Thursday, May 12, 2022

Finding Family in the 1840s and Before


It's time to find family in the forties—the eighteen forties, that is. American documentation takes a shift in presentation when you step backwards in time from the 1850 census. The census prior to that, in 1840, was the last of the United States federal enumerations to provide an age-delineated head count, with only the head of household named in the record.

Since my current ancestor of focus, my husband's third great-grandfather Michael Metzger, died about 1843, we are left with no tell-all-names 1850 census to resort to, in figuring just what names he might have given his many children. Don't think his wife will come to the rescue; widow Apollonia Rheyman Metzger died a year after her husband. And we can't even rely on the assertions of when or where the couple was born, or even who the rest of their children were, since no claims I've found have yet included documentation.

So what do we do to chase down a farmer living in Perry County, Ohio, before the advent of the "modernized" 1850 census? Fortunately, Michael Metzger appeared in the 1840 census, so we at least have a count of household members, delineated by gender and age brackets. But what happens before then, when we want to discover how long Michael had been resident in Ohio? We look to the state's tax records, of course. 

Granted, not all farmers owned the land on which they were farming. But we won't know unless we look. Though may not include tax records for a specific region in their holdings, is the go-to alternative for such searches. Just check the catalog by entering the geographic location you are seeking to determine whether such digitized microfilms are still available online.

In Michael's case, thankfully, the tax records for Perry County were indeed included in the holdings, and, scrolling all the way down the catalog entry, I was able to access the records online. Michael did show in Perry County records—to a degree. We obviously can count on his presence there in 1840, the year of the census, but how much earlier than that point was he included in the tax listings?

I could easily go back to the Perry County tax records for 1837 to confirm the tax receipts for one Michael Metzger of Jackson Township—the only Metzger listed in that township, by the way. At that point, he was listed as owning 160 acres.

But why stop there? Let's see how far back we can go. As I stepped backwards in time, I could find Michael in the tax records in that same township for 1836 under that alternate spelling Metzgar, and in an even more tortured spelling of Metseger for 1835. I proceeded, year by year, all the way back to 1830, where our man showed—and with considerably less property—as Metzer.

Despite the FamilySearch catalog entry for Perry County tax records showing as having a gap for the year 1829, I took a look anyhow, and was pleasantly surprised to find that year's records included in the microfilm—but unfortunately, no Michael Metzger, no matter how contorted the spelling.

But wait! If Michael was listed in the tax records for 1830, shouldn't I be able to find him in the 1830 census, as well? Taking a look, back at, it took reducing the search to his first name plus only the first "M" of his last name, followed by a wildcard symbol, to find him. When I saw the resultant entry, I can understand why Michael didn't pop up in the search results before: his name was indexed as Meschar. Looking at the document itself, I suppose that was a reasonable guess for the faded ink's remains.

Now that we've found two census listings for Michael Metzger's family in Perry County reaching back to 1830, let's assess just how many children he and Apollonia might have claimed as proud parents in those early years of central Ohio's history. Tomorrow, we'll begin the search for the missing children.

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