The Enumerators Error

AtoZ Challenge...Letter E's 'fiction from forgotten fotos'
Department of the Interior, Central Office
Washington, D.C. May 1, 1900
  Attention Enumerator:   enumeration must be completed within two weeks from June 1.
Particular Attention to Details in following Sections:  Name and Relationship Section-Column 3-4, #108 through #125...Personal Description-Columns 4-6.
June 15, 1900
Good Afternoon, Mrs. Carroll.  I am Mrs. Jenkins the Census Taker.  I apologize for the interruption of your evening meal, but I am down to the last day allowed by the Department of the Interior and your household is the last family on my schedule.  Is your husband home?
My Great Grandmother had just settled her children at the table for their supper. She offered the Census Taker a glass of tea and explained that her husband and brother were in the field and would not be in for at least another hour. 
While Mrs. Jenkins made ready to fill in the Census Form,  Janie filled the children's plates then sat down with her glass of tea and provided her husbands name as....Head of Household....Stephen Carroll, white male, birthdate..Nov 1872, married, 3 years, Farmer, born in Tennessee.  She was just finishing with the last person in the household, John her brother, when her oldest reached across the table for the basket of bread, and in the process knocked over the Enumerators glass of tea.

The Enumerator quickly picked up the completed Census Form and began shaking off the tea which had a few rivulets of tea and black ink spotting the page.  Janie had dashed to the kitchen for a cloth which helped to blot the now blurred letters of her children's 'Personal Description-Columns 4-6'. 
My Great Grandmother apologized as she dried tears and hushed bawling children.  Mrs. Jenkins packed up her papers and prepared to leave as quickly as possible.  It had been a long day.
Later that evening she envisioned the children as she had seen them at the table and attempted to repair the blurred lines of their names and relationship.  The oldest one was wearing a dress, and I can just make out O t h e l l, so the last letter is 'a', she thought to herself.  Then she completed that childs line with daughter in column 4 and F for Female in column 6.  A few months later, the Stephen Carroll Family sat for this portrait. 
Standing next to their father are sons Merritt Douglas and Othello Elisha. 
In Great Grandmother Janie's lap is my Grandmother Stella.
April 2010
One hundred and ten years later when this photo was found in Janie's Photo Album their identities were not known, and I tagged it  "couple and three daughters".  Through a lot of 'Photo/USCensus Research' including Mrs. Jenkins 1900 Census report,  I was able to determine that the couple was indeed Stephen B. and Martha J. Carroll and their three children.  Mrs. Jenkins in her haste, left Stella off completely, and mistakenly put an 'a' at the end of the name O t h e l l  instead of an 'o'.
One look at him in that skirt, and I'd have made the same Enumerator Error!


  1. Sue this is just a perfect illustration that human error was so common in census taking and even for things like immigration records which i found out first hand myself. Only makes it more difficult or more interesting depending on your attitude when you're doing a family history search. Fabulous post dear lady and great picture!

  2. I crave solving genealogical mysteries! Great job!

  3. I love it...and I've run across some census errors in my own research, so I understand completely.

  4. Hi Sue .. I'm sure tea didn't need to be spilled .. and there were definitely a few enumerating errors - but what a fun story ... and so pleased you now know who the family were ..

    Fascinating series .. cheers Hilary

  5. That is such a cute story. I'm really glad you were able to find research to help you figure out who was in the picture.

    MJ, A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    Writing Tips
    Effectively Human
    Lots of Crochet Stitches

  6. It's good to be sure of your data. I took a computer genealogy class once where they spoke of a family cow being listed as a child on someone's record! *lol* I still laugh thinking about it.

    LuAnn Braley
    AJ's Hooligans @AtoZChallenge
    Back Porchervations

  7. so cool - imagining their lives outside the pictures - in color even! love the histories here!

    happy e day!

  8. My grandmother so wanted a girl, that my daddy was put into the dresses she'd made. He wore dresses the first several months of his life.

  9. Whether it was tea at supper time or something else, I bet there was a lot of commotion whenever the census taker came a'calling. No wonder there were lots of errors! Your story points out that maybe it wasn't just ignorance, poor hearing, or absence of standardized spelling that caused so many errors.

  10. I was just giving Nick a hard time, sending him photos of himself as a small child! LOL! I love photo memories.
    Once while I was researching for my phamily on line I found a census when my Auntie Ang was just a girl of 6. Made me smile. I also found my folks and it was fun to remember them as kids thru photos I have and seeing their names on that census!
    You are so blessed to have these photos.
    Hugs, Anne



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