Sunday, September 9, 2012

The street address in the census and mapping

Looking at the street address in the census for your ancestors can be very helpful in tracking them from one decade to the next. If you can't find the ancestors in one census, you can plug in the neighbors' names to see if your ancestors might be there, incorrectly indexed.

Another use for knowing the address is in tracking the heritage of the folks who lived in the area over time. You might note that the community is one of immigrants, and perhaps immigrants from one area.

I have an ancestor with a very common Welsh name (and many of them are common!) who was reported by descendants to have traveled from Wales to Pennsylvania to set up a tailor shop in the 1890's. He returned to Wales by 1900. Well, that really leaves him out of all census listings, since most of the 1890 census is toast (burned in a fire in the holdings in Washington, D.C.). I thought, if only I could find the street where he set up shop. That would be something. I was cleaning out files that day, and written on the top of one was his name and the street in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, where he had worked. I was fortunate to have noted the results of a distant cousin's recollections. Always worthwhile! It was Spring Street. I wasn't able to find any historical maps of the town online, but perhaps I will be able to do so if I contact a local historical society.

I then checked the census listings for my grandparents' address in Carbondale. They arrived three decades after the Welsh ancestor was there. It turns out they were just around the corner from the Street where he set up shop. Now I have the questions: did the family hold onto land or house? Did they try to go to a neighborhood they had heard about? Were relatives next door and all around? Did they look at Spring Street and talk of their relative? As with all questions, with persistence, there will be answers. Even with  researching Welsh ancestors who might seem to have the most common names in the world (Evans, Thomas, Jones and so on).

The whole experience of discovery leads me to the observation that we researchers will be needing historical maps to overlay current maps. We will need something like google maps of the past, and my guess is that this is already in the works. I look forward to seeing it and using it for ancestor searches.

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