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Noting the census takers

It’s right there in the best practices of the field of genealogy.

The guidance that so many of us overlook, especially when we’re starting out.

But it’s stated clearly, in Standard 40 of Genealogy Standards, focusing on mining the evidence that can be found in every record we examine:

Evidence mining requires attention to detail, including details that might initially seem insignificant.1

So… what does that mean this week, as so many of us are happily plowing through the pages of the newly-released 1950 United States census?

Well, among other things, it means not skipping that first page that appears with every set of enumeration district images.

census taker form

The one that says — among other things — who the enumerator was.2

In some cases, researchers are joyously noting that the enumerator was a member of their own families, and the wonder of seeing familiar handwriting on a record like this.

In other cases, well, probably in the majority of other cases, it will end up not meaning a thing.

But in those few critical instances in between, we just might get one of those wondrous clues that helps us understand something or draw a conclusion.

Whether it’s the 1950 census or one many decades earlier, when the enumerator is named Murphy and the neighborhood is 100% chock full of recent Eastern European immigrants, we may have an answer as to why so many names are just not quite right.

When the enumerator is from that side of a rural county, taking the census on this side of a rural county, we may understand better why the folks on that little side road — you know the one, where to get there you have to take a left at the red barn, then zig right at the rock — never got enumerated at all.

When the enumerator is local, we may have a little more confidence that Earlene really was Earlene, and not Earline, because after all she was his cousin and he ought to know.

Now of course maybe we don’t know right now that that census taker was kin to half the people in that district. I don’t know this census taker in the image above, who took the tally for the area in rural Virginia where my grandparents can be found in 1950, or whether my family ever even met her outside of that one day in April 1950.

But that’s why our research “requires attention to detail, including details that might initially seem insignificant.”

Note the census takers.

Who took the tally may just turn out to be the clue we need.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Who took the tally?,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 6 Apr 2022).


  1. Standard 40, “Evidence mining,” in Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2d ed. rev. (Nashville, TN: Ancestry, 2021), 24.
  2. In 1950, it’s on the sheet you see here, with the words Portfolio Control Label at the top. See 1950 U.S. census, Fluvanna County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 33-3, Portfolio Control Label page; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2022). On that census and in prior years, look for the same in the upper right hand corner of each census sheet. In 1830 and earlier, we may need to look for a sheet with the recapitulation and enumerator’s signature.
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