Thursday, March 1, 2012

Validation: Using Birthplaces to Qualify Ancestors in the Census

“The Farmington Telegraph, in June (1869) said:
IMMIGRANTS.—Regularly, twice each day, a car load, and often two, of immigrants from the various countries of Europe, pass through this village on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. A few stop here, but the larger portion are bound for the northern part of the State. Full ninety per cent of these immigrants are Scandinavians, the remainder Germans and Irish.”1

Was the ancestor you’re searching for born in the U.S. or in a foreign country? 

“Pre-statehood residents of Minnesota were primarily American Indians and French and British immigrants. After 1858 settlers in Minnesota generally came from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and New York. After 1860 thousands of immigrants came from Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Denmark.”2

The 1860 Census was the first to ask where each person listed in the census was born (state, territory or country). Beginning with the 1880 Census, people were not only asked where they were born, but where their mother and father were born.  Don’t be surprised if there are discrepancies in this response, too.

My great-grandfather, Ormel Lawrence, said his father was born in New York in the 1880 Census, in Maine in the 1900 Census, and in England in the Wisconsin 1905 State Census. His father, Thomas B. Lawrence, was born in New York according to his death certificate and every census where he is listed as head of household.

The 1895 and 1905 Minnesota State Censuses list one client’s great-grandmother as being born in Norway. The 1900, 1910 and 1920 Censuses list her as being born in Sweden.  According to her death certificate, obituary and church baptismal records, she was born in Norway. Her husband was born in Sweden.

Tracking birthplaces for individuals or families listed in the census is another important step in validating whether or not they are part of your family.  As demonstrated above, errors can happen, and other sources, such as death certificates, obituaries, and naturalization papers, should also be used to validate that information.

Discover your roots and watch the branches of your family tree begin to grow.

For more information on my Family History Research services, visit and click on “Family History Research.”

1McClung, J.W.; Minnesota as it is in 1870; page 288; 1870; St. Paul, MN.