Since the introduction of the U.S. census by the U.S. Constitution for the United States in 1790, we can discern that with every decade, more and more information was taken for each census, which has enhanced anyone’s search for their ancestors. The common denominator though, through the decades that applies to the activity of census taking and interjects and increases the chances of errors is the human factor.
In the early days of census taking (1790-1870), the enumerations were conducted by U.S. marshals before the Census Bureau was established. The appointed U.S. marshals of each jurisdiction would hire assistant marshals to carry out the actual task of census taking. During this time period, especially in the earlier part of this timeframe, funding for this activity was low or non-existent, and the assistant marshals were not duly prepared for what was in store for them. They had to provide for themselves what they needed to perform their job, such as writing materials, provide for their own food, not only for themselves, but for their horses as well, since they had to provide for their own transportation at that time.
With these complications, some enumerators were stretched thin and given to caring more about their own personal affairs rather than doing their job or at least doing it well for the tasks they were hired for. Luckily, as time went on, things did get better, but not by much. The other complication through the years has been the loss of certain censuses, the most well-known being the loss of the 1890 census due to fire.
When the Census Bureau was finally established, funding, materials and hired enumerators for the bureau made a vast difference…but, one thing remained…the human factor.
So, I began researching about 5-6 years ago, my ancestor, Anna May Bender (1868-1938), my 2x great-grandmother, who was clouded in mystery. What I did find out was she was married to William Tolbert on 30 June, 1886 in Chambersburg, Franklin Co., PA. One of the first records I looked for was Anna’s death certificate (link to Find-A-Grave – click on image of death certificate). Her parents are named as William Bender and Mary E. Muttspach. Actually, after many years of the Muttspach surname being a mystery, I just recently made the discovery that the surname is actually Muttersbaugh, with many different spellings – Mudderspach, Muderspaugh, Muddersbaugh, Mothersbaugh; etc. The last surname, Mothersbaugh struck a chord with me, and I realized I had seen that name in my past…it dawned on me who had that surname. Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the famous musical group Devo. With a little digging, I found his ancestors came from around the same region of Pennsylvania. There is a possible connection, but that’s for later.
Now, besides the censuses I found for Anna Tolbert, I only found 1 census for Anna with her maiden surname Bender, which basically confirmed her parents names on her death certificate. That census was the 1870 census for Chambersburg, Franklin Co., PA. I made a note of Anna’s siblings as well…Abba (Abby), Martha and John. At some point, I decided to put the Bender family on the back burner since I was not having any luck going back any further.
Fast-forward to 2021, and I decided to dig in deeper, since I’ve learned considerably a lot more about searching and finding ancestors since my first search for Anna…and I wasn’t disappointed either. In the 1860 census, I found Anna’s family in Mount Joy, Adams County, PA. I was able to confirm that this is Anna’s family, since Anna’s sister Abby Bender is listed here and her parents meet the criteria of the later census. I noted the older sibling James Bender too.
Now, here is where it gets complicated. Listed on the 1860 census, living next door to my Benders, is another Bender household. A John Bender, with wife Margaret, who are the right age to possibly be the parents of my William Bender (the father of my Anna May Bender). Unfortunately, there is already a William Bender listed, who is about the same age as my William living with them…or is he?
There is also a Harriet Wolf and her daughter Sarah Wolf living with John and Margaret. I decided to see if I could go back one more census to the 1850 census in Mount Joy to see if there were still 2 William Benders. I did not find more than 1 William Bender, born about 1825 living in Mount Joy. Just the 1 that was living with John and his wife, named Rebecca (according to James Beidler, noted German author and genealogist, John’s wife Margaret in the 1860 census and Rebecca in the 1850 census could be and probably are the same woman. Both nicknames for Margaret and Rebecca, Peggy and Becky sound very similar in the German accent – (I did do some checking and found no 2nd marriage record for John).
If this is the right family for my Anna (Bender) Tolbert, then I’ve made a great discovery, in the fact that I have never been able to go back any further on this line before. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with what I have found, which is more than I had before. On a side note, I was also able to find a Mary Mutersbough (possibly Anna May Bender’s mother), 8 yrs. old in the 1850 census in Franklin Twp., Adams Co., PA that was with a Mutersbough family, Mary, 67, Barbara, 30, Catherine, 14, & Conrad, 13. Again, more than I had before.
So, if you are feeling frustrated with censuses, I feel your pain, but don’t lose hope…there is always ways around finding your ancestors when using censuses, even with the inherent mistakes that come with them. Use all the tricks you can when searching censuses, like the ? to replace letters and/or the * to replace a group of letters if you have a really tricky surname you are searching on. No matter where in the U.S. you are searching, like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia; etc. or what time frame you are searching in, you can uncover information you never knew existed or had before. Just keep digging!
One last note…the Bender name is also known as Painter! Here was my reaction to that statement:
Actually, Painter is the anglicized surname for Bender, which is Germanic.
James L. Beidler
1860 Census – Mount Joy, Adams County, PA – Courtesy of Ancestry©
Comedian Brian Regan
Special thanks to my wife, Cheryl, who’s love and support I couldn’t live without.