereabouts) of snow, it's a good time to reflect on the genealogical uses of Record Group 27, Records of the Weather Bureau.


Our farm family ancestors kept close watch of the weather and it certainly affected their economic well-being much more than it does us city dwellers. Today, only 2% of the U.S. population are farm families; in 1790, they comprised at least 90%.


While the Weather Bureau was not established until 1890, the federal government's interest in collecting weather information dates back to the 1810s, when army hospital, post, and regimental surgeons were directed to keep diaries of the weather. These duties were transferred in 1870 to officers reporting to the Chief Signal Officer. Meanwhile, from 1847 to 1870, the Smithsonian Institution collected data from voluntary observers throughout the country. All of these observations are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication T907, Climatological Records of the Weather Bureau, 1819-1892 (562 rolls), which is not online.


Information about weather can be useful background information that puts flesh on the bones of those ancestors. What was the weather like on the day your ancestor was born? Married? Died? Or at some other point his or her life? You may not find an answer for your precise location, but a nearby one might be close enough. One of my grandfathers was born in November 1888, but his birth was not recorded until the spring of 1889. One suspects weather had something to do with it - even though the winter of 1888-89 was not as epic as that of January-March 1888


Our retired colleagues, Constance Potter and Kenneth Heger, used to give a lecture called "Stormy Weather" that was all about the genealogical uses of weather information from federal records. Connie presents some of that information in De Smet, Dakota Territory, Little Town in the National Archives, Part 2.


The year 1816 was known as "1800 and Froze to Death" (as well as "The Year without any Summer" and other appellations). It was a year when there was frost or snow in nearly every month, and farmers planted crops two and three times only to see them die. Many farm families from the northern United States moved west in 1817 in hopes of a better future.


in 2005, Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands from New Orleans, Louisiana, with many never to return.


Weather matters.


In addition to T907, other useful federal records are:


Nonfederal sources of information include articles in newspapers in the area where your ancestors lived. For example, the Columbus, Ohio, Statesman of February 15, 1842 reprinted a news item from the Cleveland Herald that described a "Terrible Tornado" in Mayfield, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio, that caused considerable damage. More than 30 people with their losses ("house unroofed," "barn unroofed," "barn demolished," etc.) are mentioned. Local newspapers may be available on microfilm at local public libraries, or in online databases such as and


May the sun always shine on your genealogical research!