Friday, October 19, 2007

Wiseman, Willman, Wisensam!!

This is a bit of an understatement, but there are times when I get frustrated with using the online census indexes. I know the people I'm looking for are in a specific location but they don't appear in the index searches. It's even worse when you don't know where the people are for sure.

I've done some work in original records and some indexing of marriages as well as other local records, so I know that indexing and transcribing are not easy tasks. But I just wanted to show these two examples.

The families of Henry and Samuel Wiseman are enumerated on the same page in the 1930 Federal Census (Tippecanoe Township, Kosciusko County, Indiana; E.D. 43-20, sheet 6B dwelling/family 176/178 and 177/179, respectively.) I had found the census on microfilm at the library several years ago but decided that I wanted a digital copy. A quick search for Wiseman, with and without using soundex, didn't turn up anything. But since I had the page number already, I just forwarded to the page, found them and downloaded the image file.

But then, curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to find out how they were indexed.

I searched in Kosciusko county, Indiana. First, for Samuel, born 1855. No luck. Then for Amanda, born 1860. The 11th name that was listed was Amanda Willman with spouse Samdred in Tippecanoe Township. That is the right family.

This is how the family was listed in the index: Samdred Willman, Amanda Willman, Sachie w Willman, Jessie d Willman, Eream l Willman, Emese c Willman, Jack w Willman

In actuality, their surname is Wiseman and their given names are: Samuel, Amanda, Leslie W., Jessie D., Fern L., Emery C., and Jack W.

Henry's family was found by searching in Kosciusko county, Indiana for Henry, born 1859. He was found as Henry Wisensam, with two family members in the household: Loura Wisensam and Howard Wisensam.

I would never have come up with Willman or Wisensam as alternatives for Wiseman. Guess I'll have to add them to my growing list of alternate spellings!

This is something that I need to keep in mind, and oftentimes forget: creativity goes a long way when searching in indexes. If you can't find them with their surname, use first names along with some other identifier, such as year of birth. It gets harder if you don't know for sure where someone is or if they aren't where you thought they should be. Sometimes, though, they simply aren't there!


Terry Thornton said...

Becky, You have encountered an all too common problem in the indexing of census records.

And you've inspired me to make two comments (1) When you are completely stumped searching for the surname, switch over to a search for just a given name and see what pops up! This works very well with Heritage Quest and with a fairly unique given name; and (2) remember that the transcriber of the handwritten record may be someone just like me! I transcribed an entire county's census report (Fayette Cty, Alabama) and prepared both a Head-of-Household Index and then an every-name index. It was just me --- days spent trying to figure out what in the dickens the census taker was trying to write! Between bad penmanship from 100 years ago and typographical errors introduced by yours truly, I can't image how many researchers have been dismayed at the wild and woolly spellings of surnames! But as far as I know, that index is still the only one available online for that county for that year.

Yes, those problems in transcription can be difficult for the researcher to work around. I'm glad that most efforts today involve more than one transcriber's guesstimate of the spellings!
Terry Thornton
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi

Becky Wiseman said...

So true Terry, the more people that get involved with transcribing and indexing, the better. I have high hopes for the indexing being done by FamilySearch volunteers. I know from personal experience also that it is not an easy task to deciper some of those illegible scribblings. I applaud anyone who takes on the task and certainly appreciate their efforts.