Monday, April 4, 2022

The 1950 US census--Help Wanted!

 The release of the 1950 US census is very exciting. However, if you've tried to search someone by name at the National Archives site, you've probably felt frustrated. Knowing your ancestor's enumeration district is critical, and if you don't have an address where the person lived in 1950, you can't determine the enumeration district. 

An every person name index is necessary. Unfortunately, a reliable one doesn't exist as of today. The National Archives has a computer-generated index (discussed in the previous blog), and like most such lists, it's seriously flawed. 

Family Search, Ancestry, and My Heritage are all working to provide a reliable every-name index, and they hope to have it online by May 14. Per the census bureau, there are 150,697,361 names to be indexed, so meeting the deadline is a challenge. 

But YOU can help.

As it did with the 1940 US census, FamilySearch is offering each of us a volunteer opportunity to be done from the comfort of our own homes---reviewing the OCR-generated names. Go to and you can start immediately. 

When you click on the link above, beneath the words "Indexed by computers, reviewed by people", you'll see a dropdown menu where you can choose a state to help index. As of today, you only have three choices, Oregon, Nevada. and Utah. Choose one, and you'll be taken to a screen with "Get Started" button. Click on that and it takes to a "Review Individual Names in the 1950 Census" screen. You don't need to enter a surname (unless you know someone in that state in 1950!); just press the search button. A census page image will appear. Part of a name will be highlighted in blue. The computer's "transcription" of the name appears in a box. You compare the highlighted name with the one in the box. If they match, click the match button. If you see an error, click the edit button and fix the transcription in the box then hit "Submit". If you're not sure, click the "Unsure" button. 

This sounds a lot more complex than it is. I did 40 names (with 12 corrections) in less than 10 minutes. I urge you to give it a try. If you only index 20 names, you've made it possible for 20 individuals to be found by family historians. The more of us doing this, the better the chance that in a month and a half, there'll be a reliable index to make all of our searches easier.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Finding Your People in the 1950 U.S. Census

There's a lot of excitement among family historians over the National Archive's April 1 release of the 1950 U.S. census. If you're one of those people eagerly anticipating this event, there are two things you need to do over the next two months to prepare. 

Legacy's census search tool
First, identify those in your family tree who were alive on or before April 1, 1950. Legacy Family Tree includes a Search feature that generates a list of people in the database who were alive during any particular census year--including 1950.  (I wasn't able to find if other genealogy software, such as RootsMagic or Family Tree Maker include a similar census search feature.) Once Legacy creates a list, you can save it as a spreadsheet, which then allows you to add additional columns of information, such as "Residence in 1950".
Knowing where an individual lived in 1950 is likely going to be critical to your search. So the second thing you need to do is locate an address (it might only be a street name) for each person or family. There are a number of resources, but telephone books will be especially useful. The Library of 
Congress has digitized a number of telephone directories Library of Congress U.S. Telephone Book Collection, Although the collection is not complete, you might just be one of the lucky ones. The address is needed to narrow your search to the Enumeration District where the family or individual lived, but even without an exact address, you can use Steve Morse One Step website to help locate likely E.D.'s Steve Morse One Step/1950 Enumeration Districts.

"My 1950 US Census Release To-do List"

Why, you're probably asking, do I need this information in order to search the 1950 census? It's because there's a possible problem with the index. Initially, the National Archives said there would be no index available at the time of the census' release. Then in December, we got the good news that there will be an index released on April 1. The potential problem lies with the fact that the indexing is being done not by humans but by a technology called Optical Character Recognition. While humans are fallible, so is technology, and indexing the 1950 census requires creating an OCR program that can "read" all the different ways in which census takers might have formed their letters as they recorded respondents' names.

You might recall the massive indexing effort done by FamilySearch for the release of the 1940 U.S. census. Over four months, 163,000 online volunteers tried to decipher good, bad, and ugly handwriting, but no one did it alone. If there were a problem reading a name, others could be called on to weigh in on the matter. An OCR program doesn't have another OCR program checking its work, so there's a lot of room for error. For example, if you know your Wilson relative was alive and well in Zanesville in 1950, you might be surprised when you can't find them in the index. That's because the OCR read the census taker's handwriting as "Nelson". 

