In an answer to the question How would you handle a census record that is almost certainly the target family but which has too many discrepancies? I wrote about a family in my research area for which I don't have a 1930 Census record. (I don't want to post the location and surname of this family, because I don't want to violate the privacy of cousins who may still be living in that area.)

Max and Ida lived in Western Massachusetts. They arrived in the US from Germany in the late 1870s (Max) - early 1880s (Ida). The residence information I've collected so far indicates that they were renters.

What I have so far:

  • 1880 US Federal Census: a good candidate for Max and his family (verified by probate records after I wrote this question)
  • 1900 US Federal Census for Max, Ida, and their three children
  • 1910 US Federal Census for Max, Ida, and their oldest son
  • 1920 US Federal Census for Max, Ida, and their oldest son
  • 1940 US Federal Census for Max (widowed)

In the period between 1920 and 1940, I have city directory listings for Max through the 1929 publication year. Many of these also list his wife Ida.

The next clue came from the 1940 Census, which says that the residence in 1935 was "same place", that is, he was living in the same town, but not the same residence, suggesting he moved in between 1935 and census day 1940. I have city directories from the publication year 1935 through his death in 1945.

I also have his obituary and funeral notice.

For the three children:

  • The eldest son remained in town, and I've collected census records, draft registration cards, and city directories. Max is not listed in the son's household in the 1930 Census, nor is he on the same page. (I haven't worked outward yet to check the nearby census pages.)
  • His daughter married in 1914 and remained in town until just before the 1930 Census, when she and her husband moved to New Jersey. Max is not listed in his daughter's household in the 1930 Census.
  • The younger son moved to New York. I have records through 1919, and then a big gap until 1942 when his WWII Draft card turns up. Max's obit gives this son's residence in 1945 as New York City.

Max's siblings:

  • his sister was 'last seen' in a 1924 City directory (age 60)
  • his brother moved to New York City, and except for a mention in Max's obituary that says his brother lives in New York City, the last record I have for him is the 1920 US Federal Census (living in the Bronx).

My record wantlist:

  • a death record, obituary, and funeral notice for Ida
  • residence information for Max between 1927ish and 1935
  • residence information for Max's brother (and nieces and nephews) and Max's son in NYC

Writing this out for the question makes me wonder if Max was living with his youngest son in New York for part of this time, but Max's obituary suggests that his residence in town was continuous. Max was a well-known businessperson, but the business was sold around 1902, so tracking the business records wouldn't help answer this question.

A possible to-do list:

  • tracking him through his German social groups
  • double-checking the households of his wife's relatives, his children's spouses' relatives, and his siblings' and their spouses' relatives. Nothing has turned up so far, but I may have missed someone.
  • doing a NYC one-name study to see if something turns up
  • widening the search to include his old business partner and those relatives

What other searches can I do that wouldn't involve searching for him by surname? It's a long surname and the indexing is often horrendous. I can do a wildcard search, but putting in anything longer than three letters before the wildcard doesn't work; it's at that point where the variants start to happen. I found Max's obit on Genealogy Bank by searching for his occupation and employer and his address, rather than his name.

  • Actually, when doing a wildcard search with the surname, I can't even depend on the first three letters of the surname matching. Some of the surname variants diverge before the first three letters.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jan 23, 2014 at 18:48

1 Answer 1


I'm consolidating my comments to the original question as a self-answer, to show the progress I made since I wrote the question, and to demonstrate the search techniques I've used so far. The 1930 Census record is still NOT FOUND, so I welcome other answers and suggestions, even if I eventually self-accept this answer.

The article Sources of Genealogical Information suggests the following:

PLACES FAMILY HAS LIVED: Census, Land and Property, History, Military Records, Taxation, Obituaries

  • The Census record for 1930 is the record I'm looking for. (1920/1940 already found as noted in the original question.)
  • The information found so far indicates Max was a renter.
  • I have no evidence that Max served. The draft registration cards for the children of this marriage have already been collected; they were useful as waypoints when establishing a timeline and when approaching 1930 from either side.
  • Tax Records: not examined yet.
  • Obituaries: Note that Max's obit was not found with a surname search, but with a search for his employer and his first name. Wife Ida's obit not found when I wrote the question.

Objective 1: 1940 Census shows Max as widowed; 1920 Census lists Ida. When did she die? Can I narrow down the window?

