Unorthodox census data

unorthodox census data


Now and then, tried and true genealogy resources deliver unexpected gifts. Like “unorthodox” census data. You know, where the enumerator squeezed in some extra tidbit, or the person supplying the information offered a TMI overshare way before that became a thing. I once found a census where all the women’s maiden names were recorded. It was nothing short of awesome.

This one is a far sight short of “awesome,” but worth looking at all the same.

I have a terrible yet fascinating example to show you, and then I’m going to mix things up and ask for your help.

1870. Plunkets, Lycoming, PA.

1870. Plunkets, Lycoming, PA, via

In case that’s hard to read…

Emphasis added, of course.

  • Blaker, Ulyssis. Age 60. Male. White. Farmer Laborer. $200 in real estate. $100 in personal estate. Born in Pennsylvania. Cannot read; cannot write. Male citizen over age 21.
  • Blaker, Isabella. Age 55. Female. White. (?) K. H. (Keeping house). As dirty as the D e v i l — Born in Pennsylvania.
  • Blaker, Elizabeth A. Age 24. Female. White. At home. Better be out at work. Born in Pennsylvania.
  • Blaker, Evaline E. Age 20. Female. White. At home. To Lazy to work. Born in Pennsylvania.

Like I said. Unorthodox.

I imagine living in the Blaker household of 1870 as something like this . . .

bad house keeper

© Wernerimages |

In all seriousness, I have no idea what to make of this record.

  • Census takers must have put up with all kinds of lip. What would have persuaded this one to record these ugly comments on the official form?
  • There’s a lot to infer from these comments (for instance, Ulysses was probably a neatnik and tired of supporting his unmarried daughters, not to mention a desperately unhappy person), but how exactly do I go about forming hypotheses and testing them, in this case?
  • For that matter, how do I even cite this in my research?
  • I feel sorry for Isabella, Elizabeth, and Evaline for living with such a curmudgeon–but just for the sake of argument, what if there is a seed of truth in his insults?
  • I haven’t done much on with the Blakers yet. Help me out, reader. What’s my next step?

What about you?

Give me advice! Or tell me about your quirky, strange and unexpected census discoveries in the comments!

#52Ancestors: A serious accusation against Isabella Blaker of Plunkett’s Creek PA

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I’ll go ahead and warn you that next week’s post will be a bit on the sentimental side. The courage to grow old is a special sort of grace, and I’d like to ruminate on what it meant to one of my ancestors in particular.

Until then…

Whispers in the Branches (sm)I’m hosting a Sweepstakes this week, giving away one copy of my debut novel Whispers in the Branches. (No purchase necessary; open to US residents age 18+; ends the earlier of 2/25/16 or when the prize has been awarded; official rules available with entry page.) To enter, just click this link: and follow my author page on Amazon. That’s it! Good luck!


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