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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I’m Too Tired to Do My Job, So I’ll Just Invent the Report



All genealogists know that census records are to be used with caution. Sometimes the records are golden and give corroboration to every other record out there. But sometimes they are amazingly wrong. Astoundingly wrong. 

In District 17 of Madison County, Tennessee, the three Whitenton brothers (also spelled Whittington or Whittenton) were George, Solomon, and Othaneil, and their farms were bordered by neighbors who had, like them, been in place for several decades when the U.S. Federal Census of 1860 was taken. They were counted by an enumerator who came around to their farms, spoke to someone supposedly responsible, and listed on a form with each person’s name, age, gender, birthplace, and sometimes occupation written out. The 1860 forms show these families in detail that matches all the family information and other records we have on them. The 1860 census is the golden one.

The 1850 and 1880 censuses are also extremely helpful in proving the picture of these families. 

But in 1870 the census taker in District 17 of Madison County, Tennessee was too lazy to get out and actually talk to the people he was supposed to be enumerating. Either that or all three Whittington families unaccountably were away from their farms in mid-June (highly unlikely) and the enumerator talked to the neighbors, or he was a Yankee sympathizer who was afraid to go out to those staunchly Rebel families and instead simply said, “Aw, them Whittintons, they got passels o’ chillen on down the line, all of ‘em.” And then he made it all up. 

Whatever happened, he definitely was inventive. For example, George’s family was headed by his widow, Martha Elizabeth, because George had died in 1867. The census taker, seeing “M. Whittington” as the head of the family on the list of families to contact, decided that this must be the man of the house and invented a wife two years younger, and then some logically spaced children for the household. And so on.

Here are the lists of actual household members and the census taker’s invented data:

George.
Martha Eliz.
44
F

M Whittington
42
M




LJ Whittington
40
F
James M
(married and gone)
Mary Frances
(married and gone)
Thadeus Erastus
20
M

Wm. Whittington
19
M
Coley Horace
18
M

Wash. Whittington
18
M
Lucius Edward
17
M

A. Whittington
16
M
Jennie Elizabeth
14
F

N. Whittington
15
F
George Quintilian
12
M

F. Whittington
14
F
Wm Louis Yancy
8
M

T. Whittington
13
F
Robert Lee
6
M

F. Whittington
12
F
Alethia P Ann
4
F

N. Whittington
10
M

Solomon.
Solomon Y
57
M

S. Whittington
41
M
Mary A
50
F

N. Whittington
39
F
Valerie Jane
19
F




William
17
M

E. Whittington
16
F
Mary Ann
16
F

A. Whittington
14
M
Frances Elizabeth
15
F

T. Whittington
13
M
Mary Jane
13
F

S. Whittington
12
F
Jos Laney
10
F

J. Whittington
10
M
Thomas Jabe
8
M

B. Whittington
8
M
Bedford Forrest
6
M

L. Whittington
4
F

Othaneil.
Othnell
55
M

O.W. Whittington
48
M
Christina R
36
F

L. Whittington
43
F
James Arthur
12
M

E. Whittington
18
F
Martha Ellen
8
F

A. Whittington
16
M
Frances E
5
F

J. Whittington
15
M




D. Whittington
13
F




N. Whittington
9
F

And the Award for Best Fiction of 1870 goes to G.E. Green, Assistant Marshall for Madison County, Tennessee.

*****
Source:
1870 United States Federal Census; District 17, Madison, Tennessee; NARA Roll: M593_1545; Pages: 375A, 375B, 384A, 384B; Images: 757, 758, 775, 776; Family History Library Film: 553044.
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com

3 comments:

  1. Marci,
    I have geneology back into the 1700's. I'm good with that. I understand your fascination because of your religious beliefs. Even though we differ in our Faith, I think you are a lovely person!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Sarah! That is sweet of you, and you are lovely too. But my interest in genealogy goes back years before I joined the LDS Church, so it isn't just because of my religious beliefs that I pursue this. I do it because I'm CRAZY about it!

      Delete
  2. It is all very interesting. My husband has a Civil War - Honorable Discharge Document with a tin picture of his great great grandfather hanging in our hall. It's pretty cool :)

    ReplyDelete

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