  • The last record I have showing Max and Ida as a couple is a 1928 City Directory. (My working assumption for this directory company is that the directories were put to bed in December of the previous year, but the evidence I have for that time frame is from the 1890s; it may not be true for this period.)
  • Surname searches do not turn up results for Max and Ida for many publication years in the early 1930s.
  • The city directories found so far which list Max from the late 1930s do not list his wife Ida.
  • Recently added collection on Ancestry: Massachusetts Death Index 1901-1980. Searching this collection, I found an index entry for Ida in 1929.
  • Available collections online at FamilySearch.org: Massachusetts, Deaths and Burials, 1795-1910 and Massachusetts, Deaths, 1841-1915 cover the wrong time period; the collection Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1627-2001 does not include the town Max and Ida lived in, where her death is most likely to be registered.
  • Eureka! limiting the search to 1929, and searching on the first name 'Ida' and keywords 'born' 'Germany', Genealogy Bank returns an article about Ida's death and funeral. The headline calls her "Mrs. Frank F" which is not what I would have expected. But looking at all of the people listed as survivors would indicate that this is Max's wife and not his mother. (Like many German immigrants, Max has multiple forenames - his daughter's obit lists him as Fred M., but most of his records list him as Maxim F. or Max F. or some variant.) [see note below on German naming conventions.] This obituary gives me Ida's death date in October 1929, and lists her husband's address as the same as the one found in the 1940 Census.

Objective 2: Can I confirm the residence information from Ida's October 1929 obituary from other sources (primarily city directories)? Here is what I learned from searching the US City Directory listings on Ancestry:

  • Check the front of the directory to get the abbreviations lists, to see what sections might have information, and to find other information about how the directory is organized. In this case, the directory has an alphabetical listing of residents and a numerical listing by street address. The numerical listing usually shows the head of the household, so it can be pressed into service as a Census index or checklist.
  • When Ancestry attaches records to an online tree, it uses the directory publication date as the residence date. This is not a safe assumption. In the 1890s, this directory company sometimes had pages in the front of the directory which had marriages and deaths for the previous year. That year was Dec 1 of [PubYear -2] to Dec 1 of [PubYear -1]. No matter what the release date is, the information in the directory is, by nature, stale by the time the directory is printed.
  • Many of the directories have this publisher's note (this is transcribed from a 1931 Directory):

The information in this book is gathered as far as possible by actual canvass, and is compiled in a way to ensure maximum accuracy. The publishers cannot, of course, guarantee the correctness of information furnished them nor the complete absence of mistakes, hence no responsibility for errors can be assumed, but we will welcome the bringing to our attention of any inaccuracies so that correction may be made in the next Directory. (signed) THE PRICE & LEE CO., Publishers.

In the 1930's there is a telephone bell 'dingbat' to show which residents had a telephone. There aren't very many of these, so the canvass referred to in the note might have been by a company representative going around asking for the information, or (more likely) asking for the information via the mail. In any case, there are listings for vacant apartments, so the directory company did not limit itself to gathering information from residents who wanted to be included; it sometimes included the information that apartments were vacant, when that was known. (I have not seen in any of this company's directories any explicit instructions or publisher's notes about what to do if a resident wants to be unlisted.)

  • There might be information in more than one section of the directory; check the alphabetical directory AND the numerical directory, plus any organizational entries (fraternal organizations, fire, police, etc.) your research subject might be in.

These are some of the reasons my initial surname search did not find Max (or they reasons you might not find a city directory for the person you are looking for):

  • Missing Directories. Looking at the contents via the Browse function reveals that Ancestry's collection U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 is supposed to have directories for this city for the all the publication years I'm looking at. (For some periods, this is not the case.)
  • A directory for a given year might not be indexed.
  • A page might be indexed, but not completely indexed, and no index line exists for the person you are looking for.
  • The person is indexed with the surname of someone else on the page.
  • The person is indexed backwards, with the surname in the first name field and the first name in the last name field.
  • The person is indexed, but the OCR didn't correctly reproduce what is on the image.
  • The person appears in the directory under a spelling you didn't expect.
  • Watch out in particular for Germanic and other European surnames that alternate between initial B/P. (Some directory years have entries which direct you to check the other spelling.) [This may also hold true for other voiced/un-voiced consonants like d/t, g/k.]
  • Don't assume that the directory is consistent with itself. There are a few years where Max is not in the alphabetical listings, but is still listed in the numerical directory at his previous address. Checking the new address (that is, the 1940 Census address, which Ida's obit asserts is also his 1929 address) revealed that the building had incomplete information for a couple of my 'missing' years -- there were listings of Vacant for units (11) and (12) but no information at all for the lower numbers.

