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Five Fun Facts About Old Census Records

2011 July 11
by Aurora

So, I’m an amateur genealogist. I have family from French Canada and New England, mostly. I thought I’d do something different this week and share a bit about that.

Here are Five Fun Facts About Old Census Records:

Fun Fact Number One:

Some census-takers wrote really sloppily. I mean, come on, people! This is a record! This has resulted in many names being transcribed incorrectly by lovely helpful people who don’t know any better. Thus, Jeremiah becomes Jemimah, and your uncle becomes your aunt. Or whatever.

Fun Fact Number Two:

Census-takers didn’t necessarily speak the language in the area they were surveying. So French names were often Anglicized or just plain misheard. Sometimes, though, they were just plain odd names. I have a French-Canadian ancestor named Sifroid. This means ‘so cold.’ His dad was named Sylvain. This means forest. Did I mention they lived in Canada?

Fun Fact Number Three:

Reading a census record in French is a good way to learn a little bit of French. You see the same words repeated over and over, and you start to know what to look for. The cognates are a piece of cake. Cultivateur? That’s farmer. Clothier? Uhh, clother? Chef? Of COURSE that’s chef.

*insert sound of buzzer*

Nope. After months of being fooled by this false cognate, I learned from my dad that chef, when it’s in the ‘member of household’ column, means head. Head of household. Sadly, my ancestor was not a chef. (But his name was Felix and he was born on Prince Edward Island.)

Fun Fact Number Four:

There are a lot of cool names out there (ok, I admit, I enjoy the names part almost more than the ancestry part). It’s fun to go back about a hundred years and see all the names that are now in fashion again (Ruby, Emma, Abigail). Then there are the crazy Puritan names like Remembrance, Maverick, and Snow. And the kinda intense names like Hepsibeth, Shearjashub, and Peleg. Names. Yum.

Fun Fact Number Five:

Many sites offer free information, mostly transcribed civil records that have become public after a person’s death. Go to and see if you can find an ancestor. There are many sites like this, some sharing actual scans of records. I suggest searching for an ancestor born before 1930 whose entire name and spouse’s name you know.

Question: Can you name one or more of your great-grandparents? (You don’t have to name them here.) Is anyone in your family interested in family history? (Ok, that was two questions.)




5 Responses Post a comment
  1. Priscilla permalink
    July 11, 2011

    OMG you’re related to Felix King!!! LUCKY!

    • July 11, 2011

      I counted on you to draw that conclusion, and you did not fail me. Well done. Probably more like Pierre LaPierre, though.

  2. Irene permalink
    July 11, 2011

    Oui and Oui
    Aurora and I have corresponded with information on our genealogical tree over the last year and confirmed our family link. Her grandmother named Irene and my father named Benoit, were brother and sister. I am actually named after Aurora’s grandmother. Our great-grandfather is Felix Richard and Philomene Richard (né Haché). Genealogy is a great way to discover your past and make new links into the future. I believe it will be a lifetime past-time for me, like golfing for some. I encourage people to discover their history through genealogy. You just never know what you’ll discover. ;)

    • July 11, 2011

      Well, you, Ma’am, should discover that you were your namesake’s favorite niece. She used to show me every photo or drawing or letter you sent her and boast about anything she learned which you had done.

      Be assured that she would be delighted to know that you and Aurora were in correspondence.

      As for “discovering history through genealogy,” imagine the wonderful loop Alice & her husband Russell have thrown all you genealogists by creating a new name through the merger of their former last names! Rhodes & Lemieux = Rhomieux (I love it!)

      • Irene permalink
        July 12, 2011

        Hi Jene Paul!
        I’ve just written Aurora in response to your reply. Your mom, my beautiful Aunt, was namesake to another Irene in this family, which is who I believe you are referring to in your reply.
        We both lived in Sept-Iles, Quebec and I use to babysit her children on occasion. Her mom, our Aunt Imelda would come to visit us when she’d be visiting her daughter. Very loving and endearing person, she made sure you knew you were part of her and their side of the family. Smoothered us with kisses and hugs. I am thinking it’s the other Irene that kept in contact with Aunt Irene, which I could easily see happening. I would have been about 8-10 at the time in the late 70′s. I remember my father speaking of his sister and her beauty to whom I was named after. I know Aunt Imelda named her daughter after your grandmother too.
        Love what Russell and Alice did, that’s an amazing Frenglish name! I think it’s awesome!
        Best wishes to the new couple!
        I am on a mission to find our cousin now… :)

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