Monday, March 20, 2017

Tip: Working Around Wrongly Transcribed Families in Census Records on

I hadn't been able to locate my husband's grandfather, Fred Hunter, and his family in the 1940 census. Searching for his parents and siblings individually didn't help me locate the family. So, I turned to a census "trick" to find this missing family.


I chose one of the more unusual names in the family: Mabel. I chose the 1940 U.S. federal census and searched for the following:

  • First name "Mabel" set to "exact"
  • Born in "1912" set to "+/- 2 years"
  • Born in "Oklahoma" set to "exact"
  • Lived in "Garvin County" set to "exact"

With this search I got 2 results, though neither were the correct family. So, I changed the "lived in" Garvin County from "exact" to "county and adjacent counties" and got 36 results. Near the bottom of the list was an entry for Mable Gunter with the correct parents listed. I had found the family!

1940 U.S. Census, McClain County, Oklahoma, Turnbull, population schedule, page 10A [written], household #163,
William E Hunter Household, image, ( : accessed 19 March 2017), citing
National Archives microfilm T627, roll 3308.
You can see it is a fairly poor copy, so it is understandable that it was transcribed incorrectly.


There are several other ways I could have found this family:

  • Searched for some of the family's 1930 "neighbors." Since the Hunters were still in the same, small community, it is likely I would have located them.
  • Searched page by page through the 40 pages of this Turnbull enumeration. 
  • Searched using either FamilySearch or MyHeritage, both of which have the family transcribed correctly as Hunter, not Gunter.
  • Searched with the wildcard "?" to start the family surname by searching for "?unter." When there is a transcription error in surnames, it is often with the initial letter.
Do you have other tricks for finding missing families in census records? I'd love to hear! 
Please leave a comment or email me at


  1. Some great ideas. I've used the "first name only" trick but never knew about the county trick. Thank you! Also I sometimes use Heritage Quest, which has different transcribers.

    1. Thanks, Marian. I haven't tried Heritage Quest. It's great to know we have multiple options!

    2. Heritage Quest used to be an option. A year or two ago, they ditched their versions of the census records and paid Ancestry to use theirs so the transcription errors are all the same.

    3. Thanks for the update, Linda!

  2. Good suggestions for finding "lost" people in the census records. I couldn't find my husband's ancestor - surname Nation. However, I also searched only by first name, birth year and state and looked in Missouri where I suspected they lived. The handwriting was beautiful and the image perfect, but the transcriber decided that NATION really said WATIAU!!!

    1. That's crazy! Wow... not sure what to say about that, except it's good we have ways to work around records which are wrongly transcribed!

  3. Great tip - I had no idea about the county trick. It's amazing how transcribers all see things differently.

    1. Agreed! I know FamilySearch has 3 people look at each record. (Right?) I don't know how Ancestry does their transcribing.


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