Here’s another common error we see: a census household includes lodgers or boarders. Later, we discover they are actually family members.
Why didn’t the enumerator just write that? ARGH.
Here are a few examples from my own research.
My ancestor Mike Fendricks lived with a man named Dee Suggs in 1920. He was enumerated as a Boarder:
It took many years of research before I discovered that Mike was actually Dee’s brother.
Several of my second-great grandmother Matilda’s records contained inaccuracies and misspellings. Her 1940 census household in Jacksonville, Florida included a young man named Cornelius Garner:
Cornelius was marked as a Roomer, but he was really Matilda’s grandson. (Oh, and her name was Matilda Vickers, not Vickerson.)
A Reason to Doubt
I have several Maryland ancestors named Rezin Prather. In a previous post I illustrated methods for sorting same-named men. This is the 1910 Washington, D.C. household of one Rezin Prather:
“Lodgers” Ethel and Wilson Prather were actually Reason’s children, his son and daughter.
A Sanity Check
I took a look at the census enumerator instructions for each census year. Nothing explicitly instructs the enumerators to return someone as a relative instead of as a lodger or boarder.
As researchers, we know how flawed a source the census records often are. As the examples above illustrate, we need to have a healthy dose of skepticism when we see lodgers and boarders in census households. Be curious about who they are. The principle of cluster research should lead you to research them anyway.
Some people will indeed turn out to be actual lodgers and boarders. But many will turn out to be relatives of the people they are living with.
Readers, who else has seen this in their own research?
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.