International Institute of Genealogical Studies


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Transcription Tuesday: Census Names

Whether you are just beginning your family history journey, you are a professional genealogist, or somewhere in between, learning the importance of Transcribing every document we discover in our research will greatly influence your success. Census records are one of those documents not to be skimmed through too quickly.  

One of the first things we look for in a census record is the names. We want to find that family group listing everyone in the household. Sometimes this is easy. We search in our favourite database and there they are – just where we expected them to be. But what if they aren’t? 

Maybe the census was taken before the birth of some of the children we expected to see. Some family members who were on the previous census are absent because they have died. Sadly, some children were born and died in the years between the last census and the next. Perhaps an older child has left the family home to seek employment opportunities, or they were married and have started their own family, either nearby in the same community or elsewhere. 

A common reason for those elusive missing entries is not knowing how to find them. The biggest tip is to search for the most unique name in the family. Pricilla is going to be easier to find than Mary or Ann. Once found, check to see if her family members match your list of her siblings and parents. However, with unique names comes some creative spelling variations, so watch for those and try searching for a phonetic spelling.

A more challenging reason is that they were indexed incorrectly, due to the indexer being unable to decipher the correct name. Sometimes the handwriting is difficult to read, or the digital image is blurred, or too dark or too light. That’s when Transcriptions are truly useful. Looking at the original Image helps us to correctly interpret what was written.

Here is a recent example on Ancestry where the indexer’s interpretation of the name was completely incorrect. This name was entered into the 1921 Census of Canada database as “Farah Lestage” for the Head of Household. This meant that his wife was listed as Lucinda Lestage. They were an older couple, so all of their children had already left home. This made them difficult to find. Luckily, they resided in a small community with only 12 pages. Because it was known to be the correct location, they were discovered by reviewing each household until found on page 4.

The first clue was that “Farah” was listed as male, but if the indexer was unfamiliar with male names common to a location, you can see how the interpretation looks reasonable. However, this is Jacob and not Farah. Searching for Jacob Seaboyer never found his entry. Once it was confirmed that this was indeed my “Jacob Seaboyer,” a correction was submitted to update the record. 

Click the “Add or update information” link. A pop-up will allow you to enter the alternate information and the reason for your request for changes. Once reviewed, the record will then display the alternate name below, so other researchers can also find it. Tip: the person who submitted the correction may also be researching your family, so always note who had submitted additional information. (Note: the user name for this example has been blocked for privacy.)

Citation: 1921 Census of Canada, Province: Nova Scotia; District: 61 – Lunenburg; Enumeration Sub-District: 41 – Blandford par Chester Municipality; Page: 4; Family:39; Line:13; Head of Household: Jacob Seaboyer; wife: Lucinda. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2013. [accessed : 19 Sep 2021] 

By looking at the original image of the document, the name was deciphered correctly and then, it could be transcribed accurately with the proper surname. Learning to recognize problem letters is a key element in building your Transcription Skills. We will explore this aspect in next week’s Transcription Tuesday.


Remember: Transcribing takes practice and patience. Check back next week for more skill-building tips.

Previous Transcription Tuesday blog posts:
Transcription Definition
Transcription Tuesday Index
These three core courses demonstrate Transcription principles. They are offered monthly, beginning on the first Monday of every month: Register today!
Methodology-Part 2: Organizing and Skill-Building (Basic Level)
Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting (Basic Level)
Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents (Advanced)

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