Recently I received a message from a distant relative doing genealogical research and was puzzled by what he found on the census when searching for a relative we have in common.
My shirttail cousin’s dilemma was that Samuel Fisher died in March 1909 but is listed on the 1910 U.S. Census as Head of Household. Samuel is listed as widowed, and his wife Sophia is not listed, but three of Samuel and Sophia’s children are. My cousin pointed out that Sophia did not die until 1943, but he had been unable to locate Sophia on the census after she had married. My cousin’s next message a few minutes after the first stated that closer inspection of the entry revealed that “Samuel” is female and the mother of five children.
I have run in to this same issue in historical documents. Women are sometimes referred to as their husband’s full name with an implied “Mrs.” Augusta traveled to Germany with her lifelong friend Lydia Hilgedick in 1905. Listed in the passenger manifest is Augusta’s husband (and Lydia’s brother) “Edward Hilgedick,” although Edward died in 1900, and I know from other sources that Augusta traveled with her friend.
Errors or assumptions by the enumerator may also be recorded. The 1860 U.S. Census for example, lists Augusta as a two-year-old boy named Augustus.
Instructions given to the enumerators conducting the U.S. Census are quite helpful when evaluating census data. These can be found at:
In 1860 the enumerators were instructed to make inquiry through the head of household. It is a reasonable assumption that the enumerator asked William his children’s names, and then misunderstood Augusta’s name. Enumerators were instructed in 1910 to “Designate the head of the family, whether husband or father, widow, or unmarried person of either sex…” It is possible that the enumerator read this to mean that the widow should be listed as such (i.e. “Samuel Fisher”) instead of her own given name.