My record wishlist was:

  • a death record, obituary, and funeral notice for Ida
  • residence evidence for Max between 1927ish and 1935
  • residence evidence for Max's brother (and nieces and nephews) and Max's son in NYC
  • the 1930 Census

The newspaper article I found which I called Ida's 'obituary' also includes information about her funeral, so the only thing lacking is her official death record. She's not in my husband's direct line so getting a certificate is not the highest priority; I'll wait to see if records for 1929 deaths come online as time goes by and privacy restrictions no longer apply.

I now have a much better understanding of why Max wasn't showing up in a search of Ancestry's city directories for the period around his move. Many of the 'holes' were artifacts of crappy indexing; others were caused by the time lag between the events and the directory company's recording of information.

Working hypothesis: Assume that Max's obituary is correct, and that Max lived in the same town for his entire life. Assume Ida's obituary is also correct, and that Max had already moved to the address at which he is recorded in the 1940 Census. How do I find the 1930 Census record?

Things to add to the records wishlist / research plan:

  • Make a list of ALL the name variants I've found Max by, as an aid for future searches.
  • Tax records: still not researched.
  • Collect / organize any information I can find about the physical building (if it still exists), including tax maps from the city assessor's office.
  • Look for all the fraternal organizations Max was a member of. In some years, he was an elected officer. In what years does he appear in the list of officers?
  • Chart the data from the numerical directory in the city directories, and hunt for all the neighbors in that apartment building in the 1930 Census, in an attempt to find which sheets in that ED have the building on it.
  • If that fails: walk through the EDs on the images. (I've made some attempts, but the pages are a mess.)
  • If that fails: walk through the entire Ward.
  • Also to do: check for 'known issues' with the original microfilm for the 1930 Census. I've already found a couple of sloppy 'catch-all' pages where people were missed in the enumerator's walk-through of the district and/or in the copying process, so I'll also re-visit the pages at the end of the Census for that town to make sure nothing is lurking there. [Note: the 1940 Census entry for Max is one of these 'people we missed on the first try' collections, so his neighbors are not shown on the nearby pages.]

The other major search task is to find Max's relatives in New York city.

  • I have a smattering of other records that I've found so far, but I haven't made a systematic survey of what NYC residence information might be online.

  • The New York Public Library has a site Direct Me NYC: 1940 with searchable 1940 directories to use as a finding aid for the 1940 Census. There are very few listings, or no listings, for the most common spelling of their surname, and I don't see any likely candidates with the second-most common spelling; the people with the same initials have different occupations. I was unable to find a 1940 directory listing for Max's youngest son at the address on the 1942 draft card.

The Wikipedia article German Name gives some insight on the naming on Ida's obituary as "Mrs Frank F.":

The Vorname (in English forename) is usually given to a child by the parents shortly after birth. It is common to give a child several Vornamen (forenames), one of them intended for everyday use and known as the Rufname ("appellation name"). This Rufname is often underlined on official documents, as it is sometimes the second or third name in the sequence of given names on official record, even though it is the given name in daily use from childhood.

Max's 'everyday' name is apparently the third of his three given names, and most of the names I had seen for him had referred to him with his second and third names (either in that order, or reversed), which is why I did not recognize the form "Mrs. Frank F." with only his first and second names but not his Rufname.

Many of the German immigrants in my database who lived in this time and geographical area start out with a 'formal' name which is an Americanized version of their first and second forenames, or second and third forenames, followed by their surnames. Over time, the usage changes so that the 'everyday' name comes first, and the other forenames appear as middle names or initials. So far I have not found any records that would hold evidence about whether the custom of underlining the Rufname was brought across to the USA.

  • 1
    I may have missed this somewhere, but if you know where he lived in 1929, and where he lived in 1935, have you looked up the 1930 Census by street address to determine if his name may have been hopelessly mangled at either of those addresses, or possibly within the same canvas area? Feb 1, 2014 at 5:40
  • 1
    The 1930 US Federal Census is not indexed by street address. I've looked up names of neighbors and I've found some of the units in the building but not all of the apartments have been accounted for. (There is no guarantee that everyone in the same apartment building will be on the same page or even on nearby pages.) I need to 'walk' through the entire ED and look for others.
    – Jan Murphy
    Feb 1, 2014 at 5:59

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