So be prepared. Do your homework now so you can get right to work on April 1. Happy hunting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Happy Genealogical New Year!

Ad urging citizen cooperation

Most of us are now accustomed to not expecting too much from a New Year, but 2022 offers genealogists one big reason to smile. It's no joke. On April Fool's Day (April 1), the 1950 U.S. census will be released to the public. 

Taking the census on a Seminole reservation
The National Archives is developing and testing a dedicated 1950 Census website, which will include a name search function. The name search is powered by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology tool, said to be as good as the human eye. As with all censuses, some pages are more legible than others, so the National Archives has developed a transcription tool to allow users to submit corrections to names. The National Archives encourages the use of the transcription tool; providing corrections will help make the index as useful as possible to other researchers. 
Data processor inputting census information

The 1950 census included two parts, a population schedule and a housing questionaire, which asked, for the first time, if there was a television on the premises. It's not clear whether or not the housing questionnaire will be included in the April 1 release, but for genealogists, it's the people who matter most.

The National Archives will upload the records to both Ancestry and FamilySearch.

For more detailed information about the release of the 1950 U.S. census, and what information is contained, click on these links:

1950 Census Release will Offer Enhanced Digital Access, Public Collaboration Opportunity

Get Ready for New Family Insights With the 1950 U.S. Census

1950 Population Schedule questions

Blank copies of the 1950 population and housing schedules

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Here's To You


May 2022 be a year of contentment, peace, and good health to you and yours.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Farmers' Institute

Although Muskingum County is largely agricultural, its 21st century farm families are probably unaware of an educational organization of great importance to their late 19th and early 20th century farm ancestors. 

The Farmers' Institute was a product of the Hatch Act of 1887, which funded agricultural research through the establishment of "experimental stations" in connection with the land grant colleges. (Today these stations are known as Cooperative Extension Services.) The Hatch Act acknowledged that research without application has no real purpose, mandating in its first clause that the experimental stations were to share "useful and practical information on subjects connected with agriculture" to America's farmers. It provided a way to get vital agricultural information directly to farmers who didn't have the luxury of taking time off to attend formal college classes.

Rep. William H. Hatch of Missouri, who chaired the House Agricultural Committee, might have based his legislation on an informal movement that began in Massachusetts in 1839. That year, the Massachusetts legislature invited farmers to the State House to hear lectures and see demonstrations on the latest farming techniques. The event was so well-received that the idea spread, and farmers institutes were held in many localities for the next five decades. In 1872, Ohio began hosting farmers' institutes, with lectures and demonstrations provided by faculty of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College (The Ohio State University) which had been founded two years earlier. 

The Farmers' Institutes usually met in the winter months for two to seven days of instruction.  Participants were expected to have a common school education and to have farmed for at least one year. In 1902, the number of Farmers' Institute attendees nationwide was 80 times the number of students enrolled in agriculture, dairying, veterinary science, and household sciences (home economics) courses in all the land grant institutions combined. By 1907, the popularity of Farmers' Institutes programs led railroad companies to finance and run special trains to carry the materials used by lecturers in their talks and demonstrations so that the practical applications of their research could be taught to an even larger audience. Why might the railroads have been so magnanimous? Better farming meant more crops to transport to more markets, helping railroads turn even larger profits.

The immense popularity of the Farmers' Institutes led to the creation of women's institutes auxiliaries, and then to youth institutes. Women's institutes were managed and taught by women, and covered topics such as "home conveniences" and "the handy kitchen". The goal of youth institutes was teach rural students who had recently left school (usually at the end of 8th grade) how to make money from farming, in the hopes they wouldn't look to the city for opportunity. Farm record-keeping was an important youth institute course of instruction. 

