Thursday, June 11, 2020

Tricking the Search System into Finding Thomas and Mary

Thomas H. Wood and son Alfred, son Charles, son Frank, daughter Jane
in the 1881 city directory for Toledo, Ohio (wife Mary isn't mentioned, grrrrr)
As I continue my Genealogy Go-Over and fill in missing details for ancestors on my husband's tree and my tree, I can't always find what I'm seeking with a simple search.

Case in point: my husband's great-grandpa, Thomas Haskell Wood (1809-1890), and great-grandma, Mary Amanda Demarest Wood (1831-1897). I have their US Census records for 1850, 1860, and 1870.

But even trying Ancestry, Family Search, and My Heritage, Thomas and Mary couldn't be found in the 1880 US Census via indexed search of transcribed names.

Where Are You, Wood Family?

For many years, great-grandpa Thomas and his family were at 170 South Street in Toledo. That's the address shown in the page from the 1881 Toledo city directory (see image at top). The family lived on South Street in the 1880 city directory and in earlier years.

Thomas didn't die until 1890, and his wife outlived him. They were definitely on South Street at the time of the 1880 Census. I guessed that they were not transcribed and indexed properly by any of the major genealogy sites.

Although I knew I would find Thomas and family if I searched page by page through the 1880 Census, there was a faster way to find them--a favorite search technique I learned from my friend, Toni McKeen.

Search for First Names Only

Searching by first name, birth year/location, residence
Toni suggests searching a specific database by first names, no last name, in a particular location. The key is to search for more than one name in that household. This "tricks" the search system into ignoring the last name, which was mistranscribed, and only focusing on first names.

I went to the Ancestry catalog and selected the database for the 1880 US Census. As shown in this screen shot, I then entered first name "Thomas" (no last name), included his birth year and birth state, and listed his spouse "Mary" with no last name. I inserted "Toledo, Lucas, Ohio" in the "lived in" section.

The very first result for this search showed a "Thomas Ward" born about 1809 in Massachusetts, with wife "Mary A" in Toledo. It's not "Wood" but it is a really close match. Next step, look at the image.

Correct Result, Correct the Transcription 

1880 Census entry for the Wood family, mistranscribed as Ward

As soon as I saw who was in this household, I recognized that it was, in fact, my husband's great-grandpa and family. The first names were correct, the residence on South Street matched, the birth places and occupations and children/ages were as expected in 1880.

Submitting a correction so future researchers
find Thomas and Mary Wood and family

Obviously, "Wood" looked a lot like "Ward" to all the transcribers. I submitted a correction for every member of that household (on all three genealogy websites).

Now I will review the pages before and after Thomas and Mary's Census entry in search of the FAN club, specifically any future spouses of the Wood children who were of marriage age in 1880.


  1. It's a great trick. I used it once successfully to find Henry Nation in the 1860 census. I suspected he was in Missouri with wife and family, but had no idea which county. Luckily, he was the only Henry born c1814 in OH living in MO and he came up right away. I think a non-native English person indexed his name because the ink was dark and the handwriting was beautiful, but the indexer turn NATION into WATIAU. Never in a million years would I have looked for that spelling!Since then, Ancestry has corrected the transcription and he comes up in a search.

    1. Never would I have thought of Watiau as Nation either! Our corrections will help other researchers find these ancestors in the future. TY for reading and commenting.

  2. This is a great trick. I have used it in many different databases. I have also searched using keyword the name of the street. In one of my families, I had to search the 1880 census page by page (on microfilm) for a family I knew lived at a particular address. When I found them, they were enumerated under the father's first name! Sometimes flipping the names might help.

    1. Lisa, I found the same thing, with first name and last name reversed. Thanks so much for the good reminder! And thanks for leaving a comment, much appreciated.