Finding an Ancestor Who’s Missing From the Census

By David A. Fryxell Premium
Q. I cannot find my mother’s oldest sister, born 1893, in the 1920 US census in New York. I’ve searched for name variants and for the households of her parents and ex-husband. Any suggestions?
A.  There’s little more frustrating in genealogy research than an ancestor who seems to be “hiding” in the census. It sounds as though you’ve already tried some creative searching, but here are a few more strategies that might find her:
  • Search using wild cards such as * or ?. An asterisk usually substitutes for any number of letters, and a ? stands in for one letter. How and whether these work depends on the site, though, so look for help menu instructions.
  • Try a different site, which may have transcribed the census differently and may search differently. For example, if you’ve been using, try FamilySearch.
  • Since you have a birth year, try searching for anyone in New York with your ancestor’s first name who was born in that year (also the previous and following years). Slogging through the results may be laborious, but you’ll eliminate any surname glitches that could be “hiding” her.
Still striking out? You could also try the 1920 and 1920/21 New York City directories, available via the Family History Library (film numbers 1606141-42 and 1404089-90) and online (1920) at the subscription website Fold3.
Even if you can’t track down your aunt in 1920, you might be able to find her in the 1925 New York state census, which also is searchable on Family­ That in turn might give you the clues you need to solve your lingering 1920 mystery.
From the December 2015 Family Tree Magazine