Monday, January 19, 2015

Can’t Read Too Much Into That Census

It’s 1860. Do you know where your second great grandfather is?

I do: Thomas Taliaferro Broyles was a seventeen year old son living in the South Carolina home of his father, Ozey Robert Broyles. Soon to head off to college, he would someday follow a path similar to his older brother, William Henry Broyles, who had just married his Georgia bride, Rebecca Taliaferro, and moved to Tennessee.

Fortunately, though he was no longer in the Broyles household in South Carolina, Thomas’ brother William was still in the 1860 census, too. In Tennessee, he was landholder of some real estate valued at that time at eighteen thousand dollars. Not bad for a newlywed couple, just starting life together. I suspect William’s good fortune could be attributed to the largess of his father, who had purchased land near Jonesborough in Washington County, where the young couple had just found themselves.

Apparently, William and Rebecca had been in Tennessee for a while. How do I know this? Their little household was no longer a twosome, but a family of three. Their two year old child was listed in the 1860 census as having been born in Tennessee. So if William and Rebecca had settled in her hometown in Georgia for any amount of time after their 1857 wedding, it wasn’t for long.

While the 1860 census gives me hints as to the circumstances of the William Broyles family, it does have its problems. It’s census records like this that make me wish the enumerations were slated to happen more than once every ten years. In this case, it’s not due to horrendous handwriting—although I’ve encountered enumerators whose hand has pushed me to nearly tear my hair out, this gentleman’s work is pristine. Nor is it from data in disagreement with previous census records—everything matches up just fine with previous documentation for both William and Rebecca.

It’s the two year old who is giving me tantrums. Listed in this 1860 record only by three initials, this entry gives me no way to know the name by which I can trace this child in future records. And that, as we’ll find out, will become crucial as we flounder to locate any sign of the child’s parents in the 1870 census.

Called simply by the initials, “M. N. B.,” the child is said to be a two year old male, born in Tennessee.

What you’ll see in a couple days, though, is the difficulty of locating that M. N. B. Broyles boy in future enumerations.

Of course, the next ten years between this census and the subsequent one in 1870 will turn out to be filled with turmoil. Who knows what will happen to this family—I have yet to locate them in that post-war census. But I may have located their child—well, only if the child was incorrectly entered as a son in the 1860 census.

At any rate, there is a possibility in the 1870 census that could lead us back to Georgia. And the initials match. Somewhat.

Before we explore that possibility, though, we need to return to the home of William’s wife Rebecca, before the time of her marriage, and learn a bit about the Georgia household in which she was raised.

Above: Image from the 1860 United States census for Jonesborough in Washington County, Tennessee, courtesy


  1. It's surprising how often gender is recorded incorrectly. It must be a genealogical Murphy's Law that this will happen with that crucial member of the family tree.

    1. Glad you mentioned that, Wendy. You know, my head keeps telling me that, but something deep inside insists that I treat every piece of documentation as if it were absolute truth. I know this will run me ragged. I've seen it wrong before--and we'll see it wrong again--but I tread lightly when in doubt. Better to find second and third bits of evidence to the contrary rather than buying it, wholesale.


    indicates M N B[royles] was Minnie Nola.

    And goodness... they had a lot children after her!

    1. 1870 - spell check fail galore!

    2. Ah, you have found me out ;)

      This is the point at which I began my search--the place I referred to as coming in the back door. It took some floundering around before I connected this household to William and Rebecca. And I'm still toying with the Reiney entries.

  3. Ack census record in error again...perhaps he had great penmanship but bad hearing:)

    1. Who knows what went into these census errors. A hard of hearing enumerator? I can just imagine it!

    2. Perhaps the family just pointed to the "kid" in a dress and the census taker assumed it was boy (maybe when being given initials?) I know they sure dressed the kids a lot a like back then.


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