Why Census Directions Are Really Important!

I will admit that I am like most everybody – I read and record census information and rarely read the government directions to the census takers except for the official date of the census year.

Here is a great reason to dig a bit deeper and read the directions more thoroughly.

Elizabeth Stufflebean, 49, is enumerated in the household of her daughter and son-in-law, William and Elizabeth Clark, in Sullivan County, Missouri in 1850.


Clark Family in 1850
Source: Ancestry

That was not a surprise to me, given that her husband, Michael, had died a year or so previously, probably a victim of the cholera epidemic that hit Linn County, Missouri.

Note that the census taker reached their house on 29 November 1850:


Source: Ancestry

However, Elizabeth is nowhere to be found after the 1850 census. She was only 49 years old. No later marriage could be found for her, so where did she go?

Yes, Stufflebean is a name that gets regularly mangled in spelling and it is certainly possible that she was mis-indexed. In fact, here she is indexed as Elizabeth Stuffelbu.

However, that wasn’t the answer. I went back to the probate records of Linn County, next door, to see if Michael’s file yielded any new clues.

There was actually a probate listed for Elizabeth, herself:


Source: FamilySearch

Her son John was clearly appointed her administrator, but take a look at the date: 22 October 1850! A month before the census taker arrived at the Clark home!

The answer is in the census enumeration directions:

The name of any member of a family who may have died since the 1st day of June is to be entered and described as living. . . .

It does pay to read the directions, doesn’t it? Elizabeth was living with the Clarks on 1 June 1850, died sometime that summer, and probate on her estate opened back in Linn County, as that was where the family lived when Michael died and where his property was located.

Mystery solved.

4 thoughts on “Why Census Directions Are Really Important!”

  1. Very good point! So often we just want to get to the record that we forget to put it in context.

    And how odd to included dead people as living and live children as not existing…very different from the England and Wales census (babies’ ages were to be recorded in months)…

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