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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

Census Omissions

My research on Gus Youngberg (see January 24, 2015 post) went a little deeper this past week when I discovered that golden cords were hung for both his brother, Alfred, and sister, Ruth. According to his wife Norma, these three siblings left home at an early age and supported each other through their teen years and into college. They all attended Union College at the same time, graduating in 1915. As I searched looking for documents to support Norma's version of the story, I made an interesting observation regarding Gus. While there are plenty of ships's lists and travel records documenting his journeys, he shows up in only one United States census, 1900, when he was twelve years old and he is listed in his father's (Stephen or Steven) household.

So what does this mean? Well fortunately, Norma chose to publish his life story, so we can form a pretty good idea of why he was left out of so many censuses. First of all, Gus was born in 1888. This means the 1890 census would have been the first national census taken during his lifetime. To the great disappointment of genealogists and historians, much of the 1890 census was destroyed through an unfortunate chain of events (read Kellee Blake's "'First in the Path of the Firemen': the Fate of the 1890 Population Census" to learn the full story) so when you can't find an individual in the records that remain, it isn't much of a surprise.

As already noted, the siblings were enumerated as part of their father's household in 1900. They also appear as part of their father's household in the 1905 Minnesota state census. Thereafter both Gus and his father disappear from the United States census.

The next step is to look for alternative records. Norma's narrative provides clues as to where Gus, Alfred, and Ruth lived, but frustratingly does not include many dates. In 1910, Gus would be about 22 years old and, according to Norma, living with Alfred and Ruth, apparently renting rooms from other people as they supported each other through high school and several years at a Protestant theological college in St. Paul, Minnesota and Minnesota State University. In my research of other families I have come across dual residences for young adult children where they were counted twice, once in their father's home and once in the household where they were boarding. In the case of the Youngberg siblings, they seem to have fallen through a large crack in the 1910 census. Perhaps compounded by their father's move to Canada. This may or may not have been a factor as he most likely moved to Canada about 1920. But certainly lacking true households of their own led to their omission from the census.

By 1920, Gus was married and headed to the mission field with his wife Norma and daughter Ruth. His commitment to his ministry most certainly led to his omission from the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses. The family returned for furloughs in 1926, 1934, and 1940. Their July of 1940 arrival just missed the census taken that June.

In contrast, Alfred and Ruth were omitted from only the 1910 census. Alfred and his family spent only seven years in India in the 1920s. Ruth lived in Bolivia and Chile with her husband Theodore Lewis Oswald who served as a minister and administrator from about 1921 to 1930.

Analyzing Gus Youngberg's appearance, or lack thereof, in the United States census records has helped me understand some of the reasons I've been unable to find other people in these records. Fortunately for the Youngberg story, alternative records are plentiful. Unfortunately, for some of my other mystery people, I have yet to discover what prevented them from being counted.

For additional creative ideas for locating unfindable people in the census records, see "Census Search Tips" by Juliana Smith.

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