Friday, September 14, 2012

Seeking Michigan's Census Secret

Seeking Michigan is slowly adding images for the 1894 Michigan state census to its website. A month or so ago I was reviewing the changes made to the website that make browsing documents so much easier, when I first noticed it.  At first they didn't have a  page on their website that mentioned these census records, but they do now (as of April 2013).

Upon making the discovery a search for “smith” only yielded results for two counties. When I checked again this week images for nine counties turned up. Those counties are: Bay, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Newaygo, Ottawa, Roscommon and St. Joseph. Clearly images are not being added alphabetically by county. That's bad news for those with relations in Branch or Cass counties, but potentially good for those with kin in Van Buren county because we may not need to wait until the end of the process to get that information.

I know that a transcription of the 1894 census is available at Family Search, but not all of the information from the census is included. Besides, if the name was difficult to read it could have been transcribed incorrectly and you would have no chance to find it. Speaking of transcribing, I don't know where the Seeking Michigan transcription came from, but it evidently did not come from FamilySearch because at least three of my households showed up under a surname spelled differently than on FamilySearch. And for those paying attention to the discussion of whether the Federal 1940 census indexers at or FamilySearch did a better job, the FamilySearch index of the 1894 Michigan census spelled the names correctly, but SeekingMichigan did not.

The good news is that the 1894 Michigan census index at Seeking Michigan is an every-name index. The bad news is that it only pulls out exact matches. To find my “missing” families I had to search by first name and county and then manually examine each record. If you do need to search by first name try one that is uncommon to decrease the number of hits (e.g. Henry yields many more results than Tina).

To start finding your people select “Advanced Search” underneath the main search bar at the top of any Seeking Michigan page. Enter the person's name in one box and possibly the county name in the other box. Be sure to uncheck the Death Records box at the top of the list and select Michigan State Census Records at the very bottom. Once the list of results appears, don't let the name in the far right column deter you from clicking on an image. As far as I can determine, the name is randomly chosen from somewhere on the page. If you know what township your ancestors are in you can narrow your search that way. Otherwise, just dig in and examine each page, though you won't have to decipher the handwriting. Simply scroll down under the image to see a list of the transcribed names. Unless the name has been hopelessly mangled, you should be able to find it readily. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to go to the next or a previous image so if your family is split over two pages you'll have to search again. And no, searching for the surname spelling found on one page does not necessarily pull up the missing image (sigh).

Once you have found you family, be sure to note that half of the information is located at the top of the image while the remainder can be found at the bottom. Several useful questions include 1) how many children a woman gave birth to, 2) how many of those children are living, 3) how many years a person has lived in the US and 4) how many years they have lived in Michigan.

I have already found a couple of interesting things about some of my Kalamazoo families. Now I will be impatiently waiting for other Michigan counties to make their debut. I'll keep you posted on the progress of this project.

To see exactly which counties/years are now available go to the 1884-1894 Census Page.

As of April 2013, Seeking Michigan is also adding early census images (1827-1874).  To see what counties and years we can expect to see records for see my post.

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