KEEP LOOKING: More on that elusive Congleton family…

One very basic building block of family research is to catalog your family’s movements via census records. These reliable documents provide us not only with evidence of where our people lived across time but also indications of family relationships, countries of origin, occupations, etc., etc. However, every family historian soon learns that the information contain is not always 100% accurate nor is it always complete. I suspect we all have that branch of the tree consisting of people who, by all appearances, were intent on hiding from census takers.

In 1849 the new California state constitution mandated that a state census be conducted in 1852. Since I had discovered a reliable record of my New York-born Great Great Grand Uncle, Aden C. Congleton, having come to California in 1849 from Michigan by wagon train, I felt certain that I should find him in the 1852 census. His brother, John E. Congleton, my Great Great Grandfather, had reportedly arrived with his family sometime in 1852 and so they may or may not have been enumerated. But Aden should be in there!

Repeated rigorous searching of the 1852 California Census on Ancestry using every conceivable spelling and misspelling of Congleton yielded nothing. Years went by.

Recognizing that the database on FamilySearch was likely built using data from a different indexing project than the one done for Ancestry, I repeated the rigorous search on that site. It yielded nothing. More years went by.

Eventually, in 2016, my research led me to the California State Library in Sacramento. There I found a microfilm copy of the typewritten “California Census of 1852” which had been transcribed and published by the DAR in 1934. There, on page 13 of Volume IV, I found a listing for “Congleton, A. – 36 years old – born in New York – last residence Michigan.” There he was! Just as he should be! So why had my seemingly endless searching on Ancestry and FamilySearch not found him?


I made note of the other names on the page with my Congleton and searched Ancestry for them. I found the image of the page that, to my eye, obviously listed “A. Congleton” (OK, the “A” is a bit of a stretch, but…). Ancestry had indexed him as “W. Coughton.” No. Not even close.

1852 CA Census detail

But where was John E. Congleton and his family? Considering that land records indicate they had lived close to Aden, it is likely that they had been enumerated on the same page as him. But since 27 entries on the page had been eaten away by time and neglect, those names would be lost to history forever. I guess John and family are among those lost. But I won’t stop looking for them!

1852 Census full page

MORAL OF THE STORY: Don’t give up the search before every resource has been exhausted. Sometimes the answer can be found in a library, not online. Look at the source document yourself. People make errors.

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