January 16, 2012

Finding Common Names in Census Records: Evans, part 1

For the past two weeks, I’ve been searching UK census records for the family of Evan Evans in Montgomeryshire, Wales, which is one of my January goals. The problem wasn’t a lack of findings. It seems like half the families in the county had the surname of either Evans or Jones. And the given name Evan was quite popular, too. So the challenge was identifying my particular family out of a sea of men named Evan Evans. I’ve tried before only to give up discouraged, but this time I’m happy to report success. I found six census records spanning three generations, and identified a wife’s family in two additional records. The process I followed can be used for identifying families with common names in U.S. census records as well. Here’s how I did it:

Compile background information

The first thing I did was read over all my notes and research on the family. I had three generations to work with: an Evan Evans, born about 1840, who married Mary Hughes in 1865 (we’ll call him Evan A); his father Evan Evans, born about 1812, who married Elizabeth Jones (he’ll be Evan B); and his grandfather Evan Evans, born about 1781, who married Elizabeth Reynolds (make him Evan C). Do you know your ancestor's occupation? That can be an important clue. Making a chart, timeline, or ancestor profile can help you visualize the information you have better.

Two pieces of information ended up being keys to my success:
  • The name of the town where the family lived. With common names, it’s crucial to pinpoint their locality as much as possible, down to the city or town, and then to the township or parish if possible. I had a short family summary from my husband’s grandmother (Evan A's granddaughter) that said the family lived in Carno, a small town in Montgomeryshire. It was enough to get me going. Admittedly, I was lucky because my family stayed in one place. If your ancestor moved, can you estimate when? Collect clues on both localities.
  • A list of all the children of Evan A and some children of Evan C, from the same family summary. With census records, it’s helpful to have the names of as many family members as possible—children, siblings, even in-laws and neighbors.
The family of Evan and Mary (Hughes) Evans
Start your search where you know the most

Like other aspects of genealogy, it’s usually easiest to start with the most recent generation and work backwards. Since I had the names of Evan A’s children and knew some of them immigrated to America in the 1880’s, I started with the 1881 UK census. This first step ended up being pretty easy. Ancestry.com returned 55 results in Montgomeryshire for an Evan Evans born within two years of 1840, but only four of these met my criteria. One Evan Evans living in Carno with a wife Mary had four children whose names and ages corresponded with those on my list. There was one extra person listed in Evan’s household: 46-year-old John Higgs, whose relationship was “brother.” My first thought was that Higgs must actually be Mary’s brother, since her maiden name was Hughes—perhaps the enumerator got the spelling wrong. But as you’ll see later, that assumption was a mistake.

1881 census of Wales (see below for source citation)

It was relatively easy to find Evan A in the 1871 census, too. Ancestry.com returned 53 results in Montgomeryshire for an Evan Evans born in 1840 (plus or minus 2 years), but only three matched my criteria for both town (Carno) and wife’s name (Mary). One of these, an Evan living in the township of Trawscoed, had children corresponding to the names and ages of Evan A’s three oldest kids (Evan, John, and Thomas). And there was John Higgs again, a 34-year-old laborer, identified as Evan’s brother.

1871 census of Wales (see below for source citation)

So far, so good. But going back to 1861 meant taking the search back a generation, before Evan A’s marriage to Mary. I didn’t know if Evan A had siblings, so I didn’t have any names other than his parents, Evan and Elizabeth, as a guide. Would my strategies be enough to overcome this hurdle?

Milk every bit of info from the records you find

Ancestry.com showed me 59 men named Evan Evans in Montgomeryshire in 1861 who were born about 1840. Fourteen of them were residing with fathers named Evan, three of them lived in Carno, and several had a mother named Elizabeth. I went through them one by one. But none of them seemed like a good match for my Evan. I had given up at this point before, because it seemed like I just didn’t have enough information to make a connection. He had to be floating around there somewhere, but where?

I took a closer look at the locality information for the two census records I had found. In both 1871 and 1881, Evan Evans was living in Trawscoed township. His registration district was Newton, and his sub-district was Llanwnog. (US censuses often note the township, and in various years the enumeration district and/or post office district.) Now, it’s certainly possible that he lived in a different place as an adult than he had as a child. But it’s also possible that he lived in the same place. There was one Evan Evans residing in Trawscoed township in 1861, and he had a father named Evan. But there was no wife named for the elder Evan; he was marked widowed. Four children were listed, but I had no names to compare them with. It seemed inconclusive at best, risky at worse, to assume this was my man. I tried searching for a death record for Elizabeth Evans, but without at least an estimated date, there were too many possibilities. It looked like I was drawing a blank on 1861.

If you’d like to know how I eventually solved this, and the rest of my tips for finding common names in the census, stay tuned for the next part of the story later this week! 

Source citations:
1881 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 28, page 3, household 16, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 1342318, RG11, piece 5483.

1871 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 28, page 1, household 6, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 892470, RG10, piece 5611.

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  1. I understand where you are coming from! I have a Williams line which has been difficult to research!
    I'll be back to see how you solved this!

    1. Yes, Williams is another fun one to research! Thanks for following along!

  2. I'm delighted (and envious) you made such progress - especially by being so thorough. It is too easy to latch onto a census record that seems to fit and ignore the other potential matches. Can't wait to read part two!

    1. Thanks, Susan! I had put aside researching the Evans before--I had no choice but to be thorough if I had any hope of sorting them out this time :)

  3. Waiting with baited breath! Maybe some of your techniques will help with my brick walls.

    1. Good to hear, Michelle--and your organization tips will definitely help me file the research so I can find and build on it in the future.

  4. Shelley, I'll be back to read the rest when you post. I'm guessing: John Higgs was Evan's step-brother, son of Evan Evan's second wife?

    You've done impressive and thorough research. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Nancy, you'll just have to wait and find out (wink)!

  5. Shelly, not only have you obviously done a great bit of detailed research an analysis, you translated your process well. Many times these types of "case-studies" can be confusing to me, but you wrote very clearly and it was easy to follow along! Looking forward to the ending.

  6. Jenna, you don't know how much that means to me. This is the first time I've written up a case study for others to follow, and I'm trying to make it both understandable and enjoyable. I know just what you mean by how confusing they can get. Thank you for the feedback!

  7. Hi Shelley. i agree it is good to start with recent and work your way backwards.

  8. I am also searching for Evans....this has been a real mess. You are so right, I think Wales is made up of mostly Evans. I came to find your blog looking for information, and you have done a lot of work. I have found some names and dates, but I have only started the bread and butter of searching. Arney Evans Jr is my husband, and his father is the son of William Walter Evans....still looking. Mary in Idaho

  9. Shopgirl, I can certainly sympathize. The Evans and Jones have left a tangled web of records in Wales, it seems. I don't think I could have done this without knowing all the children's names for at least one of the generations. Where did your Evans settle in the U.S., and when? I'll try to share more tips for Welsh research as I find them. Good luck with your search!


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