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Where Did That Census Come From?

I Started
Henry and Amanda (Castleberry) Miller
ca. 1940

Because my grandmother's death triggered my desire for finding my family, I was naturally drawn to her side of the family. Her mother, Amanda Castleberry Miller, was a large part of the stories told by her and by my father. So I started my search for Amanda's family, the Castleberrys.

My mother had a copy of Castleberry and Allied Families, by Jesse Castleberry, 1967, Jesse Castleberry, publisher, Florida. All I had to do was follow the information in the book.

I Got Lucky!

I learned from my mother that census records were available where I could find my ancestors. So I went to my local public library, where it turned out, they had quite a nice genealogy section, complete with census microfilms. (Remember, this is pre-computer, pre-internet, the "dark ages.")

I was lucky! They had films from Coosa Co, Alabama where my grandmother was born. Since my grandmother was born in 1893 and I wanted to find her mother, Amanda, before she married, I looked for the 1890 census. I found out it doesn't exist. So I looked for 1880. That was available. I quickly found the Castleberry name and started recording what I found. There was my gr-grandmother with her siblings and parents and close to them was an E.J. Castleberry, who turned out to be Amanda's uncle, brother to her father, Jeremiah. A Jane Castleberry was nearby.

I Made Notes

I dutifully recorded my notes in my spiral notebook, (Take Notes on Loose, Archival Quality Paper). Here is one page of my notes on that day of research. Notice what is missing.

I didn't, until much later.

If this was all you found of my notes from that day, how could you verify my notes? How would you find what I found? Without a source and a location where I found my information, you cannot find where Jane Castleberry was nor how she might fit into my Castleberry line. And just searching for Jane could result in a lot of work, because there were a number of Jane Castleberrys. Oh! And by the way, what census year was this anyway?

I Should Have Known Better

I had a great junior English teacher when I was in high school. Mrs. Matherly was tough and demanding. She taught us all those "English" things--how to diagram sentences, the correct tense, parts of speech, all of that stuff. But the thing I remembered her for most was the lessons on how to write a research paper. It was invaluable when I got to college and had to write all those research papers (2-4 every semester) that many professors demand.

What Mrs. Matherly taught us was how to take good notes with proper references so we could cite our sources with footnotes and create a bibliography to give proper credit to the authors and publishers whose works we used to gather our data. Sound familiar?

When I was taking those notes, I forgot all that Mrs. Matherly taught me and all that I had practiced for those years in college, including the year I got my master's degree, where I had to write a research paper for every class I took.

I'll even confess that as a high school political science teacher, I made my students write a research paper, because I knew that it would help them in college. I taught them Mrs. Matherly's method.

Why Did I Forget All This Training?

I got excited.
This was my family! They were actually on paper (at least a microfilm image of the page.) It made them REAL. It was almost like reaching back through time and touching them. At least that was the feeling for me.

I had taken a number of pages of notes.
The previous pages of notes that I took that day do not necessarily reflect stellar documentation. A future researcher would not know when I collected this information, nor would they know where I found my information--was it from the microfilm; was it an extraction from a book? They would not know what library or archive I visited. But there was enough information that at least they could find the documents.

But the page with notes for Jane had NOTHING! Not the county and state where I was searching. I did not even record the census year I was looking at. As long as this page stayed with the other pages there was a chance I or another researcher would be able to make the proper connection. But as I discussed in Take Notes on Loose, Archival Quality Paper, I separated all those spirals and Jane's page went into a different file folder from Jeremiah's.

I had recorded the same information on each page before this one. Since I was using a spiral it was obvious that this page belonged with the others. Or at least so it seemed at the time.

Years later when I began to enter this data into my family tree program, I realized how lax I had been. Now I had to find this record again and get the proper documentation.

What I Learned

I learned to stop and breathe when I find something exciting. Well, at least after I have danced around a bit.

I learned to write my documentation on every page of the notes I make.

I learned to write my documentation on the back of documents I collect. I do not write on the face of the document.

I learned to photocopy or photograph the title page and copyright page of books I use, when I make copies of pages in the book.

I learned to copy the film number image and title page image of any microfilm I use.

I learned to record all my documentation information in my research log: the date of research, what facility I am at, and all the correct source information (author, title, copyright date, publisher and publication date and place), as well as the page or image numbers.

I learned to number my notes and documents and record this information on my research log as well.

I learned that by collecting all of this information and recording it on my research log, I can find my information again and other researchers can track my research.

I learned that when I document completely and properly, my research is credible and therefore believed by other researchers.

I learned that just as I want credit for what I research and write, I must give credit to those whose research and writings I use.

Want to know more about how to properly document your research? Check out my tutorial "Proper Documentation."

Add your comments below on what else you think I might have missed in recording the information from the census.


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