Dana Leeds, blog author from the website The Enthusiastic Genealogist, shares with us how she solved a family mystery when the incorrect name was transcribed in census records.

The transcription of names on sites like Ancestry has greatly reduced the time it takes to locate individuals and families on census records. However, incorrectly transcribed names continue to make some people difficult to locate. 

1930 U.S. census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 21, p. 258 (stamped), enumeration district 82-792, sheet 1-A, dwelling 13, Charles Kaechle; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1063.

In 1930, Charles Kaechle lived with his wife, Amanda, and mother, Mary M. Sprenger, on Gladwin Avenue in Detroit. Although I believed Charles Kaechle was still living in Detroit in 1940, I could not find him.

I decided to try a “trick” that has sometimes worked in the past: search for a neighbor. In choosing a neighbor, it helps to look for the following:

  • choose an unusual surname or first name
  • choose someone who owns a house rather than rents
  • choose a younger man with a family
To locate Charles Kaechle, I chose to search for his neighbor Joseph Neigebauer.
1940 U.S. census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 21, p. 18786 (stamped), enumeration district 84-1417, sheet 1-A, household 14, A. Charles Kaechle; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 1882.

I quickly found Joseph Neigebauer’s living on Gladwin Avenue in Detroit in 1940. Scrolling down a few houses, I saw my Charles Kaechle! It even looked spelled correctly to me. But, when I looked at the index to see how the name had been transcribed on Ancestry, it listed him as Charles Jaeckle. The initial “K” had been transcribed as a “J,” and the “h” was misread as a “k.” So, the name was transcribed as Jaeckle instead of Kaechle.

This method will only work if your family didn’t move between the two census enumerations. Also, if you don’t find your family the first time, try a few more neighbor’s names.

If you’ve not tried this method, give it a try! Let me know if you find a family you hadn’t been able to find using the “usual” research methods.

BONUS TIP: Try a different website! If you usually search on Ancestry, like I do, try FamilySearch. In this case, I searched for “Charles Kaechle” and set the residence to “Detroit” from “1940” to “1940.” The 1940 census record for Charles Kaechle was the top hit – and it was transcribed correctly!

If you have a story idea or a blog that you’d like to share as part of this series, please let us know about it in the comments.

Dana Leeds
Dana Leeds started researching her family almost 20 years ago, though she started getting serious about genealogy education four years ago. Since then, she has attended 4 genealogy institutes - 3 at GRIP and 1 at IGHR - as well as taken classes through NGS, Excelsior College, the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, and, currently, BU. Three years ago she started blogging at The Enthusiastic Genealogist where she shares her discoveries and research tips. She plans on starting the certification process late next year. Visit Dana's Website