Oops! There was no “mother” field in the 1900 census despite Ancestry.com field label

NOTE FROM DearMYRTLE: This is a detailed commentary composed with the hope Ancestry.com will take immediate action to remedy this situation.

Is Ancestry “dreaming up” new census fields for the 1900 US federal population abstracts associated with its collection of census images? Maybe Ancestry is interpreting what an enumerator meant he made notations in various fields on his census form?

We look to evidence of abstract screen shots shared by Russ Worthington in his blog post Observations of the new Ancestry .api posted on his FTMUser blog today.

Russ viewed indexed entries and accompanying digital image of original census pages through his Family Tree Maker 2017 software. The problem has little if anything to do with FTM or RootsMagic, but instead reveals a problem with how Ancestry.com presents the indexed entries on its website.

Here are Ol’ Myrt’s concerns.


Why has Ancestry chosen to rename the “relationship to head of family” field to “mother”?

It sounds like a database manager, rather than a genealogist, has become overly creative but incorrect with labels for indexed data. This problem will lead less experienced researchers to incorrect relationship conclusions.

Using Ancestry’s iOS app, I ran into this same problem. When reviewing a census image, the abstract assumed the wife was mother to all children in the household. Luckily I knew about a first wife who died. I had to go to my desktop and update my Ancestry Member Tree to assign children in the census to the correct parents and attach the census image manually.

This begs the question – what if I didn’t know about the first wife and her several children?

How does this happen?

In Russ’ example and mine, Ancestry’s census abstracts assume a woman listed as a wife to head of family is the mother to those listed as sons and daughters of the head of family, when in fact she may not be.(1)


Cousin Russ correctly noticed there was no field labeled “Ethnicity” though the 1900 population schedule does have a tiny column “Race or Color.” WHY has Ancestry chosen to rename the field “ethnicity”?

Why is Ancestry interpreting abbreviations?

There is no ethnicity known as “American” nor is there room to write that in the tiny box. (2) Only these abbreviations are found in “126. Column 5 Color or Race” description.

  • “W  white
  • B = black (negro or of negro descent)
  • Ch = Chinese
  • Jp = Japanese
  • In = Indian
  • As the cas=e may be.” (3)

I’m thinking an unspecified abbreviation “A” written by the enumerator could represent “Asian” (different from Chinese or Japanese) but it certainly could not be “American” since there is no such race or color. Either way, only the letter “A” should appear in Ancestry’s abstract.

In Russ’ example the letter “W” for white has been entered as “American” in Ancestry’s abstract.


It appears Ancestry database managers have incorrectly and inappropriately chosen to interpret what an enumerator wrote in a column of abbreviations? (Sigh)

In the US we consider a transcript a word-for-word printed or typed version of a document.

In the US we consider an abstract a selection of text from a document considered important for the purposes of the abstractor. This make take the form on an index.

 Myrt’s Musings

In no way should a transcript, abstract or index depart from original spelling, abbreviations or labels in a document; nor should the compiler of a transcript, abstract or index interpret the original text.

Anything less increases the possibility that those reading the transcript, abstract or index may draw the wrong conclusion.

 This is is a case for “get the original.”

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt 🙂
Your friend in genealogy.

1) “125. Column 4 Relationship to head of family”, 12th Census of the United States Instructions to Enumerators (Washington DC: Census Bureau, 1900) p 28. (https://www.census.gov / viewed 27 Aug 2017). Note the scanned images in .PDF format are linked here: : https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/index_of_questions/1900_1.html

(2) “126. Column 5 Color or Race”, 12th Census of the United States Instructions to Enumerators (Washington DC: Census Bureau, 1900) p 29. (https://www.census.gov / viewed 27 Aug 2017). Note the scanned image in .PDF format linked here: https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/index_of_questions/1900_1.html

(3) I.B.I.D.


Are you ready for some GENEALOGY?

Gosh, July has just flown by! Now it’s time to recoup, regroup, redirect and rejoin our Mondays with Myrt genealogy hangouts. Cousin Russ is on hand to bring in your comments and questions. Register using your favorite social media account. Then check your confirmation and reminder emails for your personal link to not only VIEW but COMMENT during the live hangout. The archived version shows up within the hour at the same location. For first time users: FAQ System requirements for: ComputersAndroid devicesiPhone / iPad . 

Want to be a filmstrip panel participant? Wired internet works for best quality sound and video. You’ll need a USB headset mic and ear phones (or earbuds with an inline mic), and of course, a webcam. Register with your Google account and arrive at least 15 minutes early. Cousin Russ will send out the invitation in the “unified chat” and bring you “up” on the panel. Be prepared to make a few adjustments the first time you try this out. Mondays with Myrt is an easy, fun way to share what we’re learning about how best to find those elusive ancestors.

MONDAYS WITH MYRT (90 minutes)

  • Registeration: Monday, 7 Aug 2017
  • The live broadcast starts at Noon Eastern US (New York), 11am Central US (Chicago), 10am Mountain US (Denver, Salt Lake City), 9am Pacific US (Los Angeles) Practical, down-to-earth advice for family historians. We talk about everything that’s come across our genea-desks in the past week – make that month. Powerful breakthroughs happen during our live hangouts. Catch the rebroadcast here, along with all the links we mention.


DearMYRTLE and Cousin Russ recognize the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024. We reach out to _all_ regardless of race, color, creed or national origin with support for researching family and documenting cultural inheritance. http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade

Let’s explore genealogy websites, figure out how DNA test results may or may not match our paper-trail research, explore new family history software and apps, hash out our commitment to the Genealogical Proof Standard, and maybe get organized. Then there’s the MyHeritage-Legacy Family Tree scenario to discuss. Ol’ Myrt here will demo something about a RootsMagic Tree Share and a Family Tree Maker sync to Ancestry.com. It has to do with shared Ancestry Member Trees.

DearMYRTLE's Profile Pic

Myrt’s Musings

Yes, I’ve had a marvelous month-long vacation with the Orcas Island family reunion and other travel. At the International Germanic Genealogy Conference, Dirk Weissleder coined the phrase Think GeneaGlobally. I cannot wait to hear what’s happened to you this past month. If there’s time I’ll add my report about personal research breakthroughs. Yes, I actually did some onsite research. I can tell this week’s Mondays with Myrt is going to be action packed!

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     🙂
Your friend in genealogy.