Monday, May 14, 2012

Indexing the 1940 census

   I'm really enjoying indexing and arbitrating the 1940 census. Generally speaking, the work is pretty easy. Except when the census taker's handwriting gets wobbly or the spelling gets too creative.
   Some of the census takers really had good handwriting. I'd thank them on bended knee or kiss them on both cheeks if I could. I assume they were using fountain pens, but I recall that in 1951 when I was in sixth grade, we were required to write with "dip" pens. I hated them.
   Which brings up a question I've been wondering about. Are there any 1940 census takers still living? It's possible. If they were in their 20s in 1940, they could now be alive in their 90s. What an interesting story they could tell us.

   The following is how I index. I'm not saying you should do it my way, but if there are any ideas in the following that you think may help you then be my guest to try them.
   Four things I do before I start:

  • Set magnification to 100 percent. This is easier to me to read.
  • Adjust the highlights. I don't want to index a value into the wrong field. I go to the View menu and select Adjust Highlights. I find each corner of the highlights box with my mouse and click and drag them where they should be. Then turn Adjust Highlights off. I find the highlights are either very close or way off. If you want to read more, go to the User Guide, page 93.
  • If I'm indexing, I make seven of the columns narrower -- Line Number, Number of Household, Titles or Terms, Sex, Color or Race, Age and Marital Status. Easier for me.
  • If the handwriting is at all suspect, I try to remember to scan down the name field and say the names to myself. If I stumble on one, I start checking for those troublesome letter pairs like a and o, e and i, S and L, u and n and v and r.
   I get a kick out of some of the names that are in the "accepted" list and some that are not. For example, "Bigah" is in the accepted list but "Ed" isn't.
   Just because I've never seen the name, doesn't mean it isn't valid -- like Lenual.
   Then there are the ones that bring a chuckle, like the first name "C. Shell."
   And the ones you are suspicious about, like Olga, the name of a son.
   Generally speaking, I follow the census taker's entries "out the window," as we used to say in the newspaper editorial department about following copy regardless of what it says.
   But there is one exception to that rule. If the given name is a generally accepted female name and the relationship is Daughter, feel free to change the sex from M to F. And vice versa for a male name and relationship.

   I asked at the NGS 2012 conference about an alternative situation -- a female name, F in the sex field but Son in the relationship field. It was suggested in this kind of situation to follow the entry "out the window."
   I also asked about those names that are little more than blobs -- should you give it your best guess or use wildcards. The answer was less than certain, but leaned toward best guess unless the letters were completely obliterated.
   Back in the days of typewriters, you remember those clickety-clack devices, the golden rule was "Never Overstrike." I wish our census takers had had the rule "Never Overwrite."
   I've never really had a reason to use this idea, but there are two lines on each page for which additional information is entered at the bottom. The name is repeated on those lines and could help in a bad situation.

   I've been able to speed up my work by breaking some habits. 
  • Reaching for the shift key when you start a word. Unnecessary -- 99 percent of the time the first letter of the word is capitalized for you.
  • Using the tab key to go from field to field. This was a particular bugaboo for me since I would invariable hit the caps lock key instead. Enter does the same thing as tab and is on the opposite side of the keyboard.
   The prefills the indexing program offers are also a great time saver, with one caveat. I'm a touch typist of sorts and if I'm flying along only watching the census schedule area, I can get myself into trouble. I've arbitrated more than one batch where the indexer's previous "s" entry in the relationship field was "Son-In-Law" but the schedule said "Son." That's one field where I try to check myself.
   The other is the "city, town or village" field in the 1935 residence area. "Same House" and "Same Place" can look very much alike and the previous one pops up by typing "s." 
   By the way, you only have to type 3 letters to change from one to the other. When you get to "m" in Same, the entry changes and then you can press Enter to accept it.
   There is a down side to all these keyboard shortcuts that become habits. When you switch to another program, particularly a spreadsheet, it's a nightmare.  

   Lookup lists (Ctrl+f) are great for analyzing names, although not all valid names are in the list. It's also great for checking the form and spelling of relationships. I can generally remember that Grandson and Granddaughter are not hyphenated, but the " -In-Law" relationships, like "Mother-In-Law," are. The one I had earlier today I hadn't seen before, so off to the Lookup list to find "Half-Brother" and "Accept Selected."
   One last thing -- I don't agonize over arbitration rates. I hope you don't. If you see a really low one, look to see why. It  could be something as simple as entering a "W" repeatedly instead of "White" or adding the local county and state to "Same Place" instead of "<blank>."
   In one of my previous lives, I was a reporter and editor for a newspaper. On a newspaper, everyone gets edited from the executive editor on down. The writer does his best and the editor does his best and then it goes into print. And woe to the reporter who goes behind the scenes to change the copy back to the way he wrote. it. A great way to get fired.
   If we accept that indexers do their best and arbitrators do their best, there's no reason to ever get upset.

   What tips do you have for indexers or arbitrators?    


  1. What do you generally do about crossouts? On my last batch I had a boarder crossed out with head overwritten, even though the following name was also head. On my current batch I have a head crossed out with boarder overwritten. It is a case of 2 families in the same household. The next 2 names are wife and daughter and they are not the wife and daughter of the original head.

  2. I just started indexing a week and a half ago and am choosing 1940 Massachusetts. I have been going to the 1930 census for difficult or hard to read names and in several instances it has been very helpful. I know it is not advised/required, but I hate to think that the Kinnie descendants won't be able to find their ancestors because they are indexed as Prince (as arbitrated). Or the Siemionko family who are indexed as Liemionho. I wish there were a way to present your case to the arbitrator.