Is Something Missing? Analyzing an 1820 Census

Your ancestor and his brother were enumerated in Kings County, New York, in both the 1810 and 1830 federal censuses. But you haven’t been able to find either of them in the 1820 census. You went through every one of the 86 pages on 43 images for 1820 Kings County, but their names don’t appear. The question arose: Is it possible to determine if a page of the census is missing?

The answer is an easy “yes.” What follows may be a lot of words, mainly to illustrate the kinds of issues you can run into, but the methodology I’m using is simple and broadly applicable to other times and places. It’s a process that will achieve several inter-related goals:

  • identify problems in the digitization process that mislead and confuse researchers, including the mislabeling of locations and the presentation of pages out of original order;
  • determine the actual locations referenced in the actual census pages;
  • determine the original order of the census pages; and
  • determine if a page is missing from a particular digitized collection.
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