By Jere Harris
Books & More
Sometimes, we need to be interrupted. A half day without Internet access did just that recently. It’s amazing how dependent we’ve become on it.
After the first few, “deer-in-the headlights” moments, fruitless tries to see “is it really down?” I thought, wow, if a patron came in and wanted to use the U.S. Census microfilm, would I remember how to use the Soundex and find what they were looking for? Ancestry.com has made life so easy for genealogists that we just enter a name, date and place, and a few seconds later, a list of possibilities flash on the screen.
Back in the “olden” days of census research, like 15 years ago, we had to go get the Soundex microfilm, put it on the old, large, put your head in it and crank the handle, microfilm reader. Find the Soundex card with the possible match, write down the County name, Enumeration District number, sheet number and Line number, then pull the census microfilm for the county and go to the correct page.
What is Soundex? It is a coding system created by the federal government in the 1930s and used in the Works Progress Administration program of indexing the 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. Federal census. In this system, phonetic spellings are grouped together. If a surname has several different spellings, they will be coded alike and grouped together in the index. The Muskogee Public Library Genealogy/Local History Department has the Soundex microfilm for Arkansas, Oklahoma and a few for other various states.
A look in our Soundex reference book will give you a number for the surname you are looking for. You can then use the Soundex microfilm to search through those surnames alphabetically by given name. This could help the researcher find that elusive relative who tends to hide from the census taker and never record a birth, marriage or death record of any kind.
One of the first things genealogists learn is look for all kinds of misspellings when it comes to names of relatives. Also, stop and think about how did the name sound with an Irish, Italian, German, or Polish accent? Also, the accents from the various parts of the United States would make a difference in how the census taker or county clerk would record the name.
A friend of mine searched for the name “Dorsey” without much luck until she finally thought, with a southern accent, it was pronounced “Dossey.” I find at least four possible Soundex codes for the surname “Leininger.” Two of them send the researcher into the “mixed codes” section of the Soundex microfilm which means the numbers are not even in order. But going through them only looking at the given names, I did find my great grandfather in 1880, Madison County, Arkansas.
So, sometimes, going back to the “old ways” might be helpful in research. It might even lead you to break down one of those “brick walls” we all have in genealogy. Stop by the Genealogy/Local History Department at Muskogee Public Library and research your family tree.
Jere Harris is the assistant librarian at the Muskogee Public Library. Reach her at (918) 682-6657.