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October 22, 2017

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Tally marks can point us in right direction

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

What can census tally-marks tell us?

Census takers named heads of household only in U.S. censuses from 1790 through 1840. They indicated members of each household by tally-marks according to age grouping, sex, and whether they were white or free blacks. We can use these census categories to follow families and migrations and estimate date ranges of death for parents and ranges of birth for male and female children. Joseph Allen, father of Leah and Mary Allen, demonstrates how tally-marks matter.

Joseph A. Allen and Jemima Van Vleet married without parental permission in Fayette County, Ind., Oct. 7, 1830, Joseph was likely over 21, calculating to his birth before 1809. Jemima was over 18, calculating to her birth before 1812. Joseph and Jemima married too late in the year to be enumerated in the 1830 census. Can early census records help determine if this couple became the parents of Mary and Leah?

Obituaries for purported daughters, Leah (Allen) Smith (1919) and Mary (Allen) Sutton (1924), reveal they were born in Dublin, Ind., in 1835 and 1841, respectively. Contemporary maps reveal that Dublin was a township in Wayne County, which abuts Fayette County. Mary's obituary states her mother died shortly after Mary's 1841 birth; both obituaries note that Leah and Mary were raised by their mother's sister, "Mrs. Hull." Census records suggest that Leah's and Mary's mother was Jemima Van Vleet.

The 1840 U.S. census for Dublin Township reveals Joseph Allen's household containing a man and woman between 20 and 30 years of age. Three children round out the household: a male and female under 5 and a female between 5 and 10. Leah could be either of the young females; Mary was not yet born. We calculate from this record that Joseph and his wife were born between say 1810 and 1820. Calculated marriage information and census data for Jemima fits nicely, but conflicts for Joseph; his marriage data indicated he was born before 1809.

We possibly have the wrong couple, or one of the records presents incorrect information. Mary's and Leah's obituaries indicate we probably have the right couple. Combined marriage and census data allow us to narrow Jemima's date of birth to between 1810 and 1812, and we can hypothesize, despite census data, that Joseph was a few years her senior. Possibly the enumerator simply placed Joseph's tally-mark in the wrong column. Joseph and Jemima married in Fayette County in 1830; we check the 1830 census for that county.

The 1830 U.S. census reveals an Abraham Van Vleet in Fayette County supporting a household that included solitary males between 40 and 50, 20 and 30, and 5 and 10 and solitary females between 15 and 20 and between 10 and 15. Jemima, probably born between 1810 and 1812, was likely the female between 15 and 20 years of age.

A William Allen between 30 and 40 years (therefore, born between say 1790 and 1800), lived with a woman his age range and four children under 10 years in Fayette County in 1830. William Allen was older than Joseph but probably was not old enough to be Joseph's father.

The 1830 census also reveals a John Allen in Fayette County: his household contained three men between 20 and 30 years, one male between 15 and 20, one female between 20 and 30, and four children under 10. Because he didn't marry until late October, Joseph A. Allen, born probably before 1809, was likely one of the 20- to 30-year-old males in John Allen's household.

The juxtaposition of the Van Vleet family with a likely Allen family in 1830 suggest that Joseph Allen might be related to John Allen or William Allen of Fayette County, and that Jemima, possibly daughter of Abraham Van Vleet, became Joseph's wife. Early census records and tally-marks, even misplaced, helped.

Stefani Evans is a Board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News 2275 Corporate Circle, Suite 300, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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