20 December 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Finding Smith, Jones and every other Tom, Dick and Harry in the Census

Perhaps because Loretta was the first person mentioned in Mira Rockwell (Main) Stratton's diary (The Best Medicine - New Clues), she immediately intrigued me. A "Loretta" is included in the listing of birthdays and Loretta's frequent visits with Mira clinched the deal. I had to find out who she was!
Mira Rockwell (Main) Stratton Diary

 January 1
1913 Wednesday. At home today.  
Loretta went home yesterday. Chas 
had smash up with Gasoline. Drove to 
Tyringham after supper.
1914 Thursday. I must make a good 
resolution & keep it to write in my Line a day  
Gave G. K. S. a supper at Miller House. Anne H. 
Jennie H. Loretta Miss Leyden & myself last night.
Mira Rockwell (Main) Stratton Diary

Mira Rockwell (Main) Stratton Diary
And now for the bad news, Loretta is Loretta A. Smith! Searching Smiths in New York City, even those with somewhat unusual given names, can be a daunting task. Fortunately, Mira included Loretta's address in her diary. When faced with a common name in a large city it is often faster to search for their census listing using the street address rather than their name. This is especially true in this case as I have no year of birth or other identifying information about Loretta. Steve Morse's website for Obtaining Enumeration Districts (EDs) and Streets  for the 1900-1940 Census makes this process simple.

There are no guarantees that Loretta would still be living at the same address in 1920 but it is a reasonable place to start.  To determine the ED on Steve Morse's website, I need to know both the street "West 129th St." and also a nearby cross street. A quick search for 153 West 129th Street gives me the exact location between 7th Avenue and Lenox. The directions are easy to follow on the website and tell me that the address is in ED 1332.
Google Maps

One of my favorite features on Ancestry is the ability to 'drill down' and search a specific record.  [See Update below for an even easier way to get to the correct census record. I've chosen to leave this description intact since the 'drill down' procedure is a good strategy in many situations.] In this case, I chose to 'browse' the 1920 census entering the state and county. The next option is to select the 'Assembly District.' I don't know which assembly district contains ED 1332 but by selecting any of the Assembly Districts, a list of the EDs in that assembly district is provided. ED 1332 is in Manhattan Assembly District 19. There are 56 pages in ED 1332 but since I am looking for the street address, I simply advance to the street address. And there she is!

1920 Census, Loretta A. Smith
Surprise! Based on the information known of the family, it is unlikely that Loretta A. Smith is a close relation. But, I'm still intrigued by Loretta's close ties and frequent visits. With Loretta's year of birth from the census, further research is possible. It is possible that Loretta is the daughter of Andrew J. Smith by a prior marriage - perhaps to one of Mira's Aunts.

So how do you find a street address if you don't have any diaries? Often a street address is included on vital records, social security applications, etc. Begin with the censuses closest to the date of the record that provides an address. City directories can be used to track moves from one residence to another. But care must be taken with common names that you have identified the correct 'John Smith.' Happy hunting!

Update: Joel Weintraub emailed me with "I hadn't considered your use of the tools in my list of why people need to have locational search strategies in their bag of tricks."  He forwarded another aspect of Obtaining EDs for the 1900-1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities). Steve Morse wrote, "we do all the work of "drilling down" into ancestry to get to the designated ED ... click our VIEW MICROFILM button to get to our viewing tool, and then click the DISPLAY button.  ...we do all the necessary browsing of the records ... and take you directly to ancestry's display of the census images." Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! I expected only a microfilm number behind that link. Thank you Steve Morse, Joel Weintraub and David Kehs for putting Obtaining EDs for the 1900-1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities) on the web.

This research was conducted while writing The Best Medicine - New Clues. Because the search was not productive, I did not include it. I was sharing the tale with Kathy Reed of Jones Family Matters and she said 'You have to put that on the blog.' This one is for you Kathy! You know better than most the challenges of researching common surnames.

Google. Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/ : 2011. Specifically "153 West 129th Street."

Morse, Stephen P., Joel D. Weintraub and David R. Kehs.  Obtaining EDs for the 1900-1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities). http://stevemorse.org/census/ : 2006.

New York. New York. 1930 U.S. census, population schedule.  Digital images.  Ancestry.com. http://ancestry.com: 2011. [Specifically, Manhattan, Assembly District 19, enumeration district (ED) 1332, sheet 6-B, dwelling 46, family 120, Loretta A. Smith; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 December 2011), citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 1221.]

Stratton, Mira Rockwell (Main). "Line-a-Day Diary, 1913-1923." MS.  Lee, Massachusetts, 1913-1923.  Privately held by Liz Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.


  1. You know what I love about it being on the blog? When I forget how to do it, it will always be right here for me to consult. You've explained this to me before, but I could have never done it without these instructions. I really think you should take this whole post and put it on the HCGS blog. Others could benefit from your great expertise! Thanks for the mention, too.

  2. Kathy, I'll look for a Cincinnati example to put on the HCGS blog. Any takers?


Comments welcome!