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Census Work on the Riddle Family

The name of my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) does not appear on any index to the 1840 U.S. census. He would have been nineteen years old when it was taken.

That census was the last one where the government did not require an every-name enumeration. The heads of household are listed by name; everyone else is represented by a tick mark. The tick marks are categorized by sex and age. Beginning in 1850, the government changed the census format to include the name of every person in the household. Consequently, the early census records are much less useful than those taken later.

There are several reasons why John’s name would not have appeared in 1840. If he was not the head of a household, he would have been lumped, unnamed, with other males 15-20. If he did head a household, the enumerator may have missed his home. An census indexer may have inadvertently skipped him or been unable to read his name accurately due to poor legibility on the record.

So how do I find him? For many years, I did not even try because I had no idea of his whereabouts that year.

Recently, however, I found 1836-38 tax listings for a man who may have been him in Portage Township, then-Portage County, Ohio. In 1843, My John then married a woman who lived in nearby Stow, Ohio.

There is a good chance that when the census was taken in 1840, John lived in the same place where he had paid taxes in the 1830’s and would marry in 1843. I am in the process of doing an every-name search for him in the 1840 census record for Portage Township. Did any family have a Davis or Riddle surname? How many families included males 15-20?

Some pages are easier to read than others because they have darker ink or better handwriting. So far, I have carefully read two pages and found no familiar surname. Already twenty households include males the same age as John. In only one of these is the man aged 15-20 named as the head of household, so that must have been rare at the time.

If I do not locate his family in Portage Township, I may expand my search to the surrounding area. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires me to do an exhaustive search. That means I should look at Portage Township and any other townships that surround the town of Stow, the home of his John’s bride. This may take awhile.


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