Sunday, February 13, 2011

Making Census Sense - Or Not!

Have been working on building our genealogy files on my wife's fraternal side of the family, the Costello's. Henry Costello (abt 1862 - 1933) arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1878, 1879, or 1880. Take your pick. Year of immigration was recorded on Federal Censuses recorded in 1900, 1910, and 1920 and, of course, Henry's immigration year was recorded differently on each one. And just to make research more challenging than it should be, the enumerator for 1910 recorded Henry and his entire family with the surname, CASTELLO instead of Costello. Took me a while to figure that one out.  Henry's wife, Annie (Butler) Costello (1865 - 1934) also immigrated from Ireland in either 1879 or 1880, the conflicting years for the same reason. As valuable as Federal Census records are to genealogical research, and they are very valuable, they're not perfect. They're only as good as the enumerator that recorded them. All hand written entries, some are prepared with beautiful penmanship while others are hardly legible. Some have been microfilmed so clearly that you'd swear it was just freshly written and prepared.  Others, well not very clear at all. I do have a certified copy of the marriage certificate showing marriage for Henry and Annie on October 10, 1886. That's an irrefutable source document so starting to reconstruct their family history is off to a great start. Unfortunately, most 1890 Federal Census Records were destroyed in a fire in Washington, DC so I've only been able to use the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 Census records to research their family. There are possibly other sources to clear up the history of Henry and Annie between 1886 and 1890 but so far I have not found anything.

Henry & Annie bottom entries on 1900 Census

Top of next page lists 6 Costello kids in 1900

I've just included the two pages above to show what we're dealing with here. It's actually quite gratifying to find the people you're researching and building a historical profile of where they were, their childrens' names and ages, marital status, etc, etc. It's even more gratifying when you can link two or more census records to show the progression of the family in ten year intervals. In the 1900 records, Henry and Annie had six kids ranging in age from 11 months (that was my wife's grandmother) to 13 years old. In 1910 there were eight children listed, the oldest on the 1900 record not listed and three more added, two of which were born after 1900 and one whose age listing indicated he should have been on the 1900 record as 11 years old but was not. The 1920 Census record shows part of the family still intact, listing the parents with five children ages 13 to 27 still residing at home. But comparison of 1920 with the 1900 & 1910 records raises more questions than answers. So I drew up a chart to try to see the big picture.

The "Big Picture" of the Costello family
 This amateur chart of my own design helps clear things up for me, a little at least. Starting with the entry for a child named Mary on the 1900 Census. That year the record called for month and year of birth as well as age at time of Census (dated 4 Jun1900). The calculation on Mary is off...if she was 13 years old in 1900 she should have been born in 1887 but the record lists April 1888.  And her brother Henry, listed below her would have been unlikely to have been born in the same year (1888) and just three months later! And only be 11 years old. Somebody's math is not working. More likely, the enumerator's record keeping was not working is my guess. Bartholomew J Lynch prepared a fairly neatly handwritten record of citizens in my opinion. So neat that my guess is he used a worksheet to record data and then transposed it onto the official Census record. When there is more than one step involved in producing a record there is more apt to be opportunity for mistakes.  That's my take on it, anyway. Who knows what Bart's (Bartholomew's) situation was when he was recording for posterity the census data for Holyoke city? He obviously was under pressure to use every line of the census form (50 lines per page) as evidenced by two pages required to list the Costello family. So if he was transposing data from his work sheets who's to say he wasn't distracted by Mrs Lynch showing a little too much ankle or something and when he resumed working on his enumerator duties he added, omitted, edited, or couldn't read his own writing on his notes so, giving him benefit of the doubt to try and complete the record as accurately as possible, he made a mistake. Long story short, I haven't seen anything yet to corroborate the existence of a Mary Costello daughter of Henry and Annie. Same with George on the bottom of the 1910 Census column of my "Big Picture." Something is goofy with that one too, but I can't blame it on Bart. The 1910 enumerator didn't have as good penmanship as my buddy Bart so can't quite determine his or her name but looks like Narcisse ? Provost or something like that. This is the one who categorized the family as CAstello instead of COstello so who knows where they got George from. It looks to me like there are some erasures on the official record so there probably was some confusion as to who George really was.  All of the other children are listed in descending chronological order by age but George is stuck on the bottom, standing out at 21 years old. The place of birth entries for him and the parents is just a repeat of all the younger children above him but, again, looks to me like erasures and corrected entries were posted.

The George Costello conspiracy on line 36 of the 1910 Federal Census.
I wouldn't be surprised if George was a boarder with the Costello's.  Taking in boarders was a common practice in the early 1900's and I've seen on many census records.  It would be normal to list family members first and boarders last on the record. So perhaps Narcisse was fantasizing about Mrs Lynch's ankles like his or her predecessor Bart and got confused on line 36?  Who knows?
Now it's always possible I'm misreading the age of George and perhaps he's an infant who didn't survive childhood to the next Census (1920).  One source of information I'm weak on is cemetery records. I need to get more pictures of the cemetery where the Costellos are buried to see if there's any record of George and Mary that could possibly help clear up their existance.  In the meantime, I'm discounting Mary and George as children of Henry and Annie Costello, for now at least, and until some other evidence comes along to verify they existed. There are other discrepancies in the names of a few of the children, Katherine in 1910 followed by Catherine in 1920 are a pretty safe bet to be one and the same. Annie in 1900 compared to Anna in 1910 and 1920 aren't much of a stretch in credulity. The one that really stands out is Bertha (1910) vs "Mabal" (1920) but I'm confident the daughter born around 1906 or 1907 is one and the same child. I have some more work to do on each of them to try to fill in as much recorded history as I can, but for now I'm proceeding with the educated guess that Henry and Annie Costello had seven children starting with son Henry born around 1900 and ending with Mabel born around 1907.  On my "Big Picture" chart there are dots (.) to the right of seven names listed in the 1910 column. Those dots reflect the names my wife remembers from her childhood memories of her grandmother's siblings. She knew them as aunts and uncles. Officially they would have been her Great Aunts and Uncles. And she remembers "Aunt Mabel" too so that pretty much puts "Bertha" into Narcisse's 1910 fantasy category.

Trying to make sense of it all is a good part of what I enjoy about genealogy research. And in the interest of trying to make at least a little bit of sense of it all, my search goes on.