Sunday, August 28, 2016

Census Sunday - Missing Families

When people ask me how to get started in genealogy, I often recommend using the census to build family groups. Of course, there are many caveats that go with that, including the fact that you might not necessarily find your family.

I don't simply mean spelling differences or unexpected moves. I mean not finding your family at all in any given census.

This is one of the challenges I faced with John Goodwin Hawksley. He and his family appear in the 1851 census in New Brunswick, and the 1860 and 1870 censuses in Alva and Mars Hill, Aroostook County, Maine. His wife, Lucy, died 5 December 1880 and John died 21 September 1893, so it stands to reason they would appear in the 1880 census, still living in Mars Hill, where they died.


In fact, his adult, married male children don't appear in the census either. Two of his daughters appear with their husbands, but one was living in Massachusetts. The other was living in Mars Hill at the time, as was the rest of the Hawksley family, yet the third married adult female child does not show up in the census there with her husband.

It's as if the entire Hawksley family simply disappeared in 1880. I tried scrolling through the census for Mars Hill page by page, and found nothing. I tried surrounding towns and, again, didn't find them. So why weren't John Goodwin Hawksley and his nine living (out of thirteen born) children enumerated?

Another mystery around this particular census is Emma Anna Murphy. Of course, she's been a mystery all around. I only have one possible lead on her life before she married my great-great grandfather in Middleborough, Massachusetts in 1888. Other than that? Nothing except a possible connection to an Emma Murphy in Manchester, Guysborough County in the 1871 census in Nova Scotia, a discovery shared with me by Barbara Poole a few years ago.

In trying to connect the dots of Emma's life before she married my great-great grandfather and gave birth to my great-grandfather, the next sensible step back from 1888 was to the 1880 census. But searches for Emma as Emma Murphy, Emma Reagan (supposedly her first married name), Annie Murphy, and Annie Reagan have all yielded nothing.

I kept that search to Massachusetts and Maine, where vital records and previous censuses sometimes state she was born. Yet other records and censuses state she was born in Nova Scotia, so of course I've conducted the same searches in Canada's 1881 census. Again, to no avail.

Did Emma come to the United States before the 1881 census was taken, but after the 1880 census? It seems possible that she traveled during that window, and that may account for the reason I cannot locate her in either enumeration.

Frustrating, to be sure! This is one of the reasons other records - letters, diaries, town directories, land records, etc. are important. They can help us fill in the blanks when a person or an entire family disappears between censuses.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan


  1. Wendy, I knew I had to read this, because I like anything about census searches. Yes, I enjoyed it, but was quite surprised to see my name. What a memory, because I don't remember helping you at all...but, am glad I did. Thanks for the mention.

    1. You're my hero, Barbara! You found the one and only pre-1888 mention of "my" Emma Murphy in the 1871 census in Nova Scotia. I've slowly been able to piece together her family as a result, because I finally had a town in which to focus my research. :)