A search of Zanesville's local papers online for the years 1895-1920 turned up dozens of articles about Muskingum County Farmers' Institutes. They are fun to read, not just for the chance appearance of local people's names, but for the topics that drew our ancestors to attend these events. The institute held at New Concord in February, 1898 featured a women's program with topics such as "Washday in the Farm Home", "Vegetarian Diet", and the curious "Etcetera". Is it possible one of your female ancestors was in the audience?


Moss, Jeffrey W., and Cynthia B. Lass. “A History of Farmers' Institutes.” Agricultural History, vol. 62, no. 2, 1988, pp. 150–163. JSTOR, Accessed 8 June 2021.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Enhancing Your Family History

 I recently attended (virtually, of course) the Ohio Genealogical Society's annual conference. There were several presentations on how to use online resources, such as JSTOR (JournalStorage),  HathiTrust Digital Library, and Internet Archive. The sites are dedicated to digitizing millions and millions of pages of research publications from around the world. Although not dedicated to genealogy, these websites can provide the family historian with some interesting insights into the lives of the ancestors.

For example, if you found that one or several people in your family died during one of the three cholera epidemics that hit the U.S. between 1832-1866, you might want to know something about the progression and treatment of communicable disease in the first half of the 19th century. Believe me. SOMEONE has researched that meticulously and written about it! 

The presentations got me interested in exploring online sites for local or specialized histories. I found a virtual museum dedicated to the work and lives of Nottinghamshire framework knitters (Framework Knitters Museum), a site providing historic photos and maps of the city of Philadelphia, (Philly History), and one online site that's really close to home--Ohio Memory

Ohio Memory is a collaborative program of the Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio. You can browse by contributor, place, subject or time periods. I browsed the places category using "Muskingum County" and "Zanesville", but I could have browsed by any number of place names, including names of institutions or cemeteries. You can browse by different formats so you can narrow the results to pictures or maps, but I just was interested in general results. There are brochures and programs, letters from individuals, newspaper clippings. You can save or download an item, although there are restrictions on how you can use it. Each item includes a description, and where the original is located. Letters and print materials have been transcribed, and the transcription is available as a pdf file.

If you're looking for ways to enhance your family history so that it's more interesting to those people in the family you're trying to "hook", start surfing some of the many sites that offer digitized materials, or that take you on virtual tours. Photographs are especially eye-and interest-catching, so incorporate them whenever possible. Flickr is a great site to find photos of areas your family came from, no matter how obscure. I once did a family history for a friend whose grandparents came from a tiny, tiny village, Celle di San Vito, in Italy. Someone has photographed the village extensively, and posted the photos at Flickr. Many people who upload photos to Flickr allow them to be downloaded for personal use, and I was able to illustrate my friend's family history with some beautiful photos. She cried. So look for and include lots of illustrations in your family history. If you can bring tears to some family member's eyes--you'll have hooked them on genealogy.

Photo of the church at Celle di San Vito downloaded from Flickr

Sunday, February 14, 2021

My Ancestor Was a Canal Boatman

William Armstrong's signature on promissory note, 1849
In the 1850 U.S. census of Putnam, Muskingum County, Ohio, William Armstrong, my great-great-great grandfather, is listed as a canal boatman. In the 1840 U.S. census of Putnam, one person in the household (William) is listed at being engaged in "navigation". William would have worked on the Muskingum River, which was part of the Ohio and Erie Canal system, built between 1825-1832. He was born in England (which had an extensive canal system) in 1788, and it's entirely possible that he was brought up as a canal boatman. William's wife, Ann Alexander (1799-1878),  and their three oldest children were born in Pennsylvania, and the family moved to Putnam around 1825, just as canal construction was beginning in Ohio.

Plans for two Ohio canal systems, the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal, began in 1822, when the Ohio legislature created the Ohio Canal Commission. Construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal began on July 4, 1825.  Hundreds of miles of trenches were dug, then lined with sandstone. Water storage reservoirs also had to be dug to insure a water supply for canals during times of drought. Buckeye Lake in Licking County began as a canal reservoir. All this digging was done by hand with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows. Thousands of workers, many of them immigrants, worked from dawn to dusk for 30 cents an hour, which was a very decent wage in the 1820's. 

Erie Canal packet boat, about 1830
  The residents of Putnam and of Zanesville, its neighbor across the river, were linked to the Ohio and  Erie Canal via a feeder canal known as the Muskingum Side Cut. This 2.6 mile feeder canal gave Muskingum County farmers and manufacturers access to markets from  Portsmouth to Cleveland and the towns in between. It also gave them access to Pennsylvania and points east via the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, and to the Ohio River and points south, all the way to New Orleans. Canal boatmen moved people, and more importantly produce, livestock, manufactured goods, dry goods, and medicines, all around the state and beyond.

Many canal boatmen, especially those who ventured far and wide, lived with their families on their boats, and were part of a tightly-knit, rough and tumble culture. Canal boatmen were vital to commerce, but were considered by many citizens to be disreputable and sometimes dangerous, and were shunned by "respectable" people.

Then there were the canal boatmen like William who worked on the water but lived on the land. William and his family lived between 3rd and 4th Streets in Putnam, along a main road then known as Seminary Street. I can't be certain from the real estate records I've seen, but since William and Ann bought and sold at least five lots in Putnam between 1828 and 1841, they probably owned their house. They also owned and worked some farmland in the area of Shannon, Ohio. So while William identified as canal boatman, he wasn't part of the culture. In fact, the personal items assessed for Probate in November 1851 show that William and his family were well-off and probably regarded as quite respectable.

Probate case no. 3095
Muskingum County, Ohio
Probate Court

Itemized bills submitted by six local merchants are a large part of the papers in William's Probate file. They suggest that William's canal boat may have been a floating store. This type of canal boat was common on the Ohio River, and there's no reason to think one or more didn't float along the Muskingum River as well. It might not hold the romance of narrowboats or keelboats, but floating stores--square, flat-roofed boats fitted with shelves and a counter--provided essential (and sometimes luxury) goods to small communities and isolated settlers who lived near the river. William probably received a merchant's discount, and then marked up the items for sale so he could make a profit, and he may have filled specific orders for customers. In at least one case, William took items on consignment. T. Wilbur & Sons submitted a bill to the estate for three water jugs and six spittoons, adding "The above bill was taken to be Solde and [he was to] pay us one half [of what] he got for them."

Those itemized bills give us a glimpse into what William's customers needed and wanted. For example, between March 13 and July 5, 1851, in separate lots, William purchased a total of 9 3/4 lbs. of butter, 9 yds. of poplin, 4 yds. of nankeen, 8 yds. of lawn, 15 yds. of calico, and 6 1/4 yds. of ribbon from L. & P. Wiles. From E. A. Farquhar, medical doctor and druggist, William purchased such items in quantity as liniment, cholera syrup, and chocolate. William evidently acted as a proxy for Dr. Farquhar for those with specific health concerns. William's Probate file includes a scrap of paper in Farquhar's handwriting, advising that two pieces of patient information be answered: "1st the name & age of the patient and how long sick 2nd If a breast complaint, state the particulars of the cough." 

Interestingly, among the estate papers, there is no mention of a boat. However, William's sons might have been part owners of the boat and possibly William turned it over to them just prior to his death. There is evidence that two of his sons, Alexander T. Armstrong (1818-1859) and William Armstrong (1825-1874), worked with their father. In 1850, Alexander told the census-taker that he was a "Trader", and William said he was a "Boatman".

The exact date of William's death isn't known, but can be narrowed down. His last known merchant transaction was dated July 5, 1851, and on August 9, 1851, Jonathon Brelsford submitted a bill to the estate for "digging grave for dec'd". William is buried with his wife Ann in Woodlawn, but there are no markers, even though a receipt in the Probate file shows that Ann paid for a gravestone for her husband. 

Rivers and canals continued to be sources of transportation for goods and people until the early part of the 20th century, but even at the time of William's death, railroads had begun to cut into canal boatmen's revenues, and forecast the end of an era.

The Muskingum River with Putnam in the background, 1846